Laughter in the dark: Behind the scenes on the UK stand-up circuit

Photographer Steve Best goes behind the curtain with Harry Hill, Jo Brand and more to capture the joy, nerves and sense of community among comics before they take the spotlight

Alex Hickson
Sunday 20 March 2022 13:45
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<p>Jack Whitehall looking pensive before taking to the stage</p>

Jack Whitehall looking pensive before taking to the stage

The latest book by comedian and photographer Steve Best glimpses the backstage world of stand-up comics as they prepare to entertain audiences across the country.

Comedians, due for release soon, features some of the best-loved stand-ups on the circuit, including Harry Hill, Stewart Lee, Jack Whitehall, Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr and Jo Caulfield.

Best’s own years in the business have gained him the trust of his fellow comedians, allowing for exclusive access into the dressing rooms of some of the UK comedy scene’s top performers.

However, as all comedians and photographers know, it’s not just about being in the right place at the right moment. It’s also about timing.

Harry Hill

Stewart Lee

The book uncovers a side to comedians normally subsumed beneath their stand-up persona. As such, it gives audiences an insight into what may well be a completely different person away from the spotlight.

Who would have known, for example, that an A-list comic like Jack Whitehall would still get nervous before a show? In Best’s image of the late Barry Cryer, he may well be reflecting on an entire career as he looks into his dressing room mirror. These are the moments Best captures in such riveting fashion.

Dara O'Briain

Jimmy Carr

“The fact is no one takes photos of comedians like Steve. Why? Because he knows us, because he’s one of us,” says Harry Hill.

“No one captures the atmosphere backstage like him because no one has the access – to us he’s just Steve, and he’s got his camera with him again, we stop trying to impress or be funny - no mean feat for a comic – and CLICK! he’s got us.”

Comedian Zoe Lyons says: “It takes a comedian to know a comedian and Steve just instinctively knows how to ‘get the shot’.

“The pictures capture the joy, laughter and camaraderie of those off stage moments and what it is to be part of the gang of clowns. Equally he has got such a brilliant eye for getting those pictures that seem to get the very essence of the comic.”

Barry Cryer

Seann Walsh

It’s clear from Best’s work that he has great love and respect for the comedy world.

Jo Caulfield says: “Being a performer himself gives Steve Best a unique access to and understanding of comics. He knows where to find us, lurking and laughing in corridors or getting ‘into the zone’ backstage. I love his photographs because they show the timeless beauty of the theatre or comedy club.”

Best’s book also comes at an important time for comedians as they struggle to get gigs back to capacity due to the impact of Covid-19.

As Stewart Lee noted in 2021: “Now live art is a memory there has never been a better time to revisit Steve Best’s unflinching portraits of comedians at work, in spaces that will one day soon ring with laughter again.”

Best’s new book follows on from other hefty tomes, including 2014’s Comedy Snapshots, in which 450 comics are pictured along with their favourite one-liner jokes.

Jack Dee and Omid Djalili

Jo Brand

Jo Caulfield

Comedians is available for pre-sale orders here.

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