Comics 'will be playing UK stadiums soon'

Could Izzard be the first?

Comedians will be playing huge stadiums in the UK before too long, some industry experts predict.

Although critics say stand-up requires an intimacy even 10,000-seater arenas cannot provide, Wembley Stadium’s Jim Frayling says demand will push comedians into venues several times larger than that.

German comic Mario Barth has already played arenas, having filled the 70,000-seat Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 2008, and returned there this July as part of a tour that also included similar-sized venues in Frankfurt and Gelsenkirchen.

Frayling said it was inevitable this would be the first of many such tours, despite the ‘Jeremiahs who will say it’s not happening’ – in the same way no one believed arena comedy would ever take off.

And tour promoter Mick Perrin hinted that Eddie Izzard, whose shows he produces, was considering such a venue. Izzard played the 18,000-seater Hollywood Bowl this summer.

Even though die-hard comedy fans dislike big gigs, Ian Coburn from major promoters Live Nation said: ‘You’d be surprised how many people want the experience.

‘A large proportion of the population want to go to a big arena like the O2 - where there’s car parking and places to eat and drink - and see a big event that they know they’ll like because everybody else likes it.’

Agent Hannah Chambers, whose clients include Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle, was more cautious, saying: ‘Comedy rooms with 1,000 to 3,000 seats works best in terms of atmosphere and getting a proper income.

‘Very few comedians could do a proper gig in a very big arenas. Smaller is better, but if an act can do bigger venues, most promoters and comedians would do that. Ultimately, it’s decided by the availability of the performer and how many tickets you can sell – that’s your decision made.

‘There are a finite number of comedians that will play stadiums. TV is a massive reason, and there are only so many platforms on key channels that will allow people to rise to that level.’

Coburn added that even Chris Rock found the O2 a ‘difficult room to play because of the cadence and fast pace of his delivery. Laughs take a long time to go around the room so it’s more suited to a more languid performer. The size of the venue affects the way comedians perform.’

The comments came during a session during the Comedy International Conference in Greenwich, South East London, yesterday, about big music promoters moving into comedy.

Frayling warned that multinational companies would be muscling in on the industry, taking business from existing promoters, but many of the other panelists said that they would find it difficult as comedy is a different beast from music.

David Messer, from the Dingwalls venue in Camden, said: ‘A lot of music promoters could catch a cold. Promoting is a calculated risk, and if you don’t know the market, you can’t take a risk.’

Panelists referred to mistakes made in promoting Sarah Silverman’s disastrous 2008 gig at the Hammersmith Apollo – where she performed for just £45 minutes – and Jerry Seinfeld’s O2 gig this summer where tickets were priced £100.

Coburn said: ‘No one came way from the Seinfeld show and thought it was a tremendous success. Most comics I work with, when they see 4,000 empty seats as Jerry Seinfeld did, they tend not to be very happy.’

Here’s a clip of Barth playing the Berlin stadium:

Published: 9 Sep 2011

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