Stewart Lee's history of stand-up on TV

Thinking inside the box with the maverick comedian

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Iconoclast comedian Stewart Lee knows TV's delicate relationship with live comedy better than anyone. Ahead of his Comedy Central series showcasing leftfield comics he outlines the history of stand-up on television…

Picture credit: Steve Ullathorne.

‘Gas’, ‘Comedy Network’ (1997-98, C4, Paramount)

The twin last gasps of straight stand-up on TV in the twentieth century, then presumed by execs to “not really work”. Endlessly repeated for years on late-night cable under the terms of  the acts’ one-payment buy-out deals, and featuring many stars of the future – Noel Fielding, Lee Mack, Peter Kay – the shows typify the time when TV stand-up started to feel like worthless one-size-fits-all filler. Like peasants with free milk we lapped up what they offered us, only to see our virgin sets chopped into differently titled shows, and sliced into 79p audio-only iTunes clips, for eternity.

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