Stewart Lee is not amused at monopoly control of TV comedy

Comedian attacks production companies behind popular shows for simply employing their own clients

Stewart Lee has accused the makers of Britain’s most popular comedy shows of featuring a “tiny coterie” of acts who are also their clients.

The 44-year-old comedian told The Independent that panel shows such as 8 Out Of 10 Cats and stand-up show cases like Live At The Apollo are created by production companies that use another wing of their business to cultivate talent who can be given high-profile slots, allowing executives to pocket a commission on their own payments.

“All of those shows are peppered to a disproportionate extent with clients of the management company owned by the production company,” he said. “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 biggest management agencies, Avalon and Off The Kerb, represent a raft of the country’s most recognisable comedians – from Michael McIntyre to Dara O’Briain – and each have separate production companies that create comedy television. Russell Kane’s Live at The Electric, which was produced by Avalon for Channel 4 last year, was made up of 60 per cent Avalon-represented acts. Both companies declined to comment.  The circular nature of the process allows a closeted group of comedians to be retained as the biggest acts, Lee suggested.

“Television is run by a certain type of middle class person who has a kind of contempt for their audience,” he continued. “They might like particular things, but they think the audience won’t. They expect the very worst from people and so give it to them.”

Expanding on the subject, he added: “After ‘Sachsgate’ there was a BBC directive about all this, but it has been forgotten and ignored. 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.”

Since he started as a stand-up in the 1980s, Lee  has become a mainstay of comedy’s counter-culture and is no stranger to controversy. But he says his jokes are often unfairly stripped of context to fabricate “feuds” with TV stars, such as Richard Hammond and Michael McIntyre.

The stand-up comic, who will begin filming series three of Comedy Vehicle in December, will attempt to redress the balance with a new show that premieres on Comedy Central next week. The Alternative Comedy Experience, which has been curated by Lee, will feature a raft of new talent, including Josie Long, Paul Foot and Isy Suttie.

Suttie, who is best known as Dobby in Peep Show, said of the opportunity: “I feel quite honoured that I’m considered part of that group. I think you can tell when people want to be on telly for the wrong reasons and want to fast track their careers, now that stand-up has become more commercial.”

Lee has been portrayed as an outspoken critic of household-name comedians, but he says the grudge has been overplayed. In fact, he has a lot of respect for the abilities of the “Russell” comics – the affectionate name he imagines his nan would give to the trio of Brand, Howard and Kane. Panel comedians are simply “victims” of a corrupting system, he says.

“And what do you get from one those mainstream shows? You get three guys talking about similar things, normally, but doing it well, and then you get a woman one, if you’re lucky, who’s required to fit one of three types of female stand-up, which is either a ‘harridan’ – I’m not saying they’re harridans – a ‘slut’ – that’s in inverted commas – or some kind of ‘frump’.

“It struck me that when you have a line up of people in the big stand-up shows now they’re all in these kind of suits, they look like a team of advertising executives or some kind of lawyers on a golfing weekend. They look like business-like professionals come to do a job of work.”

For Lee, the messy essence of the art of stand-up is being lost in the hunt for ratings and approval. “Loads of people keep saying they’re stand up comedians and they’re not. I see it all the time. They’re TV presenters or something,  or they’re comedy actresses, and  they use this label. It should be policed, like real ale.”

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin