In a not-yet-posted blog-chat with Dutch comedian Jorik Mol earlier this week, the subject came up of the difficulty of succeeding as a comedian in Britain when there are simply too many stand-up and wannabe stand-up comedians around.
British comedy clubs are having a tough time at the moment and I think one of the reasons is that they programme wall-to-wall stand-up comedians.
In the 1980s, when alternative comedy really WAS alternative, a typical comedy club bill might include a juggler, a poet and an indefinably anarchic act as well as straight stand-ups.
Nowadays, too often, there is no variation. It is all a bit samey. The stand-ups may be good, bad or indifferent but they are, basically, doing the same thing.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the comedy clubs were general comedy clubs. Now they are almost entirely stand-up comedy clubs.
In blogs before I have mentioned that many of the most original and funny comedy acts at the Edinburgh Fringe in the last couple of years were not listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe Programme but in the Cabaret section.
Last night, I saw a glorious night of comedy at Pull The Other One in South East London. It was their last show of the year, it was a real corker and there was not a single traditional stand-up on the bill. Unlike most comedy clubs, you did not know what TYPE of act was coming next.
Jon Hicks was simply indescribable (he describes himself as ‘The International Man of Artistry’) and his act involved three elephants, a hammer and scientific principles all on PTOO’s small stage.
Jody Kamali seems to inhabit a different on-stage character every time I see him. This time, he managed to cram into one 20-minute spot three bizarre, physically active and visually surprising characters plus he dragged a dodgy punter on-stage and sucked the guy’s arm.
Ewan Wardrop – formerly a principal dancer with Matthew Bourne‘s company Adventures in Motion Pictures – managed to refine his already astonishing 1935 visitor from Venus act – The Silver Peevil – AND do a wonderful post-modernist George Formby pastiche AND sing original songs as himself.
The nearest thing to a traditional stand-up on the bill was Steve Best, performing his flawless act which could also be from another planet – It is like a recording of Tommy Cooper performing comedy on acid which is then run at 4-times normal speed.
All these extraordinarily original acts were presented by Lindsay Sharman in her charismatic thespian poetess compere mode with popping eyes and acrobatic lips – a face-changing, voice-morphing Joyce Grenfell for the 21st century.
What the Germans will make of a show like this when Vivienne & Martin Soan start their Pull The Other One shows in Leipzig in February I cannot even begin to imagine.
And nor do I know when a broadcast company will come to its senses and transfer Pull The Other One’s already fully-formed bizarre comedy variety show to television.