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Is There a Bias Against US Comics Performing on British TV & Radio?

Posted: 27/10/11 17:43

This week, American comic Lewis Schaffer played his 250th show at the Source Below in Soho - London's longest-running solo comedy show. He has been playing there every Tuesday and Wednesday (and sometimes also Mondays) since well before we failed to elect a government.

I could not see his 250th show because, on the same night, I had long-promised to go to Daphna Baram and Alex Love's always interesting Cantaloopy comedy club in Shoreditch. Arthur Smith was headlining but also on the bill was the wonderfully charismatic American David Mills.

I first saw David perform earlier this year at Cantaloopy and was shocked I had never heard of him despite the fact he won the 2011 Hackney Empire New Act of the Year. I must pay more attention to what is going on outside my living room. As a result of being so impressed by David, I also went to see the wonderful Edinburgh Fringe chat show Scott Capurro's Position hosted by Scott and David and booked the two of them to very successfully host this year's Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.

All three of these comedians have totally different acts. I will get crucified by the three of them for my trite descriptions. But I guess Lewis Schaffer is a rollercoaster observational ride with a brilliant butterfly mind. Scott Capurro is an insightful camp comic with a razor-sharp tongue that could cut a heckler's throat across a crowded room. And David Mills is an American reincarnation of Noel Coward who could play the O2 Arena and make it seem cosy and friendly.

What these three utterly different acts share is that they are American, they have been based in the UK for at least ten years (so there is no cultural problem) and television & radio have not picked up on them (in general - obviously Scott does have some profile, but you could not say he is an established TV or radio star).

All three can be cutting-edge but are perfectly acceptable for middle-of-the-road audiences.

So why do they not get the TV and radio exposure they deserve?

Following on from my recent Huffington Post piece about what TV and radio producers actually want, I think there may be the possibility that, if an American comedian suddenly appears on TV or radio from nowhere, there is (as seen by producers) the risk that the audience may think they are vast successes in the US and have not been 'discovered' and whisked up from the relative obscurity of comedy clubs by talented UK producers. And/or there may be the complaint that producers should be showcasing British comics not American comics.

I can think of no other reasons.

Rich Hall and Reginald D.Hunter have had some success on shows like Have I Got News For You. Reg (unsayable as it may be) has the distinct advantage of being a black American rather than just an American and the advantage of the first adjective is strong enough to outweigh the disadvantage of the second; Rich was perhaps just lucky. Both are also very funny and very talented, of course, which helps - though it is not vital, as many BBC3 shows demonstrate.

The three other less lucky comedians - Scott Capurro, David Mills, Lewis Schaffer - all are different but all have two defining characteristics - they are American and they are funny.

Three of a kind. But different.

It sounds like a format for a TV show, doesn't it?

Perhaps not in Britain, though.

 
 
 

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