sat 20/09/2014

Comedy reviews, news & interviews

Forbidden Broadway, Vaudeville Theatre

David Nice

“It takes a star to parody one,” wrote theartsdesk’s Edward Seckerson, nailing the essence of this immortal spoof-fest’s last incarnation at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Star quality was assured given the presence of Damian Humbley, peerless in Merrily We Roll Along and even the unjustly short-lived Lend Me a Tenor, who’s in this transfer. Sophie-Louise Dann, a genius of a performer who dazzled as a prima donna in that last and even stole the show as a minor lovesick aesthete in a Proms...

Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

Fisun Güner

Age could not wither her, or so it appeared. Joan Rivers has died, aged 81. On her 80th birthday she told an interviewer she’d be celebrating with her eightieth face. Her caustic humour could leave your nerves jangling, but she was the butt of it as often as anyone was. And in the field of cosmetic surgery you could almost call her a lone pioneer, of sorts, for what other American celebrity has ever been as candid about going under the knife? Nothing – not her face, nor her husband’s suicide in...

Steen Raskopoulos, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Steen Raskopoulos has hit the ground running with his debut show; it was nominated for a Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award (best newcomer) at the...

John Kearns/ Alex Edelman/ This Is Ceilidh

Veronica Lee

John Kearns: Shtick, Voodoo Rooms ****London comic John Kearns made history at the weekend, when he became the first comic to win the main prize at...

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Chris Turner/ BEASTS/...

Veronica Lee

Chris Turner: Pretty Fly, Pleasance Courtyard ****This is Chris Turner's debut show as a stand-up, although his previous experience in improv group...

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Adam Riches/ Josie Long/ Loretta Maine/ Dane Baptiste/ Tom Allen

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Bridget Christie/ Men in the Cities/ Lazy Susan/ Outings

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Listed: The laughter and tears of Robin Williams

Jasper Rees

From Mork to mawkish, the clips that define a brilliant career

Edinburgh Fringe: Andrew Maxwell/ Spoiling

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Ursula Martinez: My Stories, Your Emails, Purcell Room

Hanna Weibye

Smart show about stripping and the internet

Edinburgh Fringe: Sarah Kendall/Christian O'Connell

Veronica Lee

First reviews from the Fringe of 2014

theartsdesk at Latitude: Damon Albarn/Booker T Jones

Matthew Wright

Booker T Jones' set of Sixties hits wows the crowd - but is Damon Albarn's new solo material a touch too subtle to headline?

Chelsea Handler, London Palladium

Veronica Lee

Brisk and businesslike debut for US comic

Monty Python, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

Reunion of comedy royalty is worth the wait

Dawn French, Brighton Theatre Royal

Veronica Lee

One half of comedy duo makes assured debut as solo performer

Adrienne Truscott, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Show about a serious subject is acidly funny

David Baddiel, Menier Chocolate Factory

Veronica Lee

Intelligent and witty examination of modern celebrity

Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Udderbelly

Veronica Lee

Popular science show with a few whizz-bangs

10 Questions for Ventriloquist Nina Conti

Jasper Rees

What makes a postmodern vent act tick?

David Sedaris, Cadogan Hall

Veronica Lee

Essayist and raconteur tells richly comic tales

Jack Whitehall, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

Decent storyteller who needs more convincing material

Miranda Hart, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

Sitcom star returns to stand-up

Miles Jupp, Touring

Veronica Lee

Superb mix of personal and political material

Comedy Festivals 2014

Veronica Lee

Leicester kicks off the comedy festival season

Aisling Bea, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Young Irish comic with a delightfully daft show

10 Questions for Harry Shearer

Jasper Rees

He's been Montgomery Burns and Derek Smalls. Stand back for his President Nixon

Tommy Tiernan, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Riveting show that's a sort of state-of-the-nation address about Ireland

John Kearns, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Edinburgh best newcomer award winner is an original talent

Opinion: Today's BBC would have rejected Morecambe and Wise

Jasper Rees

The rise of the managerial class is killing off mainstream BBC television comedy

Footnote: a brief history of British comedy

British comedy has a honourable history, dating back to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, through Shakespeare’s and Restoration plays to Victorian and Edwardian music hall and its offspring variety, and on to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, working-men’s clubs, 1980s alternative comedy, and today's hugely popular stand-up acts in stadiums seating up to 20,000 people.

In broadcast media, the immediate decades after the Second World War marked radio’s golden age for comedy, with shows such as ITMA, The Goons, Round the Horne and Beyond Our Ken. Many radio comedy shows transferred to even greater acclaim on television - such as Hancock’s Half Hour, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Knowing Me, Knowing You, The Day Today, Red Dwarf, The League of Gentlemen, Goodness Gracious Me and Little Britain.

In television, the 1970s and 1980s were the great age of British sitcom, when shows such as Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, Rising Damp, Dad’s Army, Porridge, Yes, Minister, Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers and Blackadder. They were marked by great writing, acting and directing, although the time should also be noted for great British dross such as On the Buses and Love Thy Neighbour.

By the 1990s, British sitcom had developed into intelligent über-comedy, with shows such as Absolutely Fabulous and The Office making dark or off-kilter (although some would say bad taste) shows such as Drop the Dead Donkey, Peep Show, Green Wing and The Inbetweeners possible. In film, British comedy has had three great ages - silent movies (Charlie Chaplin being their star), Ealing comedies (Passport to Pimlico perhaps the best ever) and Carry On films. The first are in a long tradition of daft physical humour, the second mark the dry sophistication of much British humour, and the last the bawdiness that goes back to Chaucer.

The 2000s marked the resurgence of live comedy, with acts (including Jimmy Carr, Peter Kay and Russell Howard) honing their talents at successive Edinburgh Fringes and their resulting TV, stadium tour and DVD sales making millionaires of dozens of UK comics. Comedians cross readily from TV to stand-up to film to West End comedy theatre. The British comedy industry is now a huge and growing commercial business, with star comics such as Peter Kay and Michael McIntyre grossing tens of millions of pounds from arena tours, and attendances of up to 20,000 at venues across the UK.

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