Archiving stand-up comedy on the Web

One of the things I was keen to do when I was appointed as Archivist for the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive in January 2015 was to ensure that websites and social media relating to stand-up comedy were being captured and archived. So much of how comedians promote and publicise themselves today, and interact with their audience, is done through social media and websites, and I’ve already noticed that websites referenced in material in the BSUCA collections have already disappeared. I approached the UK Web Archive team at the British Library to see whether I could actively contribute to their mission, and I was delighted that they were happy for me to curate a new Special Collection, to be called the ‘British Stand-Up Comedy Archive’ collection.

Although the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive is based at the University of Kent I’m really pleased that we are working with other organisations and individuals to ensure that material relating to stand-up comedy is (beginning) to be archived for current and future researchers (and others) interested in stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy has a huge presence on the Web, more so than I can nominate, so I have take two approaches so far.

Approach 1: filling the gaps

One focus has been on nominating websites for inclusion which relate to collections that we already have within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive. For example, I have been nominating the websites and social media accounts of those whose work we have been physically and digitally archiving at the University, such as Attila the Stockbroker’s website and twitter account.  I have also been nominating sites which complement the collections we have. For example, within The Mark Thomas Collection we have copies of articles he has written, but only those which he collected himself. In fact there are many more which he has written which are only available online. The idea behind this approach is that we can ‘fill the gaps’ for researchers interested in those whose archives we have, by ensuring that other material relevant to that comedian/performer is being archived. These websites are provided in sub-categories with the name of the collection they relate to (i.e. Linda Smith Collection, Mark Thomas Collection).

Josie Long's website (http://www.josielong.com/)

Josie Long’s website (http://www.josielong.com/). Josie Long deposited physical material with the BSUCA in January 2016, and her website has also now been archived within the UK Web Archive at the British Library.

 

Approach 2: providing an overview of stand-up comedy in the UK today

As we are trying to collect material related to stand-up comedy in the UK I think that it is really important to try to capture as much information as possible about current comedians and the current comedy scene, nationally and locally. So my second focus has been on nominating websites which provide an overview of stand-up comedy in the UK today. Rather than initially focussing on nominating the websites of individual comedians (which would be an enormous task!) I have instead been nominating websites which are dedicated to comedy in the UK, both at a national level, such as Chortle and Beyond the Joke, and those at a regional level such as Giggle Beats (for comedy in the north of England) and London is Funny. I’ve also nominated the comedy sections in national news outlets like the Guardian and The Huffington Post (UK), as well as in regional news outlets such as The Skinny (Scotland and the north west of England), The Manchester Evening News, and The York Press. These websites include news, interviews with comedians and others involved in comedy, as well as reviews and listings of upcoming shows. The idea was that capturing these sorts of websites would help to demonstrate which comedians were performing, where they were performing, and perhaps some of the themes discussed by comedians in their shows. These websites have been categorised into the sub-category ‘Stand-up news, listings and reviews’.

Giggle Beats (www.gigglegeats.co.uk), a website founded in June 2010 to promote comedy in the north of England.

Giggle Beats (www.gigglegeats.co.uk), a website founded in June 2010 to promote comedy in the north of England.

I’ve also been focusing on the websites of comedy venues in order to document the variety of comedy clubs there are, to provide an overview of the comedians who are performing, as well as to document other issues like the cost of attending a comedy club night.  Many of the clubs whose websites have been nominated are quite longstanding venues, such as Downstairs at the Kings Head (founded in 1981), the Banana Cabaret Club in Balham (established 1983), and The Stand Comedy Club (established in Edinburgh in 1995). And of course I’ve also been focusing on comedy festivals around the UK. Much material relating to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had already been included in the UK Web Archive but websites for Free Fringe events (which many see as important for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe*), such as the Free Festival and PBH’s Free Fringe, have now been nominated. I’ve also been nominating websites for comedy festivals around the UK, ranging from large established festivals such has the (Dave) Leicester Comedy Festival and the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, to smaller festivals such as the Croydon Comedy Festival and Argcomfest (Actually Rather Good Comedy Festival). The sub-category of ‘Venues and festivals’ is by far the largest sub-category so far!

Website for Downstairs at the Kings Head (http://www.downstairsatthekingshead.com/), a comedy club in Crouch End, London founded in 1981.

Website for Downstairs at the Kings Head (http://www.downstairsatthekingshead.com/), a comedy club in Crouch End, London, founded in 1981.

Other features of current stand-up comedy that have been captured include organisations such as the Comedy Support Act (a charity funded by benefit shows which aims to provide emergency funds and assistance to professional comedians who find themselves in financial hardship through serious illness or accident) and organisations and events which celebrate and promote women in comedy such as What The Frock!, Funny Women, Laughing Cows Comedy, and the Women in Comedy Festival.

 

Next steps:

There are so many more websites that I haven’t yet been able to nominate, particularly those of individual comedians or performers. However, the UK Web Archive is open to all (as long as the website is part of the UK web domain), so if there are websites relating to UK stand-up comedy that you want to be archived in the UK Web Archive please nominate them here http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/info/nominate.

* Luke Toulson, ‘Why free is the future of the fringe…and 7 more ways to improve the festival’, http://www.chortle.co.uk/correspondents/2013/08/04/18425/why_free_is_the_future_of_the_fringe; and Nick Awde, ‘Free shows are ringing the Edinburgh Fringe changes’, https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2015/setting-theatre-free-edinburgh/

 

Steve Bell and Arnold Brown in conversation

As part of the ‘Comedy on stage & page: satirical cartoons & stand-up’ conference on Thursday 14th and Friday 15th January, we are pleased that one of the main events (open to all, not just those registered for the conference) will be cartoonist Steve Bell and comedian Arnold Brown, in conversation. Steve Bell and Arnold Brown will be talking with Olly Double (Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre) and Nick Hiley (Head of the British Cartoon Archive) about their work, and the place of satire in cartooning and stand-up comedy.

This event will be held in the Templeman Library Lecture Theatre (Ground Floor, Templeman West) and is free and open to all. For more information about the conference, and how to register, visit our conference page on this blog.

 

Poster advertising Steve Bell &Arnold Brown in conversation

Poster advertising Steve Bell &Arnold Brown in conversation

Interesting facts about the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive

1. The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive contains 22 collections; we have been collecting material since 2013.

BSUCA collections on our Calm cataloguing system

BSUCA collections on our Calm cataloguing system

2. We have material dating from 1970 to the present day, documenting the rise of alternative comedy and stand-up comedy. We are keen to collect material from relevant areas of performance including alternative cabaret, performance poetry and working men’s club comedy.

3. We have collected a range of material in a variety of formats (including photographs, scripts, diaries, audiovisual recording, posters, contracts) and for a variety of purposes (promotion, academic research, for broadcast).

IMG_20151130_135848

4. Throughout 2015 we have been developing new workflows to ensure that the recordings in the archive held on legacy audiovisual formats (such as cassette tapes, MiniDisc and DAT) are digitised and accessible for researchers today and in the future.

5. The digitisation of both printed and audiovisual material means that we can provide samples of representative content from the archive on platforms such as Flickr and Soundcloud as well as on our blog.

6. We have worked to ensure a range of content from the comedy world has been collected and we have been keen to engage with comedy promoters and venues. Monika Bobinska donated a large collection of material from the Meccano Club (1985-1995) and Peter Grahame has given material from Downstairs at the Kings Head (established in 1981). We also have material from more recent clubs and promoters, including The Folkestone Comedy Club and What The Frock! Comedy.

Meccano Club Bookings Book.

Meccano Club Bookings Book. February-March 1995. Featuring acts including Tracy Brothers, Al Murray, Nick Wilty and Dylan Moran. (c) Monika Bobinska

7. One strength of the BSUCA collections is the number of unique, unedited interviews with comedians, recorded for purposes including academic research and publication (Oliver Double Collection), and radio broadcast (John Pidgeon Collection, Andrew Sherlock Radio Collection).

Interviews with comedians on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes) from the John Pidgeon Collection

Interviews with comedians on DATs (Digital Audio Tapes) from the John Pidgeon Collection

8. We’ve had some incredible events this year, with performers such as Mark Thomas, Attila the Stockbroker, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, and Phill Jupitus (at the University of Kent), and Jo Brand, Susan Calman, and Stephen K. Amos (at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe). These events were all recorded and can be accessed in our reading room at the Templeman Library, University of Kent.

Phill Jupitus talking about a Red Wedge Comedy leaflet which cartooned for (as Porky the Poet). Photo Matt Wilson

Phill Jupitus talking about a Red Wedge Comedy leaflet which cartooned for (as Porky the Poet) during an in-conversation event with Oliver Double in September 2015. Photo Matt Wilson

 

9. We are holding a joint conference with the British Cartoon Archive ‘Comedy On Stage and Page: satirical cartoons and stand-up‘ (14-15th January 2016), which will explore issues including the relationship between the audience and the comedian, writing shows, the comedy industry, censorship, and women in comedy, and also highlight the Stand-Up Comedy Archive collections.

10. Alongside the conference we will be hosting a joint exhibition with the British Cartoon Archive, providing access to material from the archive and explaining more about its establishment, development and collections in the new Templeman Library gallery area.

British Stand-Up Comedy Archive Winter Update



IMG_9679

As Winter sets in here at the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, we thought we would give a quick update on what we’re currently working on! As we near the end of the year we are delighted to now have 21 comedy collections as part of the archive. We have now received material from:

–          Alexei Sayle
–          Andrew Sherlock
–          Attila the Stockbroker
–          BSUCA Events
–          Camden Fringe
–          Folkestone Comedy Club
–          Ian Gardhouse
–          Jeremy Hardy
–          John Pidgeon
–          Linda Smith
–          Lost Voice Guy
–          Monika Bobinska (of the Meccano Club / Canal Gallery)
–          Mark Thomas
–          Nick Toczek
–          Oliver Double
–          Peter Grahame (of Downstairs at the Kings Head)
–          Richard Herring
–          Robin Ince
–          Tony Allen
–          Tiernan Douieb
–          What the Frock! Comedy

 

CUvdZx_WsAA899h

New Lost Voice Guy Collection- November 2015

Cataloguing:
As our collections grow, it becomes increasingly important to list and catalogue every collection on the University of Kent’s Special Collections & Archives Calm archival database. All collections have been catalogued to collection level and significant progress has been made in the cataloguing of our first, and largest, collections: The Linda Smith Collection, The Mark Thomas Collection and The John Pidgeon Collection. These collections were made a priority at the start of the BSUCA project due to their size and the large amounts, and variety of formats, of audiovisual material within them.

Cataloguing increases access and availability of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive and the next major step for us will be when the full BSUCA collection listings will be accessible via a Special Collections & Archives CalmView site in 2016. Until this point we are happy to provide any further information regarding the collections and their content to anyone interested and material can be viewed in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room in the Templeman Library on request (email specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

IMG_9681

Just 2 of the boxes of comedy books from the Ian Gardhouse collection

Conference:
It’s not long not until the joint British Stand-Up Comedy Archive and British Cartoon Archive conference (‘Comedy on stage and page: satirical cartoons and stand-up’) on the 14th-15th January 2016. We have received some fantastic abstracts for papers and are delighted to have speakers and guests including Ivor Dembina, Steve Bell and Arnold Brown.

More information will be available very soon regarding registration for the conference. We look forward to seeing you there!

Exhibition:
As part of the preparations for the January conference, we will be holding a joint exhibition with the British Cartoon Archive in the brand new exhibition space in the new Templeman Library West, on the first floor, right outside the Special Collections Reading Room. We’re delighted to be able to exhibit a range of materials from the BSUCA archive related to comedy performance, promotion, venues, and the intersection of comedy and politics. This exhibition is due to be unveiled from Monday 15th December and will run throughout the conference in January 2016.

IMG_20151130_135848

A selection of cassette tapes from the Andrew Sherlock Collection. Andrew created a radio show ‘Best of Order’ about the history & legacy of working men’s clubs in Merseyside [These tapes are currently being digitised]

Attila the Stockbroker in-conversation

Errin Hussey, BSUCA Digitisation Assistant, writes:

Monday 19th October brought a different kind of event to those already held by the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, when punk poet legend Attila the Stockbroker returned to his former place of study to speak and perform to an enthusiastic audience.

Attila the Stockbroker in conversation with Oliver Double. Photo Elspeth Millar

Attila the Stockbroker in conversation with Oliver Double. Photo Elspeth Millar

The first half of the show was an ‘In Conversation with…’ style discussion with Dr Oliver Double. Attila the Stockbroker (John Baine) began the conversation by speaking fondly of his choice to attend the University of Kent, which was prompted by its left-wing activist reputation that was criticised in national right-wing press at the time. Attila continued on to describe his activities while at the University; his involvement with Rock Against Racism, organising gigs and running for Student Union President. The conversation soon turned to Attila’s first experiences of writing in his first punk band and how this led to becoming a solo poetry performer. In keeping with previous British Stand-Up Comedy Archive in-conversation events Oliver Double showed Attila images from the Archive of various shows he had played throughout his career. The discussion continued to explore Attila’s involvement in the ‘alternative cabaret’ scene, his contemporary poets and his current work before questions from the audience and a short interval.

Attila the Stockbroker performing at the Gulbenkian Cafe. Photo Elspeth Millar

Attila the Stockbroker performing at the Gulbenkian Cafe. Photo Elspeth Millar

The audience soon returned for a second half live set from Attila the Stockbroker which featured a combination of poems, songs and readings from his recently released autobiography ‘Arguments Yard’. He began with a poem called ’My Poetic Licence’ and continued with performances of ‘Asylum Seeking Daleks’, ‘Poppies Poem’ written about his late father, Never Too Late’ written about his stepfather and ‘Corbyn Supporters From Hell’. In addition Attila played a number of Mandola-accompanied songs ‘Comandante Joe’, a tribute to Joe Strummer, and ‘Prince Harry’s Knob’, inspired by his favourite novel ‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists’. It was a pleasure to have Attila the Stockbroker for this event and to have a collection of his materials in the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (reference BSUCA/AS). The event was audio recorded and has been added to the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive event collection.

Phill Jupitus in conversation with Oliver Double

Matt Hoss, University of Kent Stand Up Comedy MA student, reviews our third British Stand-Up Comedy Archive in-conversation event, Phill Jupitus in conversation with Oliver Double, which took place on Tuesday 29 September 2015 at the Templeman Library Lecture Theatre:

At the very start of the term, the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive immediately welcomes new and returning students with an uproarious and academic conversation with Phill Jupitus. The evening takes place in the new Templeman Library Lecture Theatre, where it is hosted by the engaging Doctor of Comedy, Oliver Double. However Double doesn’t particularly prompt Jupitus, as he sets his own tempo, as he himself unravels his early works. The audience eagerly follows his momentum as he details his transition from performance poetry, under the act Porky The Poet, through to Stand-up Comedy, as Jupitus discusses his most recent Edinburgh Fringe Shows*.

Phill Jupitus at the University of Kent, 29 September 2015. Photo Matt Wilson

Phill Jupitus at the University of Kent, 29 September 2015. Photo Matt Wilson

Throughout the evening, Jupitus shares a mixture of thoughts and anecdotes from his encounters with other comedians and reflects on his vast and determined progression of how he turned into a full-time comedian. Jupitus gives plenty of insider tips to comedy, with mentions to improv groups and other ventured aspects of comedy. In particular Jupitus discussed how he developed his uniquely brilliant show, a comedic retelling of Star Wars: Episode 4 called Jedi, Steady, Go which he built the material from being the compere at the Comedy Store.

Jupitus’ passion for his politics is shown throughout the conversation. This begins tentatively with his humble beginnings working alongside Billy Bragg and Red Wedge, which sparked a somewhat raging commentary about the state of current affairs. But towards the end, when several audience members ask questions about politics in regards to comedy, Jupitus releases a whirlwind of left-wing notions and spitefully shouts about the lack of morality in current politics and television. He passionately yet angrily declares: “Education should be Free!” and to “LEARN!” and “SHARE!” creating a rapturous and unifying celebration shared by the audience.

Phill Jupitus talking about a Red Wedge Comedy leaflet which he cartooned for (as Porky the Poet). Photo Matt Wilson

Phill Jupitus talking about a Red Wedge Comedy leaflet which he cartooned for (as Porky the Poet). Photo Matt Wilson

Jupitus receives countless laughs and constant bursts of applause, leaving the audience spellbound with his comedic charm and his inspirational rhetoric. The Stand-Up Archive has another fantastic addition to its star-studded collection.

*Phill Jupitus: Sketch Comic, Impossible, and Phill Jupitus is Porky the Poet in Apologist Now!

Stand-Up Comedy Archive Collections Autumn update

I wanted to give an update on the collections that we’ve now received into the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, nine months or so into our Beacon Project to catalogue, digitise, provide access to, and continue to build this archive for stand-up comedy in the UK. Our current collections include material from:

  • Alexei Sayle
  • Attila the Stockbroker
  • BSUCA Events
  • John Pidgeon
  • Linda Smith
  • Monika Bobinska
  • Mark Thomas
  • Nick Toczek
  • Oliver Double
  • Richard Herring
  • Robin Ince
  • Tony Allen
  • What The Frock! Comedy

Some of these we’ve written about before, so I wanted to provide some brief updates on the new collections.

The BSUCA (British Stand-Up Comedy Archive) Events Collection is being created through the events that we are holding ourselves, on campus, and at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We now have recordings of in-conversation events from Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Mark Thomas, Stephen K. Amos, Jo Brand, Susan Calman, Alexei Sayle, and Nina Conti, recordings of Edinburgh Preview shows from Alfie Brown and Jimmy McGhie, and a recording of our inaugural Linda Smith Lecture, given by Mark Thomas.

Stewart Lee in conversation with Olly Double, 10 June 2015. Photo Matt Wilson

Stewart Lee in conversation with Olly Double, 10 June 2015. Photo Matt Wilson

The Alexei Sayle Collection is one of our most recent deposits, and contains material from the career of alternative comedian Alexei Sayle, including scripts for various TV and radio programmes and films, including his own TV and radio shows (‘Alexei Sayle’s Stuff’, ‘The All New Alexei Sayle Show’, ‘Alexei Sayle’s Merry Go Round’, ‘Lenin and the Rovers’) and others he acted in (‘The Young Ones’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Whoops Apocalypse’).

Scripts deposited by Alexei Sayle

Scripts deposited by Alexei Sayle

Material deposited by Robin Ince includes passes and badges for shows, tours and festivals in which Robin Ince performed, flyers and postcards for shows, zines made for Robin Ince’s Book Club and Edinburgh shows, performance notes for shows ‘Robin Ince Is As Dumb As You’ (2005) and ‘Robin Ince Knew This Would Happen’ (2007), and props (including Robin Ince and Josie Long puppets!)

Material received from Robin Ince

Material received from Robin Ince

Our most recent deposit has been from What The Frock! Comedy, a Bristol-based comedy brand which champions female comedy talent. We’ve received a copy of ‘The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women’ (2015), flyers, badges and bookmarks.

Material received from What The Frock! Comedy

Material received from What The Frock! Comedy

Nick Toczek deposited some wonderful flyers and leaflets from his alternative cabaret nights in Bradford, which he ran in the 1980s and 1990s. His collection comprises leaflets and flyers for the alternative cabaret and alternative comedy nights Stereo Graffiti, the Bradford Poetry Live Festival, Tumbling Hill Street Blues, Bradford Alternative Cabaret, Cracker!, and Korks Komedy Klub. Some of Nick’s flyers within the Linda Smith Collection can be viewed on our flickr account.

Flyers for alternative cabaret nights from Nick Toczek

Flyers for alternative cabaret nights from Nick Toczek

Richard Herring did a wonderful ‘in conversation’ event with us back in March (some sound bites are available on our SoundCloud channel), and he deposited material from his career performing theatre and comedy since his time at the University of Oxford until the present. The Richard Herring Collection contains scripts for radio, television and plays; promotional material for stand-up comedy performances, plus published material by Richard Herring (including books and DVDs). The Collection includes original material on paper (scripts, reviews, tour flyers and brochures), published material (books, pamphlets, and a DVD), born-digital material (documents and files saved to 3.5″ floppy disks) and 179 tiff image files from Richard’s ‘Comedy and Drama in Oxford notebook’ (loaned to and scanned by the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive).

These collections are all being catalogued, and will shortly be discoverable via the University of Kent Library catalogues.  But if you are interested to know more about the content of the collections, or to view and consult material please let us know via standup@kent.ac.uk. We’ve also got some really exciting new deposits and partnerships for the archive coming up this autumn so do check back in with us for more information!

 

 

British Stand-Up Comedy Archive autumn events

The ‘Talking Comedy’ events at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (hosted with Lakin McCarthy) are happening NOW, but we’re also excited to announce some fantastic events coming up at the University of Kent over the next few months.  First up, we will have Phill Jupitus in conversation with Oliver Double on Tuesday 29 September at 7:30pm.  The event is free, so just turn up!

'Phill Jupitus in conversation with Olly Double' poster

Following that we’re excited to have punk poet legend and University of Kent alumnus Attila the Stockbroker at the Gulbenkian Café on Monday 19 October in-conversation with Oliver Double. This will be followed by Attila performing poems and songs, plus readings from his new autobiography ‘Arguments Yard’. Tickets can be found on the gulb’s website.

 

'Attila the Stockbroker in conversation with Olly Double' poster

Spotlight on: Attila the Stockbroker Archive

I’m very pleased to announce that we have a new collection within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive from Attila the Stockbroker. Attila is a performance poet, punk poet and musician (and also a University of Kent alumnus).

The Attila the Stockbroker Archive comprises material created and collected by Attila, including his work (such as first drafts of poems, and notebooks), press coverage, publicity and promotional material for performance poetry and music gigs (flyers and posters) including for Glastonwick and Barnstormer events, fanzines and zines he collected and contributed to, as well as his manifesto for election as Student President whilst at the University of Kent in the 1970s!

Poster for Attila the Stockbroker's performance at The Playhouse, Harlow, in May 1981. Courtesy Attila the Stockbroker.

Poster for Attila the Stockbroker’s performance at The Playhouse, Harlow, in May 1981. Courtesy Attila the Stockbroker.

Our main collecting focus is on alternative and stand-up comedy but we are really interested in the context surrounding the alternative comedy scene, including the alternative cabaret circuit. We want to ensure that we document these overlapping aspects and so we’re keen to represent the alternative cabaret circuit and those performing there; as other material in our collections show, these include performance and ranting poets (as well as magicians, circus acts and impressionists!)

I’m also pleased to announce that Attila will be doing an ‘in-conversation’ event with Olly Double followed by a performance of his work, in the Gulbenkian café on Monday 19 October – tickets available soon!

Poster for Barnstormer events at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, including comedian Mark Steel, and poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, with Attila the Stockbroker's band 'Barnstormer', 1995. Courtesy Attila the Stockbroker.

Poster for Barnstormer events at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, including comedian Mark Steel, and poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, with Attila the Stockbroker’s band ‘Barnstormer’, 1995. Courtesy Attila the Stockbroker.