'Comedy is dying'

Become more challenging, comics told

Stand-up is in danger of becoming a dead art form because comedians are afraid of taking risks, one of the founding fathers of alternative comedy has warned.

Roland Muldoon, the former head of the Hackney Empire, said stand-up has become stuck in a rut with comics all tackling the same topics.

And in an impassioned speech at the School Of Comedy’s Funny Festival in Regents Park, London, the man who founded the New Variety project to promote political-inspired comedy in 1981 urged would-be comedians to challenge the status quo or else comedy would return to the ‘bad old days’ of the working men’s club circuit of the Seventies.

He said that when alternative comedy emerged in the early Eighties ‘there was an interesting debate, and comedy was bubbling away – it was really dynamic’.

‘What happens now?’ he asked at today’s event. ‘Oh dear. I’ve just seen 100 comics and I think they had 12 jokes: paedophilia, rape, ginger hair, small penises, paranoia at ATMs. Observational comedy is taking over, it’s all Michael McIntyre and people aren’t saying anything any more, and it’s really frightening.

‘There’s so much xenophobia and Islamophobia – where are the people getting great laughs from that? Why don’t we laugh at Gordon Brown? Of those 100 comics only two made jokes about the BNP.

‘Instead we’re worrying about rimming. I’ve heard five jokes about that. I’m not sure what it is , and I would ask these young comics from Oxbridge what it is, but I’m not sure they know either.

‘Are we going back to the bad old days? There’s a growing lack of consciousness. A feeling that you should say nothing. That’s really worrying. It’s so frightening, so frustrating.

‘What are comics scared of? There’s no jobs for comics any more – it’s difficult for anyone but the big names to get an audience. There’s no future for comedy.

‘But if we start challenging the system we might revive it. Otherwise comedy might end up dead like folk music, and that would be so sad.’

Published: 29 Nov 2009

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