Greed and TV are killing comedy

Says top promoter Noel Faulkner

One of Britain’s top club promoters has launched a no-holds-barred attack on the greedy agents and generic TV stand-ups he says are killing comedy.

Noel Faulkner, who set up the Comedy Cafe in East London more than 20 years ago, said today’s industry attracted too many ‘tossers’ and ‘minicab drivers’, whose only interest was making as much money as they could from comedy.

‘We’re all getting too greedy,’ he told the Comedy International Conference in Greenwich, South-East London. ‘There are too many carpetbaggers.

‘Every step there’s a club exploiting comedians, or promoters making people drive across the country and not even giving them petrol money. Comedy has got worse than rock and roll, and that business is quite horrible.

And he told the comedy industry folk in the audience: ‘Ask yourself every morning, “Am I putting something into this business?” If people aren’t, I won’t work with them. I’ll tell people to their face that they’re schmucks.

‘But there are some people who work for huge companies who are really caring, and that’s what we need.’

However, it was not just agents and promoters Faulkner berated in his passionate diatribe, but unadventurous stand-ups and an obsession with getting on to TV.

‘I would love to shut down TV,’ he said. ‘We put too many comics on TV. TV is such shite that people should be ashamed of themselves for going on.’

Leading comedy promoter Mick Perrin, who stages tours for the likes of Eddie Izzard and Ross Noble, agreed, saying: ‘TV is killing comedy. Over he last three years you can see the decline in standards.

‘New comics look at TV and think that’s where they should be. But that’s wrong. There should be a punk spirit, and I think that’s beginning to happen.

‘When I talk to new comics, if the first thing they say is “I want to be on TV in two years”, I won’t touch them with a bargepole.

‘I do live comedy. TV sells tickets, and there’s no denying that, but TV is the death of comedy.’

Ryan Taylor, who programmes comedy into the Pleasance at the Edinburgh Fringe, said even TV credits weren’t the box-office draw they once were. ‘Everyone’s been on these shows,’ he said. ‘It’s not a currency any more.’

Faulkner said the market was now ‘saturated’ with comics and there were ‘a lot of English middle-class twats’ doing comedy, rather than the larger-than-life characters who used to define the circuit.

‘None of them drink, smoke or take drugs,’ he said. ‘We are going to have the most boring 40something comics in future. Where are the Ian Cognitos, the Boothby Graffoes, the future Malcolm Hardees?’

But he did say there were comics who didn’t follow the cookie-cutter route. ‘There are a lot of good, young, educated black comic coming through – Nabil Abdul Rashid, Ola. The black circuit is crossing over in to what is the mainstream now. That excites me.

Faulkner also admitted that his club has struggled during the economic downturn – and complained about star comics who wouldn’t return to help ticket sales.

‘I’ve paid the rent for every major comic in the UK, but it’s hard to get them to come back and play the club,’ he said. ‘We were in dire straits last year; we lost a lot of money. I have a £150,000-a-year rent, and the council aren’t interested in helping.’

Published: 9 Sep 2011

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