Comedy Archive takes laughter seriously

What do a giant duck’s foot and a Nick Clegg piñata have in common? They are both part of a unique collection of stand-up comedy materials at the University.

The British Stand-up Comedy Archive was created in 2013 when the personal archive of comedian and broadcaster Linda Smith (1958-2006) was donated to the University’s Special Collections & Archives. Other collections followed from radio producer John Pidgeon, political comedian and activist Mark Thomas, and alternative comedian Tony Allen.

Selected as one of the University’s Beacon Projects – launched during our 50th anniversary year to inspire Kent’s future – the Archive is flourishing. One year into active collecting, the Archive contains 24 different collections, deposited by comedians and performers, comedy promotors and venues, comedy organisations and awards, and academics researching the history and evolution of stand-up comedy.

Depositors include:

  • Alexei Sayle – TV, radio and film scripts
  • Mark Thomas – audio-visual recordings, notebooks, research notes, and promotional material, including the Nick Clegg piñata
  • Josie Long – notes and set lists, posters and flyers, and home-made props, such as the giant duck’s foot
  • Robin Ince- set lists and stage notes, zines, and props
  • Attila the Stockbroker – first drafts of poems, posters, press coverage, and also a copy of his manifesto for election as Student President at Kent in the 1970s.

 

The Archive team

The British Stand-up Comedy Archive is headed by Dr Nicholas Hiley, Head of Special Collections & Archives at Kent, working alongside Dr Oliver Double, a former stand-up comedian and now Reader in Drama and Theatre at the University.

Nicholas Hiley: ‘The Archive was created to preserve the records of this vibrant art form, which might otherwise be lost. Its collections are already proving a valuable resource for both teaching and research at Kent – particularly in Drama and Theatre on the Stand-up Comedy MA programme, and the Stand-up Comedy BA module. The Archive is strong on political satire, and this fits well with other Special Collections, particularly the British Cartoon Archive.’

The Beacon Project funding has facilitated the appointment of a dedicated Project Archivist Elspeth Millar, to catalogue material, work with potential depositors, and publicise the Archive, and also a Digitisation Assistant, Errin Hussey, to help digitise audio-visual and printed material for preservation and access.

 

Comedian Phill Jupitus

Comic Phill Jupitus

Key events

Beacon Project support has enabled the Archive team not only to collect, catalogue and digitise archive material, but also to host events including:

  • A two-day conference in January 2016 (‘Comedy on stage & page: satirical cartoons & stand-up’), in conjunction with the British Cartoon Archive.
  • In-conversation events, hosted by Dr Oliver Double, at the University (with performers such as Phill Jupitus, Richard Herring and Stewart Lee) and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015.
  • An annual Linda Smith Lecture, to celebrate Linda’s life and work, and her interest in comedy as political and social commentary, and to promote the work of the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive. The inaugural lecture in 2015 was presented by Mark Thomas and the second will be given by Andy Hamilton on 3 May 2016.
  • An exhibition of selected items from the Archive, currently running in the Templeman Library West Wing gallery (until 30 March 2016).

 

Dr Nicholas Hiley - Head of Special Collections & Archives at Kent

Dr Nicholas Hiley – Head of Special Collections & Archives at the University of Kent

Looking ahead

The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive is part of the University’s Special Collections & Archives, and will be housed within the new facility in the basement of the Templeman Library West Wing.

The curators of Special Collections & Archives plan to continue to expand the collection, digitise material, and encourage use of the Archive within the University and further afield. Special Collections & Archives is also looking to complement the Stand-Up Archive and other performance collections with material from Victorian music hall performances and pantomime.

Nicholas Hiley: ‘Stand-up comedy has become a vital part of how people understand the world around them. Today’s students may learn as much about politics from comedians as from politicians, and stand-ups argue quite rightly that over the last 30-40 years they have helped make a difference in some vital political areas, such as racism and sexism.

‘Establishing the new Archive has also shown that stand-up comedians are very keen as a profession to preserve this vital art form. We hope to get the message out that we are interested in collecting everything they do – from draft scripts and flyers, to contracts and recordings of performances.’

 

Photos from the archive

John Pidgeon DATs

Digital audio tapes from the John Pidgeon Collection (BSUCA/JP)

Mark Thomas and Olly Double

Mark Thomas (right) and Dr Oliver Double at the inaugural Linda Smith Lecture (May 2015).

Nick Clegg Pinata

Nick Clegg piñata (Mark Thomas Collection, BSUCA/MT/3/8)

Steel and Smiths red sauce

Poster for Mark Steel and Linda Smith’s 1993 tour (Linda Smith Collection, BSUCA/LS/3/10/1/21)

Bradford alternative cabaret

Bradford Festival poster 1988 (Linda Smith Collection, BSUCA/LS/3/4/1/23)

 

Find out more

Read about the Archive team’s work on the British Stand-up Comedy Archive blog

Learn more about Beacon projects at Kent

Study Drama and Theatre at Kent