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Playing it for Laughs

Article By: culture38

The idea for this article came to be whilst attending this years annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2014). It details a short history of British stand up comedy from the 1800s through to the present day.

Submitted:Aug 25, 2014    Reads: 21    Comments: 0    Likes: 1   

Playing it for Laughs

The idea for this article came to be whilst attending this years annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it took me weeks of planning with almost constant emails and 'phone conversations going back and forth concerning places to stay, tickets to get, venues to visit, comedians to see, the list seemed endless, I believe to get the most out of this comedy spectacular, it is all in the planning. I love comedy, laughter is infectious, the comedy community love stand up comedians, we can laugh at their highs and mainly their lows, comedians are funny, it is their job to be, although it is acknowledged, we are not all alike and find different types of comedy amusing, the Scottish city of Edinburgh brings lovers of comedy together for one month each year, all people united in their love of jokes.

Stand up comedy in Britain has quite a long tradition, dating back to the days of variety and music hall in the late 1800s. Though variety acts were mainly music based, the inclusion of comedy gradually developed through performers such as the cockney, cross dressing act Dan Leno and later in the 1920s with the likes of George Fornby, Max Miller and Tommy Trinder. Working Men's clubs were becoming more like entertainment centres and the comedy circuit began to change. With the introduction of social clubs, end of pier shows and holiday camps, variety acts thrived whilst the music halls fell into decline. The circuited nurtured talents such as Les Dawson, Frankie Howerd, Dave Allen, Bernard Manning, Frank Carson and Jim Davidson who mainly relied on racial and gender stereotypes for their laughs became prominant. The 1970s saw many stand up comedians operating outside the mainstream and included the likes of Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrott and Victoria Wood, whilst the social unrest of the 1970s and 1980s gave way to an alternative comedy scene that epitoimised the mood of a generation and included comics such as Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle. Britain's comedy scene began to really flourish in the 1980s, although London was mainly the place to be with The Comedy Store being the place where everyone wanted to play. Comics emerging from this period include Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Rik Mayall and Paul Merton. Television programmes called Saturday Live (1985-87) and the later version Friday Night Live (1988) proved to be hugely popular and extremely influential, although very short lived. Lead by Ben Elton whose socialist politics came to the fore in his comedy, it introduced other comedians such as Harry Enfield, Julian Clary, Angus Deayton. Jo Brand and Jack Dee. Cambridge University had its own club called Footlights and introduced many famous comedians such as Rowen Atkinson, Tony Slattery, Emma Thompson, Steve Punt, Hugh Dennis, Rob Newman, David Baddiel, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The majority of these comedians went on to have successful television shows on the back of this throughout the 1990s. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, actually won the first ever Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1981. The 1990s saw the introduction of the likes of Lee Evans and Eddie Izzard. the comedy landscape was changing again.

Eventually, there came a shift from political comedy to observational comedy, with Edinburgh fast becoming the comedy capital, stand up became the dominant way to go, emerging from this were the likes of Sean Hughes and Frank Skinner. Comedy seems to thrive on different styles from bawdy, mainstream, political, alternative and observational, there is the north/south divide, with the likes of Peter Kay, Lee Mack and Jason Mansford from the north and Mickey Flanagan from the south. The noughties saw the emergence of posh boy comedy with the likes of Josh Widdicombe, Chris Addison, Michael McIntyre, Jack Whitehall . David Mitchell and Jimmy Carr. In a comedy category of their own are the likes of Alan Carr and Graham Norton with their enthusiastic comedy, Johnny Vegas for his ranting comedy and Milton Jones and Tim Vine for their comedic puns.

It could be argued that the concept of comedy, is a crafted and learned art form, after all, a comedians' jokes need to be funny, else an audience will not laugh, it is about how jokes are delivered and in what context, the type of comedy and how the comedian interacts with the audience. There needs to be a shared knowledge between the comedian and the audience. Comedians have to find their own style, rather than parody someone else, comedians who steal others material is a definite no no. A stand up comedian has to put themselves in the position of the audience so that what they perceive to be funny is understood to be so by the audience. They are on a constant quest for inspiration, reading, observing and listening are key to this. as well as the audience themselves, especially hecklers. There are now comedy courses available where people can learn the craft of comedy, these are usually run by comedians already working in the field, however, it could be argued that you cannot necessarily teach someone to be funny, what these courses tend to do is identify a person's aptitude towards comedy and help them develop it.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is all about showcasing new talent and providing another outlet for more established comedians to entertain and reach audiences they may mot necessarily reach. People travel to the festival from all over, for some it's a holiday with non stop laughter thrown in, for others, it's like a comedy pilgrimage, a yearly ritual, eagerly awaited and planned meticulously to the last detail and for myself, it was like a busman's holiday. where there was that rarity of work being fun. At times it was surreal, Edinburgh is Edinburgh, it is what it is, a lovely city, complete with castle and a wealth of historic culture, that for a month each year is transformed and descended upon by purveyors of all things comedy, along with all those in pursuit of it. Although it was work, it was. for the most part enjoyable, the majority of the shows seen were based on recommendation, reviews and first hand knowledge, the art of comedy is indeed subjective, a stand up that one person finds funny, someone else indeed may not. If my face hurt the next day, this was a good sign, a couple, I had to literally 'grin and bare'.

Laughing is indeed infectious, it is also good for us. for comedians, stand up is their job, their ultimate goal is to make us laugh and for the most part, we pay money for the privelledge, the mark of a good stand up wherever the gig, is if they can do this effortlessly and the audience come away feeling it was money well spent, after all, a comedian's success depends on audiences booking to see them, based on recommendations and reviews and so on, not just publicity and marketing. Stand up comedians come in various guises, their comedy varied, finding out what and who makes you laugh is an enjoyable journey to be taken again and again as there is always someone to see, their tours making them accessible to wider audiences. If there is a stand up that makes you laugh, go and see them live, the experience is well worth it.

Double, O. (2013) Getting The Joke: The Inner Workings of Stand Up Comedy. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama
Hall, J. (2006) The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy. London: Rough Guides Ltd
The Fear and Art of Stand Up Comedy. lilla-bu.blogspot.co.uk Accessed August 2014


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