Comic Cultures: Commerce, Aesthetics and the Politics of Stand-Up Performance in the UK 1979 to 1992

PhD Thesis

Campbell, R. 2016. Comic Cultures: Commerce, Aesthetics and the Politics of Stand-Up Performance in the UK 1979 to 1992. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Arts and Digital Industries
AuthorsCampbell, R.
TypePhD Thesis

This thesis represents the first Cultural Studies analysis of the 1980s entertainment form commonly known as ‘alternative comedy’, which emerged against the backdrop of social, industrial and political unrest. However, the use of the term ‘alternative comedy’ has obscured a diverse movement that contained many different strands and tendencies, which included punk poets, street performers, chansonniers and improvising double acts. This thesis goes some way to addressing the complex nature of this entertainment space by recognising the subtle but important differences between New Variety and alternative cabaret. Alternative cabaret was both a movement and an entertainment genre, while New Variety grew out of CAST’s theatre work and was constructed in opposition to Tony Allen’s and Alexei Sayle’s Alternative Cabaret performance collective. Taken together, alternative cabaret and New Variety comprise one part of the alternative space that also includes post-punk music, and were the cultural expressions of the 1980s countercultural milieu.
Alternative cabaret and New Variety were the products of cultural change. Each genre has its roots in the countercultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s and it was the knowledge that agents had acquired through participation in these movements that helped to shape their political-aesthetic dispositions or their weltanschauunng. As well as political activism, rock music influenced performers and promoters and contributed much to their art. In this sense, this was as much a post-punk avant-garde movement as it was a cultural intervention.
This study charts the development of alternative entertainment in 1980s Britain and its transformation into the multi-million pound comedy industry that it is today (S Friedman, 2009). This study also analyses how the alternative space was constructed and how it was eventually destroyed by the internal and external pressures that acted upon it. I have used the written and oral testimonies of those who were involved in the space and used my own recollections from 14 years of performing comedy and promoting cabaret clubs.

KeywordsComedy; cabaret; avant-garde; post-punk
PublisherUniversity of East London
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
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Publication dates
PrintOct 2016
Publication process dates
Deposited06 Feb 2020
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License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
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