Stewart Lee exposes TV's closed shop

It markets a 'tiny cartel' of comics

Stewart Lee has spoken out against the comedy agencies who make TV shows that ‘disproportionately’ feature their clients.

He said the practice promotes a ‘tiny coterie’ of comedians at the expense of other acts, and is driven by profit, as executives get to pocket a commission on their own payments to their own acts.

Many TV comedy shows – including Live At The Apollo, Live At The Electric, Stand Up For The Week and Russell Howard’s Good News – are made by the production arms of two of Britain’s biggest comedy agencies: Off The Kerb and Avalon.

And in speaking to the Independent – to promote Comedy Central’s new Alternative Comedy Experience – he has revealed the situation to a much larger audience.

‘All of those shows are peppered to a disproportionate extent with clients of the management company owned by the production company,’ he told the newspaper.

‘You have a ridiculous situation where a client of the management company is interviewing another client of a management company on a programme made by the production company owned by the management company. Basically, advertising money and licence-payer money is being spent to increase the marketplace value of a tiny coterie of people.’

‘The lack of diversity in approach and opinion in stand-up on TV is because the gateway is controlled by two or three monopolies, who even produce their own “alternative”or “new talent” shows like Stand Up For The Week, giving the illusion of fulfilling a broadcaster’s ‘alternative’ brief.’

Both Avalon and Off The Kerb declined to comment to The Independent.

Lee also said too many people were claiming to be comedians, when they’re not. ‘They’re TV presenters or something,’ he said, ‘and  they use this label. It should be policed, like real ale.’

  • Comedy Central Extra claims to be broadcasting the longest ever stand-up special shown on British TV tonight, when it premieres the full version of Stewart Lee's Carpet Remnant World, which runs for 2hrs and 40minutes with ads, from 10pm.

Published: 2 Feb 2013

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