The envy of the world stopping knocking British comics, Anton Renwick urges

In 2008 I spent some time as a volunteer on a kibbutz in Israel where I lived and worked with people from across the world. I was in an environment where the cultures and financial backgrounds of the people I lived with vastly differed from my own, yet we discovered common interests. While politics, religion and cultures were talked about there was another subject that seemed to excite and interest people just as much. When people discovered I was from Britain, it was comedy we talked about most.

Globally we are known for our rich history of comedy with our vintage sitcoms and comedy films. This is not to imply we are the only country with an industry dedicated to comedy, but that somehow we have a widespread reputation for allowing people freedom to express in this way.

While on the kibbutz I lived with two guys from South Korea who were fascinated by the idea that people stand up with a microphone and talk about subjects in order to create laughter. Although stand-up could be performed in their country, the idea of expressing feelings in front of strangers so openly was unusual, it was never thought of as way to make a living.

The two guys, who in my mind would have made a fantastic double act such was their own comic timing, would often ask me what sort of subjects would be used in stand-up routines. I would explain that comics were free to talk about anything, be it, comments on society, on political figures/celebrities, the divide between the young and old and even jokes about sex and sexual incidents. The two guys would fall about with a mixture of shock, amusement and horror at the idea these subjects could be discussed in this manner.

I also worked alongside people from Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Faroe Islands, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Israel and India and often ended up talking about British shows that had been broadcast in their country.

It seems that although comedy exists in other countries the idea of stand-up as a profession is much less recognised. Yet do we really appreciate how lucky we are to have it? This year has seen several high-profile comics subjected to tabloid witchhunts over the use of a one-liner or some prank that has gone a bit too far.

We’ve had papers printing stories about material that is meant to have caused offence, yet people have only complained once they’ve read it in their morning paper. As a result, comedians, and TV producers, are being more careful with the material they use.

But when you consider that on any night of the week you can pop into a small pub and find someone willing enough to step into a bright light, pick up a mic and try to entertain people for free, or that we have people driving up and down our motorways in order to perform their shows to us, Britain’s comedy scene should be applauded.

We have such a rich comedy heritage that was created by people getting up and trying something different, something challenging and sometimes getting it wrong. So let us all ignore the tabloid fanfare the next time a comic oversteps the mark and instead sit back and enjoy the rest of their show.

Published: 9 Dec 2009

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