Do comedians (like politicians) need more life experience?

Sarah Millican's Television Programme. Photo: PA Images/Martin Rickett/BBC
Julian is comedy critic for The Stage and The Independent, and author of the Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy
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I recently reviewed Sarah Millican's latest show and noted that her life experience before comedy added value to her observational shtick. It begged the question of whether we should demand that our comedians do more 'living' before they exercise their ultimate chosen profession, as we sometimes demand of our elected representatives?

There is no doubt that a certain amount of gravitas is lent to those who have a similar worked-before-comedy background, Micky Flanagan, Rhod Gilbert, John Bishop and so on.

Comedy is a young man's game, at least that is what the percentages say. However, despite the prevalence of strapping young bucks - and ever more dynamic doe - one wonders whether this ever-younger generation would, at some point, benefit from a kind of comedic national service where they 'go back into the community' and connect with people who will make up their audiences?

I suppose that this highly contestable notion certainly wouldn't apply to the likes of Tim Vine and Milton Jones who have very little need to have a handle on reality. Moreover, all comedians attend the 'university of life' and they probably consider every day as an anthropological exercise - and many great have 'grown up' in the clubs and turned out very well, thank you.

Nonetheless most comedians fear that that if they spend too long on the road, or too long in a TV studio, their shtick will get stale, so a 'refresher course' of some kind perhaps doesn't sound so barmy.

A few years back there was an ITV series called Tough Gig that tapped into this neurosis in a very positive way. It had where various comics including Frank Skinner and Dara O'Briain were packed off to various places, including a commune and role-playing community (yes, they are different) and come up with routines inspired by them. Sadly the series was a flop, but the idea behind it was sound and it really kept the participants on their toes.

Not that I am suggesting that comedy's national service should be fodder for reality TV, that would be tackling one problem by creating another.

Comedy Awards

That this annual event is only a footnote to my column this week is simply because the live comedy scene is so under represented by it, with now not even a category for best live stand up! This has not gone unnoticed by the comedy community. One comic, John Moloney, has taken upon himself to promote his own top five comedians of 2013 award. And why not? The live industry brought forward talent from the grassroots to the mainstream, so I guess it will have so the same with the gongs it deserves!