With scant live comedy on our tellies, and comedy clubs going under, where does a punter turn for quality stand-up? Why stadiums of course…which is good news for fans of stand up comedy DVDs as this Christmas sees a whole raft of Superstar stand up DVD releases – however zavvi goes a little bit deeper to reflect on how comics moved away from smokey clubs to cavernous arenas.
Buy a random ticket for London’s 02 Arena and you’re just as likely to see one bloke with a mike as you are to see Take That on a motorized elephant or Bono emerging from a lemon. Comedy always booms in a recession, but with the demise of more intimate clubs like Jongleurs, and audiences wanting a household name bang for their hard-earned buck, it’s the arenas that are cleaning up.
With few outlets for straight stand-up on television, punters are prepared to pay up to £80 for an evening with reliable gag-smiths like Dara O’Briain, Bill Bailey, Russell Brand, Michael McIntyre and Frank Skinner.
Even Russell Howard, a relative newcomer to mainstream comedy, called his last tour “Big Rooms and Belly Laughs” (now released on DVD as Russell Howard Live 2) and packed out venues like Cardiff International Arena and Liverpool’s Echo Arena. Size really does matter, audience-wise.
But in a 10,000 seater stadium, when the punters can’t see the whites of your eyes (unless they’re glued to the jumbo vision screen), what does a stand-up do to keep the audience’s attention?
Al Murray, in Pub Landlord guise, used an air cannon to fire bags of crisps 60 metres into the audience (“a health and safety nightmare”, he noted) when he played the 02 arena.
The Mighty Boosh had Bollo, their talking Gorilla pal, play a DJ set on their cross-country stadium tour, which got the vast audiences dancing. And way back in 1993 Newman and Baddiel, the first comedians to play Wembley Arena (and also the first to really capture the comedy DVD market), flew in on wires and roamed moodily around the stage on motorized skateboards. Comedy was indeed the new rock ‘n’ roll.
Not that pyrotechnics are vital to keeping a stadium crowd happy. Lee Evans and Jimmy Carr have mastered the art of filling every corner of the 14,500 seater O2 with just pratfalls (Evans) and rapid one-liners (Carr, obviously). And musical acts like Bill Bailey thrive in front of a Wembley crowd, where the line between comedy and stadium rock can blur. Bill told an interviewer: “At one point, [in the show Bill Bailey Tinselworm, DVD filmed at Wembley] I looked up and the lights were shining behind me and had projected my shadow, and it was about 50 feet tall, and I thought, ‘Oh my God.'”
Michael McIntyre, perhaps the biggest new comedy star this year, certainly in terms of coverage on the BBC where he seems to be on at least three times a week (Mock the Week, Michael McIntyre at the Apollo et al) has the hot tip for this years best selling comedy DVD – Michael McIntyre Live – and his act is geared to the bigger venues – over exaggerated mannerisms, silly walks, lots of skipping…he’s got it down to a tee.
But veteran stand up Eddie Izzard, who’s taken his show Stripped from London’s Lyric theatre to the O2 Arena, says there’s no difference playing to 500 or 11,000. “I don’t really approach [venues] differently,” he said. “I just go out and live it big.”
CLICK HERE for our full list of comedy DVDs including the supersize shows from Bill Bailey, Jimmy Carr, Michael McIntyre and Eddie Izzard.