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‘Look at the bloody size of it!’ marvels Peter Kay as he runs onstage at the O2. It feels a little disingenuous, because Kay is arguably at the front of a pack of comedians who have been aiming this high from the start. The second part of this fascinating three-part series examines the process behind these startling new comic trajectories. Via a dig around in the BBC’s written archive (Frankie Howerd was on 80 guineas a series) and Frank Skinner’s brush with pay-related tabloid infamy, we reach the present day.
Comedy historians will probably dub our era The McIntyre Ascendancy. But has edge and artistry been lost as careerism wins the day? Or is it naive to think that stand-up was ever about anything other than a drive towards commercial success? Reassuringly, Mark Thomas is on hand to suggest than comedy has ‘fallen for the capitalist concept of endless growth’. But the hyper-competitive Comedy Store bearpit we visit at the end suggests that many young comics still think there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Phil Harrison