Comedy in crisis | Revealed: Full extent of how coronavirus has decimated the industry

Comedy in crisis

Revealed: Full extent of how coronavirus has decimated the industry

The devastating effect of the coronavirus lockdown on the live comedy has been revealed in a major survey of the industry.

Research conducted by the new Live Comedy Association reveal that a third of comedy venues believe will have to close within the next six months, and almost eight out of ten (77.8 per cent won’t last a year)

And almost half of the workers in the sector, including comedians, are seriously considering quitting. 

That will come as no surprise given that three-quarters of performers are earning less that five per cent of what they might have expected without the pandemic.

Even after lockdown eases, the circuit is unlikely to bounce back, with more than 80 per cent of promoters saying they do not expect to run all of their regular events after lockdown ends.

The figures are revealed as the LCA lobbies for comedy to be recognised as an art form eligible for a slice of the £1.57 billion of government support that was made available to the cultural sector this week

The association says that live comedy is often seen as the poor relation to other art forms when it comes to government funding,  ‘but we have always been working, contributing to local economies, and producing work that is known worldwide'.

‘It is clear from the report that the live comedy industry is in desperate need of help, but with its notable history of being overlooked for funding, the future is looking increasingly uncertain. 

‘Without assistance our venues will go bankrupt, jobs will be lost, comics will quit and many will never come back again. The effect of this on our theatres, festivals, and TV and radio output will be enormous.’


Comic Nish Kumar, above, said: ‘This report is a sobering and important read for the entire comedy industry. I hope that this can convince the relevant parties of the need to intervene and provide assistance where needed.’


Almost one in five people working in all corners of the industry will have to quit by August. Given another year, three-quarters will have left.

Those most likely to be thinking of leaving come from under-represented groups, including women, LGBTQ members, the disabled or working-class people.

Those promoting gigs or helping them operate are most likely to consider quitting. They are also the most likely to be earning less than £12,000 a year from comedy before lockdown.

Eight out of ten comics have tried to work online since lockdown, but well over half (57 per cent) have been unable to monetise this.

Almost five in six promoters expect to be running fewer gigs when lockdown is lifted; 40 per cent of them think they will be running less than quarter of their previous number of gigs.

Half of comedy venues think they will definitely face closure without government help. Three-quarters expect to have to make redundancies if there is no further change to the government’s furlough scheme, which is set to expire in October. 

Two-thirds of venues say it would not be viable for them to open with one-metre social distancing rules restricting their audience numbers. 

No comedy clubs have been able to make a successful insurance claim due to the pandemic.

Agents say their clients have already lost more than £11.7million between them - a very conservative episode as not all agents would have responded, and a third of those who did complete the survey declined to but a cash sum on the lost work.

The most important concerns those in the industry have are, in order

  • Losing venues permanently
  • The industry relying on big names to reduce risks (so making it harder for new acts to earn money and develop)
  • Coronavirus further entrenching inequalities across the industry
  • Losing other small businesses permanently 
  • Losing festivals permanently
  • Losing individuals permanently

Read the full report here.

Stand-up Kiri Pritchard-McLean said: ‘We risk extinguishing an entire generation of comedic voices unless the government provides financial support.

'Comedy has been far better at providing representation than other art forms, we are accessible for audiences and performers alike but if you take away our stages and our ability to earn money the accessibility goes and only the richest survive. I don’t think I trust the richest and most privileged in society to be writing the policy and the jokes.’


And fellow comic Mark Watson, above, added: ‘Comedy has always supported itself in the shadow of the better-funded arts. The British live  comedy scene is the best and most vibrant in the world, and over the past 20 years has exploded like no other area of the creative industries, luring talent from all over the globe in a way few sectors do. 

‘This is one of the fastest-growing, most egalitarian and fashionable pockets of the arts, and it produces work on a fraction of the budgets enjoyed by theatre, opera, or anything else. Any rescue plan for the performing arts needs to include it.’

The Live Comedy Association has signed up 1,500 members in the eight weeks since it was set up.

It is launching an online campaign to draw attention to the crisis in the industry tomorrow, asking supporters to sign an open letter calling for comedy to be eligible to the arts funding lifelines.

And organisers are  encouraging the public and those in the industry to post a picture of their most memorable live comedy experience with the hashtag #SaveLiveComedy to draw attention to the campaign.

• In their own words, comedians describe the devastating impact of lockdown

Published: 8 Jul 2020

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