Why doesn't comedy have its own magazine?

Toby Martin is itching for a new publication

If comedy really is the new rock and roll, there is one area in which it does not match its musical counterpart: magazines.

The comedy world has provided plenty of humorous and satirical magazines, such as Viz, Mustard and Private Eye, and websites such as Chortle which offer an essential service.  But the world of comedy lacks a response to anachronistic big-sellers NME and Q.

Surely the readers of Chortle – 143,892 unique users in December – would treasure a print version containing news, interviews, live reviews, opinions on the latest DVD releases, correspondence and insights into the life of comedians. 

The NME – total circulation 40,948 Jan-Jun 2009 – is just one of several dozen popular music publications, yet a thorough search of WH Smith or your local newsagent will yield no reading material on the subject of comedy.

The greatest explanation for this void in the market is that there would not be big enough demand.  However, with stand up now appearing regularly in the DVD charts, there is surely just as much demand for a decent comedy magazine as there is for movie periodicals.

Regrettably, the comedy magazine market has had its fingers burned before.  In 1996, Future Publishing ran five issues of Comedy Review magazine.  Its cover starts included Stephen Fry, Steve Coogan and Eddie Izzard and contributors included Danny Wallace and Peter Baynham.  Deadpan magazine, despite putting the likes of Lee & Herring on their covers, suffered a similar fate. 

Apparently, comedy magazines are regularly rejected by the big publishers as they are convinced that it is too niche a market to be profitable.  So why should they be any more successful today than they were during the Nineties?

To begin with, stand up comedy is now viewed differently than it was fifteen years ago.  Today it is considered to be a mainstream art, often reviewed in the broadsheets and featured on the television.  During the Nineties, it was still a profession that was still finding its niche.  It also wore wounds from the Seventies and Eighties, when a fair amount of comedy trod a dangerous and risky path. 

These days, however, comedians have become well loved household names solely on the back of their stand-up performances and nobody, bar the odd television executive, truly believes that they will cause genuine harm or offence.  In fact, the media have now made stand-up comedians the go-to source for anything from newspaper comment columns to guest appearances on Question Time.  Their opinions are widely respected and trusted; surely, then, a periodical dedicated to them would also be a widely respected and trusted document.

The main reason, though, why I would like to see such a publication is to capitalise on the recent boom in the comedy industry.  By November, 2.26 million comedy DVDs had been sold in the UK in 2009, a 38 per cent rise on the same time a year ago.  A best-selling comedy magazine would help to ensure that interest in comedy does not wane after the festive DVD boom, and would encourage those fans of DVD releases to get down to their local comedy club and start watching live stand- up. 

Additionally, it would help to promote more mainstream interest in those comedians who are much-loved by Chortle readers, yet deserve greater recognition from the comedy fans who generally only go to see a comedian if they have appeared on Live At The Apollo.

A final argument against the birth of such a magazine would be that, at a time when magazine sales are dropping all the time, it would be a terrible time to try to launch such a thing.  However, it has been well documented that in a time of recession and national depression, the Great British public often turn to comedy as a primary source to elevate the gloom.  It would, in fact, be an excellent time to begin such a project.

My greatest hope is that someone reading this would be inspired to give this a go.  As a comedy fan, frustrated writer and performer and full-time English teacher, I would love to try to push a magazine to publication but would have absolutely no idea how to. 

But if you think that you could – try it!  You would be filling a gap in the market and there are surely a great many people out there who would be very appreciative… and who would probably help to line your pockets, too.

Published: 9 Jan 2010

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