Periodical pains

Sean Mason asks why there are no comedy magazines

A friend of mine recently asked me why there were no comedy magazines: one about comedy, not one that is comic in nature - in the form of NME (before it became OK magazine for the indie kids) or The Wire. Why isn't comedy being written about in the same way as music?

In some places it is, mostly in newspaper supplements or online. But to my knowledge there have never really been any successful commercial print magazines focusing simply on comedy, and there certainly aren't any in current circulation.

There are many reasons for this. One: the internet. It's killing most print magazines already, so why would someone want to invest in a new venture which is more than likely going to fail. Chortle is the closest we have to a regularly updated magazine without the need for print. It has news, reviews, listings and even articles such as this one. Mustard, the only comedy magazine I can think of in circulation, just doesn't work for me in this context because it's a quarterly self-published product. It can't feature regular listings and has to focus on more recognised acts to make back its costs.

There would also be problems running a full listings section, there are so many gigs across the country that places would inevitably be under-represented. And comedy line-ups are very malleable, changing things. But that's not to say it’s impossible.

Another problem is that it's not clear who the audience would be, which would define the content of the product. Should it be aimed at those familiar with circuit comedy (both acts and punters alike) or would it be better suited for a wider audience.

It would be wonderful to educate audiences not familiar with circuit comedy but only those acts they see on TV (an unfortunately large number of people) of the many fantastic acts across the country, but this brings its own problems. Is Keith from Brighton going to care about Manchester comedian Sean Mason? Of course not, Russell Howard is in town.

This leads to the question of who gets represented within the issue. Music magazines, in their heyday, championed new acts and told them why you were going to like them - now, to sell more copies; their covers are full of the same old faces promoted by the big labels. In the recent comedy issue of Guardian supplement G2 all of the comedians advertised were represented by Phil McIntyre. No reference to any of the smaller promoters and their acts playing Edinburgh.

Comedy in print is a difficult thing to master as well. A comedy magazine should never try too earnestly to be funny, because unless the writers are good they're going to fail. It should leave the funny to the people it's about. But with the right writers and the right tone it'd be fine. And I'm all for po-faced analysis so long as it is well written po-faced analysis that sparks debate not arguments (I'm looking at you Brian Logan).

The writers would also need to be able to write about new acts and champion them, but the magazine would need to represent comedians across the country. This leads to another problem such a publication would face, the difference between localisation and nationalisation. London, being the bigger circuit is obviously better represented in print than, for example, Manchester, but both are vibrant and busy circuits. The magazine would have to be able to represent all.

I'm not saying it would be impossible to produce a viable and successful magazine about comedy, and I'd definitely buy it. But it would have to give me everything I wanted, which is to know about all kinds of comedians, not just the ones off TV.

And I just don't see that happening.

(This is an issue that's been on my mind for a while and I'm still figuring it out. If you have any views feel free to message me on twitter @seanmason).

Published: 10 Aug 2009

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