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.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor