Tag Archives: British Stand-Up Comedy Archive

Search the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive collections!

I’m pretty thrilled to say that the new online catalogue for Special Collections & Archives, and where material within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive has been catalogued, is now available to search and browse. You can find it at http://archive.kent.ac.uk.

You can search for performers, promoters, comedy clubs, or other key words using the simple search option on the homepage, or you can use the advanced search option to search in more detail. For example, you can search or browse by date (searching for 1970s will result in records created in this decade), or by category (for example, browse through all of the audio recordings, or set lists and notes). You can also just browse all of the BSUCA collections using the BSUCA hierarchical tree.

BSUCA hierarchical tree

BSUCA hierarchical tree

Most collections within the BSUCA are catalogued in a hierarchical structure – this is because we follow an international archival cataloguing standard called ISAD(G) – with a top-level collection record (such as this for the Linda Smith Collection) which describes the collection as a whole, followed by levels below (called ‘series’, ‘sub-series’ etc) which cover specific groups of material (such as business records, performance records, audio-visual records). Some individual items are catalogued down to ‘item level’ (such as this audio recording of Tony Allen and Andy de la Tour performing in as part of Alternative Cabaret Collective in 1981) although some items (leaflets, flyers) are catalogued to a folder level (such as this record for flyers and posters for The Santa Claus Science Experiment in Tiernan Douieb’s collection). The way in which a collection has been catalogued reflects as closely as possible the way in which the original creator of the material (in the case of BSUCA, this is often the depositor themselves) had organised the material.

Catalogue record for posters in the Mark Thomas Collection

Catalogue record for posters in the Mark Thomas Collection

The catalogue is a work-in-progress and there are a few collections in the BSUCA which are not yet catalogued or are in the process of being catalogued. We are able to provide a listing for these on request – just email specialcollections@kent.ac.uk.  This online catalogue will also be incorporating, over the course of 2016, Special Collections & Archives material (such as our theatre collections, windmill collections, and personal archives) which are currently available via the web pages or Library Search. If you are looking for material which you think we have, but can’t find, please email us.

Because of copyright restrictions we are not able to provide digital access to much of the material, although we are providing access where we do have permissions. If there is material you discover through the catalogue that you would like to access for research, teaching, or just out of general interest please email us! We are open to everyone although we do need at least two days’ notice in order to retrieve material from the archive store. More information about how to access the collections can be found on the Special Collections & Archives web pages.

So please go, search, explore the stand-up comedy collections!

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/


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).


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.

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!

Spotlight on: The Monika Bobinska Collection

Elspeth Millar writes:

I’m really excited to announce that we have a new collection deposited within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, The Monika Bobinska Collection, which was deposited in April by Monika Bobinska.

The majority of the collection contains records of, and documents relating to, the Meccano Club, a comedy club which was established in 1985 by James Miller (stage name James Macabre), Mark Bobinski and Lucinda Denning, initially at the Camden Head, Angel, and later at The Market Tavern, Islington. Monika Bobinska ran the club from 1986 (initially with James and later on her own) until 1995.  The  records of the Meccano Club include administrative records (such as bookings books, payment receipts, contact books, contracts), promotion and publicity (flyers, posters, event listings), press cuttings, photographs, and audio-visual recordings (of live events, and broadcast programmes in which the Meccano featured). There is also material from the exhibition staged at the Canal Gallery in February and March 2015 ‘ALT CAB or Where Did It Go Wrong?‘, including promotion and material collated for the exhibition.

The Monika Bobinska Collection also includes material collected by Monika relating to the comedy circuit in the 1980s and 1990s, although not specifically related to the Meccano Club. This material includes a series of magazine publications including numerous Time Out issues, press cuttings relating to Comedy in London and specifically in the Islington area, leaflets for comedy festivals, badges and books regarding the A-Z of comedy and women in comedy, her private collection of the Joan Collins Fan Club material and also records for the ‘Cave of Harmony’, a series of stand-up comedy nights for women comedians. Monika has also deposited photographs of live performances at the Meccano Club and of professional head-shot portraits of comedian’s such as Eddie Izzard, Phil Jupitus, Matt Lucas & Mark Thomas.

The collection is important as, although it documents part of the early careers of some well-known comedians today (such as Harry Hill, Jo Brand), it also demonstrates how a comedy club, in the early days of ‘alternative comedy/cabaret’ conducted business and negotiated with venues and comedians.

The collection is currently being listed and digitised and will be catalogued and made available for public access over the next few months.

Harry Hill and Al Murray at the last night of the Meccano Club at the Market Tavern, Islington

Harry Hill and Al Murray at the last night of the Meccano Club at the Market Tavern, Islington

Richard Herring in conversation with Olly Double

Matt Hoss, third year University of Kent Drama and Classics student, kindly reviews our first British Stand-Up Comedy Archive in conversation event:

On 8 April the Gulbenkian welcomed Richard Herring as he took part in the first interview of the University of Kent’s British Stand-Up Comedy Archive in-conversation events. Through laughter and cringe-worthy anecdotes, Herring signified why he is the one of the most influential comedians in the UK.

Richard Herring in the Gulbenkian Theatre in conversation with Olly Double

Richard Herring in the Gulbenkian Theatre in conversation with Olly Double.

Resident Doctor of Comedy, Oliver Double, humorously hosted the interview with Herring, showing a promising return to form despite his recent accident. The interview was relaxed, enjoyably paced and strikingly down-to-earth as Herring reveled in the details of his childhood and his working life, illustrating how much he has achieved. The discussion focused on Herring’s innovative work within the varied platforms of comedy, like his famed Sketch-show Fist of Fun, his thematic stand-up shows which dub him as the “King of Edinburgh” and his podcast series (which the cool kids call RHLSTP).

Nick Hiley (Head of Special Collections), Olly Double (Head of Drama) and Richard Herring

Nick Hiley (Head of Special Collections), Olly Double (Head of Drama) and Richard Herring

Herring contemplated upon his successes and failures through a certain chronology; starting with the early days of his radio comedy, through to the marathon run of his summer stand-up shows. He shined a light on the inner secrets of Stand-Up comedy, giving a glimpse into the nuts and bolts of the industry and how he formulates comedy, which accumulates to an endearing evening.

An audio recording of the event is available to subscribers of Richard’s RHLSTP podcast via Go Faster Stripe, and we will soon make some short extracts available via this blog.


(Second) student perspective – using the Stand-Up Comedy Archive

Postcard accompanying the book ‘Mark Thomas presents The People’s Manifesto’, which contains a selection of policies suggested during the ‘Its the Stupid Economy’ tour

Matt Hoss writes:

In my module Introduction to Stand-Up, I listened to unpublished materials from the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive and analysed a comedian in relation to their social context. I eagerly persuaded (some may say ‘coerced’) my group to listen to Mark Thomas. The audio was occasionally difficult to hear, however it retains and encapsulates the true passion within Thomas’ comedic rhetoric. The clip is an hour long and it involves the second half of his 2009 show It’s The Stupid Economy. The clip starts with Thomas reading out suggested policies written by audience members in the interval. Responding to their decrees, Thomas delivers witty anecdotes accompanied an undertone of political restlessness.

Thomas demonstrates his tremendous craft by voicing his politics but also estranging us from it through absurdity. For example he envisions a simple solution to the Israel and Palestine crisis by transferring their mortgages to Northern Rock and sending “busloads of Geordie Bailiffs”. The interweaving of pertinent issues within our society represents how Thomas topically frames his intelligent and poignant jokes, which suit the structure and the significance of his set.

Overall, the archive grants access to significant pieces of Stand-Up which is both a rare opportunity and a genuine delight.

Student perspective – using the Stand-Up Comedy Archive

The University of Kent has a history of teaching comic performance and provides a number of opportunities for students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level to study the theory and practice of stand-up comedy. We think it is fantastic that the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive is based within a context in which students themselves are studying and performing comedy, and we hope that the archive will inspire performance as well as record it.  Thank you to Yolanda Cooper for writing the first of our ‘student perspectives’ on using some of the audio-visual material within the collections.

Yolanda Cooper writes:

As a third year Stand-Up comedy student, I was given the humbling opportunity this week to work with a fantastic, rare clip by the hilarious Mark Thomas from his ‘It’s the Stupid Economy’ tour. My task was to listen to the clip (recorded in Sheffield in 2009) – a treat in itself due to the small collection of people who have had the opportunity – and select a section to analyse contextually.

CD from the Mark Thomas Collection of a recording from the Sheffield leg of his 2009 'It's the Stupid Economy' tour

Making the decision as to which part was my favourite proved a hard and perilous task after listening. (It was all hilarious!)  Along with Thomas and his audience I agree that perhaps we should change our anthem to ‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet and that we [Britain] are in seriously financial trouble when Primark has a sale! Consequently, not only was I able to laugh out loud at the comical truths of our nation that Thomas describes, but his witty political satire charged the realisation that we as Brits don’t say what we think.

After analysing the chosen segment, my group and I presented to the class our findings and research regarding the context of the specific jokes. Luckily for us the show was performed in 2009, so the political references he was making were still relatable to our generation!

This was just the beginning of my exploration through the archive, which is an exciting platform for students and the public alike to investigate further rare comedic material. Not only did Thomas’ clip make me laugh, it also inspired me, an occurrence that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the Stand-Up Comedy Archive.