FEATURE: Save Live Comedy | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Carl Hutchinson at Hilarity Bites comedy club, image by Rob Irish

I miss comedy. I know, the thought of it seems a lifetime ago, and a room full of strangers huddled close together in darkened rooms sounds more like the latest Tory plan for herd immunity than any form of night out. But it was an incredible night out. Live, at its best, stand-up comedy is raw, honest and exciting.

Stand-up comedy has been my life for over seven years as a performer, writer and promoter. My best friends are comics or work in comedy clubs, spending time at shows was my social life and I’ve loved embracing everything comedy has had to offer, even taxi drivers telling me ‘you can have that one’ on the journey home from gigs.

Right now, live comedy is in trouble. Comedians have lost income, venues have closed their doors and venue workers, bar staff, sound techs and more are unable to work.

The Live Comedy Association’s (LCA) recent survey cemented comedy as an industry in crisis. 77.8% of venues said that they could be forced to close permanently within twelve months and a third of venues said that they could go under within six months. As Lauren Pattison (recently elected as Comic’s Representative for the LCA) perfectly put it, “first and foremost the clubs and venues need to be saved, without anywhere to play we’ll be lost!”

The government’s announcement of a £1.57bn emergency arts fund to be allocated later this year throws up both relief and questions. The money is to be allocated by Arts Council England, a body who in the past have deemed stand-up comedy as, bluntly speaking, ‘not art’. In 2015 a spokeswoman for the Arts Council said: “The main reason we don’t fund comedy directly is that it tends to be commercially self-sustaining.” So, essentially; people like it, it’s affordable, sort yourselves out.

Stand-up is an industry that has never asked for help, but now we need to hope that a public body that hasn’t deemed us art in the past, sees us as art. Let’s just nip this in the bud: stand-up comedy is absolutely art. It’s also accessible, dangerous, moving, thought-provoking, daft, silly and most importantly, funny.

stand-up comedy is absolutely art. It’s also accessible, dangerous, moving, thought-provoking, daft, silly and most importantly, funny

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have since confirmed that comedy organisations and venues are eligible for support from the fund. How much and how it’s allocated remains to be seen. Comedy performers are self-employed. There are plenty who fell through the gaps of any self-employed help offered by the government.

Throughout lockdown comedians have continued to show creativity, taking to podcasts, Facebook Live, YouTube, Zoom, Twitch and more to make, create and work, while generating nowhere near the income comedians on a live circuit would. Ever the innovators, comedians are going out and creating work for themselves and trying to support venues whose doors are closed.

Carl Hutchinson was an important part of the live streamed Live From The Tyne Theatre shows which took place in July. “It was a tremendous success, the theatre got a good amount of money and all the comedians were able to do an honest night’s work again. I think it’s very important for us to do what we can to keep theatres alive during all of this.”

Neil Jollie at Hilarity Bites runs shows across the North East, and having pushed back dates, feels the hit of the unknown future we all face. “We’re hopeful that we can produce some shows in 2020 but I’m not sure if (or when) we would ever get back to running the volume of shows that we were before coronavirus struck.”

Our new world is one of short notice, so the trick as a comedy fan is to stay glued to your socials, follow your favourite comics and venues everywhere. Basically, stay alert.

In August alone Joby Mageean has a Retro Stream every Monday, Mr Shindig’s Victory Laugh takes place on Wednesday 12th August and online comedy role playing game Novocastria is on Thursday 13th and 20th August. Lee Kyle has been positively prolific during lockdown, writing three brand new hour-long shows from scratch, alongside properly funny family shows, new podcasts and will have more to come. The Stand’s weekly show from their Edinburgh venue has been superb, with two Newcastle Takeovers boasting wonderful talent from our region, and they’re constantly showing inventiveness in what they can offer, with a courtyard show selling out very quickly and more in the pipeline, they’re a club to seek out and support.

Barnard Castle has been a home to amazing comedy shows (and not just the world’s weirdest eye tests) through Funny Way To Be’s comedy club at The Witham; their passion for the comedy they promote means they’ve managed to reschedule all shows rather than cancel any. Ten Feet Tall Comedy were another promoter who had to postpone shows, but still have dates booked in for 2020. Shoe Cake Comedy had to sadly delay their first ever comedy festival at The Georgian Theatre in Stockton, which will now happen next year, and they’ve still got shows lined-up for later this year. Shoe Cake’s Phil Smith and his comedy cohorts from Discount Comedy Checkout take part in weekly online comedy show Prequel Sequel Requel, which can be found on Facebook.

Elsewhere in Teesside, alt. nights The Cutty Bang Cabaret Show and GoosePipe Comedy have switched their focus online. There’s podcasts from Matt Hoss, Raul Kohli’s been making videos and there’s Gavin Webster’s Comedy Results. (Gavin’s sitcom and live show are also available online to purchase). Julian Lee has joined forces with other punslinging comedians for the weekly UK Pun Off show. Even podcasts like 10 Things by Benjamin Dickenson and Jason Roberts have seen a whole host of excellent comedians feature, with even more to come.

Immersing yourself in what’s already out there are the first steps towards saving live comedy. Support comedians. Support venues. Buy tickets for future shows. Donate. This won’t be an easy process, so to borrow from the name of the open mic night where a lot of North East comedians did their first ever gig seems especially apt now: Long Live Comedy.

Si Beckwith is a comedian, writer and podcaster. You can find his new podcast on www.sibeckwith.com

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