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Live comedy hits the big screen

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At pretty much the same point that my mind began to ponder what many-splendoured wonder of the comedy world I was going to highlight  this week, it was announced that stand up is to hit the big screen. Four ‘as live’ line ups from the Comedy Store in London, the mother ship, will be screened from next February, with the list of participating cinemas to be confirmed.

How odd, I thought, and, as I scrolled through the report on the indispensable online comedy organ Chortle, I realised that I was not alone in coming to this conclusion; Chortle had wasted no time at all in supplying a circumspect comment on it.

I’ll try not to chorus too much then, but it’s hard to see who this venture is aimed at…

If the Store were a bigger chain I could see a knock-on effect. Perhaps the cinemas will be strategically placed around London and Manchester where their clubs are? Even so, if you want to see recorded live comedy you are pretty spoilt for choice these days;  Live at the Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, various formats on Comedy Central (including repeats of the aforementioned), Live at the Electric and so on and so forth.

While The Store’s line ups are quality, as ever, (those involved include Hal Cruttenden, Adam Bloom, John Maloney, Paul Sinha, Tom Stade and Ian Stone), they are surely not big enough names to make cinema punters circumvent their TV or their local comedy club where they are guaranteed first hand atmosphere? Ticket prices will have to be very competitive. I’m talking Monday matinee territory c.1985.

Live comedy and cinema cross-over has been attempted before. The Liverpool Empire Theatre date of Ross Noble’s 2007 tour, Nobleism, was screened at 45 Vue cinemas up and down the country. It was a fun one-off happening involving a big name and a full show – so a quite different story.

The Ross Noble model has a clear novelty, and I could see that kind of one-off being used again, perhaps by an overseas visitor. For example, I would have gladly paid £15 to see Seinfeld or Chris Rock at a cinema viewing when they came over, had I not already had a ticket. In fact, even better, why not beam big gigs from America over here? Louis CK kicking off his tour in Austin on December 13?


Yes please.

It’s this sense of occasion that explains why operas beamed from the The Lincoln Center in New York get packed audiences in UK cinema screens, although equally productions screen live from The National Theatre have a hardcore cinema audience too.

What’s in common is the scale of the production. I don’t think a three men and a mic bill from Caroline’s on Broadway would be enough of a draw here, except to the more ardent comedy nerd – the kind of audience that is usually busy seeking out new live goodies in their own patch anyway.

So, I’ll be very curious to see how the Comedy Store Cinema experience pans out from February. If nothing else, perhaps we’ll start seeing more comedians putting down ‘big screen experience’ on their CVs.

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