Arts Council told to fund 'grass roots' comedy

Stand-ups are pleading with the Arts Council to reverse its de facto ban on supporting comedy in the same way as it backs other art forms

Nick Clark
Tuesday 11 August 2015 21:22
Performers at the London Sketch Comedy Festival
Performers at the London Sketch Comedy Festival

Few comedians travel to the Edinburgh Fringe with any hopes of making money. In honing their craft and trying to get noticed, most are happy to come back with losses amounting to thousands of pounds.

But according to the Arts Council, comedy is a commercially successful sector, meaning that up-and-coming comics do not qualify for financial help.

Stand-ups are now pleading with the funding body to reverse its de facto ban on supporting comedy in the same way as it backs other art forms.

Adam Dahrouge and Ofer Yatziv, producers of the London Sketch Comedy Festival, have written to Darren Henley, the Arts Council’s chief executive, to demand direct funding for comedians who are suffering with the lack of support.

The comedian André Vincent believes comedy should be valued alongside ballet or poety

The letter, co-signed by the UK Comedy Guild, said there was “a misunderstanding of comedy at an institutional level”.

While successes like Michael McIntyre and Jimmy Carr may be commercially viable, Mr Dahrouge and Mr Yatziv wrote, “you seem unaware of the grassroots festivals, local comedy venues and emerging comedians... who may need to rely on arts funding to progress their development.”

A recent survey revealed that 51 per cent of comedy attendees would not pay to see someone live if they had not seen them on television. Only a third of comedy audiences are interested in smaller events with lesser-known talent.

The comedian André Vincent backed the letter. “Comedy doesn’t get treated the same as the rest of the arts, it’s appalling,” he told The Independent.

“There is money to be made, but you have to support the grass roots. It is getting a bit worrying,” he added. “It’s not about the individual I want it to be accepted as an art as good as ballet, poetry or anything else.”

The campaign applies to comedians in all locations, all year around – but it will feel particularly relevant for those comedians who will spend thousands in Edinburgh this August on venue, production, promotion, PR and accommodation fees.

Mick Perrin, a major comedy promoter who represents the likes of Alan Davies and Eddie Izzard, said: “If funding were available, then promoters like myself would be in a much better position, financially, to invite along more comedians to the fringe,” he said. “The Arts Council, like the promoter, would benefit in time.”

A spokeswoman for the Arts Council said: “The main reason we don’t fund comedy directly is that it tends to be commercially self-sustaining.”

She added that the Council did back some institutions that staged comedy as part of their programmes, including the Soho Theatre and the Warwick Arts Centre, and while they would “never say never”, the organisation is not looking at reclassifying art forms “in the near future”.

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