Britain’s comedy output is admired across the globe, from its groundbreaking sitcoms to influential sketch shows, stand-up superstars to radio wonders. Comedy fans look to us for the best cutting-edge comedy on TV, radio and live on stage.
One form of funny our country particularly excels at is the lovingly crafted hour of live comedy. The Edinburgh Fringe’s influence on the live circuit means that nearly every year comedians write a new 60-minutes of material to take to Scotland and showcase in front of comedy-savvy punters. But, as well as pushing comics to churn out jokes, the Fringe encourages creativity and has accelerated innovation. Hour-long comedy shows – like the ones showcased on NextUp – are more than just 60-minutes of gags and observations, they can incorporate narratives and themes, technology and messaging. As an audience, we can be taken on a journey, we can learn something, and we really get a feel for each comic’s unique voice and viewpoint.
That isn’t to say that jokes are sacrificed for such devices, though. Often the biggest and most rewarding laughs are ones that are the result of elaborate set-ups, multiple elements tying together or an unexpected twist in a story. With 60-minutes to play with, there’s room to experiment with different textures and emotions, like high-concept stunts or more poignant moments. These shows aren’t necessarily a constant stream of bellyaching one-liners, they’re pushing the boundaries of what comedy means, and blending stand-up or sketch with other artistic genres.
Ben Target, for example, received a Best Newcomer nomination at the 2012 Edinburgh Comedy Awards for his debut show, ‘Discover Ben Target’, which is available on NextUp. It’s a bold, imaginative hour that’s as much of a ‘happening’ as it is a comedy show. The absurdist comic plays games with his audience, disorientates them and even leads them out into the street. Would Target get a spot on ‘Live at the Apollo’? Probably not. Is his show still ‘comedy’? Absolutely!
Lou Sanders’s latest offering, ‘What’s That Lady Doing?’, is also available on NextUp, and the title comes from an audience member’s reaction to watching the comic on stage. The show’s full of giddy excitement, as Sanders provides a running commentary on her own performance and veers off on tangents and asides. Over an hour, Sanders has room to experiment and take risks, and can exploit her scatter-brained approach to find unique angles to stories and reveal details of her childhood. It’s a winning combination.
With short set lengths and punchy gags, the stand-up we’re used to seeing on TV is perfect for getting a quick shot of comedy gold. But to see the true breadth of styles, talent and ingenuity on offer on the British comedy scene, seeking out lovingly crafted hours – that comics spend a whole year writing and shaping – is a must for any comedy fan. You never know, you might just discover your new favourite comedian.