Comedians: Stand Up And Be Counted!

IN RECENT years, live comedy acts have seen a major boost in popularity. Comedians who would have once played cramped, darkened rooms full or drunken revellers talking over the punch-lines can now sell out some of the largest stadiums and theatre halls in the country. Comedy has become fashionable and some comedians have even become household names. More and more acts continue to surface on the public consciousness, flailing their best comedy chops to stay afloat in a high-pressured and competitive sea; the fear of sinking beneath with the weight of one bum joke attached to their ankles nagging at the beginning of every show. The juggernauting laughter industry continues to grow in popularity and wise-guy population.

Compared with now, the nineties comedy circuit was far more limited. Certain acts broke through and are still around today, such as Eddie Izzard. Television shows showcasing a variety of comedy stylings such as the improvised sketches of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and the deadpan satire of Have I Got News For You? pulled in the ratings. The number of people taking an evening off and going out to see live comedy for themselves, however, was nothing like the figures of today.

 So what is it that has caused this incline? Why now?

Some speculate that the advent of the Internet has been key in the promotion of comedians. YouTube alone is home to thousands of fantastic comedy clips and if you can’t find a single one that makes you laugh then you truly have no sense of humour. Top comedians command some of the highest numbers of followers on Twitter, eagerly retweeting any 149 character comedy gem that falls through the cyber sphere. Television continues to play an important role too.  Dan Patterson who brought our parents (and, of course, the TV channel DaveWhose Line? is the creative mind behind the hugely popular Mock the WeekLive at the Apollo on the BBC streams well-honed segments of straight-up stand-up directly into our homes on a fairly frequent basis. Any comedian who can make themselves memorable when presented with the opportunity to appear on television faces the potential for a significant rise in their own audience share. Those who do really well may be awarded their own television; their own star vehicle like that of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow or Russell Howard’s Good News.

For many comedians, however, it’s not just about television appearances. The magic of real comedy lies in spontaneous audience reaction, a shared cathartic experience at realising that other human beings can and want to laugh alongside you. This is where those television appearances pay off, the guarantee that other people will be there to share in the moment. Comedian Dara O’Briain mused upon calling his tour ‘You Had To Be There’- and that sums it up.You have to be there. And more and more people seem to be realising this.

Comedy Works is consistently one of the most popular nights at the Student Union. Comedians sell out stadiums and have to add extra tour dates to compensate for growing popularity and the publics’ desire to witness the funny first hand for themselves, to be the person with the hilarious anecdote the next day. It has been theorised by many that the downturn in the economy has had a part to play in the rise and rise of comedy. Why sit through another grim news instalment about the ongoing credit crunch when you could be taking yourself out to something that will put a smile on your face? And it doesn’t even have to be expensive?

This is an industry that doesn’t look like it will be taking a slippery slide down beside the economy any time soon. It’s tough going for those involved, but that doesn’t seem to be preventing more and varied acts having a go. As this page can demonstrate, there is even a man (or, Boy) making a living by wrapping his face in tape. And, for whatever reason- does it really matter?- people will find this and so many other things funny.