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Year Out/Year In: Comedy Stands Up to Questions of Taste | reviews, news & interviews

Year Out/Year In: Comedy Stands Up to Questions of Taste

Year Out/Year In: Comedy Stands Up to Questions of Taste

A lorra lorra laffs - well mostly

It was a year when comics at opposite ends of the scale - offensive or annoyingly bland - were taking up room on our television screens and selling out ever-larger arena tours. And the depressing rule of thumb (with a few honourable exceptions) that the blander the comic, the bigger the venue, held true in 2010, so thank goodness there were some terrific shows by talented performers in medium-size theatres. As it happens, the most memorable show I saw all year was in a small venue at the Edinburgh Fringe (the American Bo Burnham).

Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle (incidentally, who both ban critics from their shows) vied with each other to see who could upset more people with “jokes” about the mentally ill or the disabled, but Boyle recently won that battle hands down with his Channel 4 sketch/stand-up show Tramadol Nights, which has attracted numerous complaints about its content.

At the other end of the spectrum, Michael McIntyre’s rise to the top of the light (very light) entertainment tree has continued, while others such as Jason Manford, Russell Howard and John Bishop, purveyors of inoffensive but mostly unmemorable entertainment, have seen their stars rise too. They are all extremely personable (and Bishop is showing real talent as an actor, such as in Skins) but their shtick is middle of the road going on lazy, lowest common denominator, although I do hope that in 2011 Manford turns his 2010 Twitter travails into a more biting, self-reflective comedy that I believe lies within him.

Watch Michael McIntyre live:

There is hope, though; Stewart Lee continued to perform a kind of deconstructive comedy so sophisticated that a new term, metacomedy, had to be coined for it, and ferociously bright comics such Alun Cochrane, Dara Ó Bríain and Chris Addison had shows that dared to engage their audiences’ brains as well as their chuckle muscles. Stephen K Amos, meanwhile, showed that even in laughter-filled shows more serious subjects, such as racism, can be addressed, and Lee Mack proved that being an old-fashioned gagmeister doesn’t stop you being racy, cheeky and - literally - painfully funny.

Watch Lee Mack live:

At the Edinburgh Fringe, political comedy was noticeable by its absence in what was a momentous year in British public life, but why work hard at writing incisive, intelligent humour when any old rubbish will get you a lucrative television contract? But there were gems at the festival, chief among them Bo Burnham, whose energetic, inventive and remarkable show was so stuffed with cleverness, jokes and asides that the audience was having to play catch-up as reams of funnies whizzed by.

What’s in store for 2011

Following in Peter Kay’s footsteps (still going strong on his mammoth tour), more stadium shows are upon us, including the welcome return of Lee Evans and Alan Carr. The latter, a very fine stand-up indeed, has been concentrating on television of late and I’m really looking forward to his new live show. The biggest stadium gig of the year will be Jerry Seinfeld at the O2 in London on 3 June, his first UK appearance in 12 years and the only one planned. I'm glad I won't have to buy a ticket, though, as prices start at a whopping £75 plus booking fee. Not a stadium performer, although if there is any justice in the world he should be, is Andy Parsons, about to embark on a new tour this month. Like Parsons, Ed Byrne has an incisive comic brain and the Irishman's much-anticipated tour starts in March.

Edinburgh shows that I can’t wait to see again are by Miles Jupp, Sarah Millican and Greg Davies. Jupp, whose Fibber in the Heat gained a slew of five-star reviews at the Fringe, also has a Radio 4 sitcom in the pipeline, as well as the very welcome second series of Rev on BBC Two (due for a summer/autumn transmission). They all, incidentally, are appearing at the Leicester Comedy Festival (4-20 February), which goes from strength to strength.

Watch Sarah Millican live:

Ruby Wax, missing from our TV screens for too long, is appearing live this year. She’s not doing stand-up, though, but a fascinating theatre show, Losing It at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, about the stigma surrounding mental illness - which both Wax and her musical collaborator Judith Owen have experienced and which Wax has written about most eloquently in the past. If lesser comics would like to see how you can make mental-health issues funny, perhaps they could take a night away from their lucrative schedules and pop along.

And lastly, many congratulations to John Lloyd, the producer behind some of the finest comedy on British television, including The Catherine Tate Show, Blackadder, Spitting Image and Not the Nine O’Clock News. He was awarded a CBE for services to broadcasting in the New Year Honours and will be popping along to the Palace in the spring to collect his gong.

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--the stigma surrounding mental illness Curious catch phrase. Apparently popular with some editors. Other versions were once popular with other editors. Eventually we shamed ourselves out of using them. Eventually we will shame ourselves out of using this one. Harold A. Maio

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