(How) Can Theatre and Stand-up Comedy Work Together/Co-exist

Neil Reading, 14 July 2012

Who was there: Phelim, Susan, Phil, Neil 

I called this session as a theatre maker who also runs stand-up comedy clubs to explore how the two forms could work together and what they could learn from each other.

Initial discussion with Phelim about Improv groups being not only the direct route between stand-up and theatre but also a form which has longevity (Comedy Store Players for example). Phil was later to offer a challenge to this as being a weak form in which neither performer or audience was entirely comfortable. Discussion continued around Comedians by Trevor Griffiths (currently in production by my company) and the use of comedians in plays. Examples of Edinburgh projects, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Twelve Angry Men etc, cast with comedians, not good theatre but interesting ideas. Idea formed about a season of stand up gigs of the comedians who would perform in a final production. Discussion also asked the question, what is the ‘Comedians’ of today.

Discussion continued with Susan and Phil about the line blurring between storytelling and comedy, the most regarded comedians in the industry seem to be storytellers, Daniel Kitson, Billy Connolly, Stewart Lee etc, who care more about the journey than the laughs. We explored the role of cabaret as a style and discussed the influence a Compere has on a comedy night as something that could have an interesting effect on a theatrical production (narrators and MC's or Ringmasters being examples that are underused outside of their traditional roles). Susan also discussed the role of Verbatim and Forum theatre as having a style similar to comedy. Phil suggested there may be an interesting idea in trying to create work from the stories of narrative comedians (give these stories 3 dimension etc)

There was some discussion about the benefit of restricting the use of the term ‘Stand-up comedy’ as it influences your audience before they arrive, this brought together ideas about Pub Theatre, Boal's methods and influences and the importance of the ‘dangerous’ both to comedy and to theatre. The idea of competition between comedians seemed at odds with the ensemble approach of most theatre companies.

Phil discussed the devising process and how a show was never finished, probably the most direct link to comedy in which your ‘set’ is never finished and is always being adapted and refined.

We finished with discussion on finding the moments of ‘stand-up’ within scripted drama and the possibility of putting a series of these together as an experimental night (this could very well happen at JUICE comedy in the next few months). Susan suggested an idea of ‘Chaos Nights’ advertised as such and open to performers and audience members to imbue this spirit in some way to create new work.

The main conclusion I think is that both comedians and theatre makers are essentially storytellers and this is where they can progress and learn from each other.


devising, Theatre, narrative, chaos, boal, cabaret, Improvisation, comedy, verbatim, danger, forum, improvisation, standup, theatre, storytelling