In his blog today, British-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer does a U-turn.
He had previously criticised London’s Comedy Store for putting on “boring shows that set a poor standard for British live comedy”.
Now he says he has changed his mind and been persuaded that, currently, audiences “don’t want interesting” because of the global economic situation and other problems. He says they now don’t want chaos or anarchy, they want something less original.
But, I have to say, this is nothing new. ‘Twas ever thus.
What was the big comedy success on British TV thirty years ago?
Obviously, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
It was Terry and June, the comfortable sofa-based sitcom much-derided by comedy cognoscenti then and now for being dull and unoriginal.
OK, there was also Fawlty Towers but – in pure format terms – Fawlty Towers is unoriginal. It is basically three OTT comedy stereotypes in a single location doing often slapstick comedy.
Monty Python was truly original and played around with the television medium. And Middle England did not watch it on its original transmissions.
I remember Monty Python’s original transmissions. They were shoved all over the place in the schedule. People did not watch in vast droves and it did not appeal to the core mainstream audience.
However, in the 1990s, Reeves & Mortimer did manage to combine originality with vast audience success… didn’t they?
No they did not.
They were a Channel 4 and BBC2 act. When the BBC foolishly attempted to put them in their own show on BBC1 at peaktime on a Saturday night, it was an unmitigated ratings disaster.
What have the big TV comedy successes of the past few years been?
My Family. Very cosy. Vastly popular. Much derided by comedy critics and the comedy industry.
Now we have Mrs Brown’s Boys. Again, disliked by circuit comedians, possibly through jealousy.
And then there is Miranda… indeed, anything with Miranda Hart in it.
We are not talking cutting edge (or even necessarily funny) here.
Who are the biggest stand-ups in the UK?
Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay.
Personally, I admire Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay’s technique, but I would not pay to see them.
Comedy Store audiences would.
Because – a vast generalisation – the larger the audience appeal the less original and less ground-breaking the performance.
Originality does not equate with success in the same way that success does not necessarily equate with talent.
I have heard it said that Lewis Schaffer is a “comedian’s comedian” – other comedians will stand at the back of his audience with mouths open just to see what happens.
He could be a major mainstream TV presenter of factual documentaries. Lewis Schaffer. He is basically Bill Bryson with attitude.
He could even, perhaps, be successful performing at the Comedy Store in London.
But we will probably never know.
To quote the great American comedian Donald Rumsfeld:
There are known knowns.
There are known unknowns.
And there are unknown unknowns.
Lewis Schaffer, oddly, fits into all of those categories.