BBC Comedy Association aims to safeguard the future of British comedy
British comedy is one of our greatest cultural triumphs exported the world over; from Chaplin to Fleabag it’s something we’re exceptional at. Laughter is one of life’s great joys – it unites and connects us, benefits mental health and defines our national character. Yet British comedy is facing unprecedented challenges.
BBC Comedy has evolved to meet the needs of a comedy landscape transformed by the US streaming services accelerating the battle for British talent, but the events of the last nine months have decimated the live comedy scene which is the lifeblood of TV comedy. Careers have been cut short, avenues to new talent are drying up and new voices are being denied of a crucial platform to reach audiences.
BBC Comedy’s track record in backing talent is unparalleled: we’ve guided the likes of Guz Khan, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Asim Chaudhry, and Daisy May and Charlie Cooper to success and popularity. As the country’s pre-eminent supporter of comedy the BBC is uniquely placed to take on the challenges we face. The BBC Comedy Association will take a proactive approach to level the playing field by throwing vital lifelines to emerging talent.
One of the BBC Comedy Association’s core purposes is to promote inclusion and representation on and off screen, with a commitment to engage and enable a new wave of comedic talent. We will open up new platforms to budding comedy performers and writers. We aim to demystify what production entails and create more paths to entry across the comedy industry, making television a viable career option for a whole new generation.
The BBC Comedy Association will identify and address opportunities, challenges and partnerships across the BBC. The BCA is designed to align all comedy outreach that is happening across the organisation under one strategy, whether that is talent, archive, digital or audio (podcasts and radio). This will allow us to best follow the ideas and talent that reflect the UK as a whole, and reinforce our core purpose of delivering the best emerging talent – making the comedy shows that our audiences love and adore.
This is a proactive move to becoming a broadcaster that’s a catalyst for creating ever more access and engagement that will unearth new and exciting voices. In our experience, just as yesterday’s alternative comedians became the mainstream it will be the fringe voices of today who will be telling the most interesting and engaging stories of tomorrow.
Specifically, the BBC Comedy Association will oversee the return of the New Comedy Awards to television. This competition has been a tried and tested route for launching huge careers, and by placing it back on television screens we’re amplifying emerging talent to a much larger audience from which to springboard their careers. We’re also adding two new categories to the Awards: one for performers under 18 and another short-form category that will be run through social platforms. This digitalisation of opportunity will remove barriers to entry and further a meritocracy of opportunity.
Early next year we will appoint a Young People’s Comedy Laureate who will be a figurehead to shape and promote our outreach initiatives. Around the regional heats of the New Comedy Awards the Young People’s Comedy Laureate and a selected group of ambassadors will launch and run workshops in schools and colleges, with masterclasses and talks from comedians, writers and industry experts.
The live BBC One final of the New Comedy Awards will form the centrepiece of the BBC Comedy Festival, a brand new event which will celebrate the cultural contribution comedy makes to the UK. The festival will feature a range of showcases, workshops and screenings and take place in 2021’s City of Comedy.
We’re incredibly proud of the talent that has emerged from our existing bursaries so in addition to those ongoing commitments we’ll be creating more opportunity by funding further production bursaries as well as facilitating mentoring and production shadowing opportunities as part of the process of enabling access.
This is just the beginning.
Shane Allen, Controller of Comedy Commissioning, says: “The BBC Comedy Association is dedicated to creating extra opportunities that keep the industry afloat and more vibrant than it has ever been, to safeguard the future of British comedy.”
Charlotte Moore, Chief Content Officer, says: “Comedy is such a critical genre for audiences, and the BBC is well placed to take on the challenges facing the comedy industry right now. Today’s announcement outlines a new drive to engage and enable budding comedy talent from all over the UK to rise to the fore.”