The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive was established at the University of Kent in 2013, following the deposit of personal archive of the stand-up comedian, writer and broadcaster Linda Smith (1958-2006). Even prior to this deposit the University already had a longstanding interest in stand-up comedy and comic performance through teaching (at both BA and MA levels) and research (at PhD level and through the research interests of School of Arts staff). After this initial deposit other comedians were approached to see whether there was a demand from comedians, agents and venues to archive their material, and others who deposited material early in the life of the archive included the comedian and political activist Mark Thomas, and Tony Allen, one of the pioneers of the alternative cabaret/comedy movement in the late 1970s and 1980s.
In 2014 the University of Kent offered funding for a number of projects to celebrate its 50th anniversary and one of these became the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (BSUCA). The BSUCA has a number of aims: to ensure that the archives and records of stand-up comedy in the UK are cared for in order to permanently preserve them; to ensure that these archives are universally accessible, discoverable and available; that the archives are actually used, and used in a variety of ways (popular culture, academic research, teaching, journalism, general enjoyment); and to acquire more offers of appropriate deposits. We also have an internal goal, which is to establish standards, workflows, and policies (with regards to digitisation, digital preservation and deposit negotiations) which aim to inform the future collecting activities of the University’s Special Collections & Archives department.
One of the things I was keen to do when I was appointed as Archivist in January 2015 was to ensure that websites and social media relating to stand-up comedy were being archived. So much of how comedians promote and publicise themselves today, and interact with their audience, is done through social media and websites, and I’ve already noticed that websites referenced in material in the BSUCA collections have already disappeared without being captured. So I was delighted that the UK Web Archive team were happy for me to curate a special ‘British Stand-Up Comedy Archive’ collection for the UK Web Archive! My approach so far has been two-fold.
Approach 1: filling the gaps
One focus has been on nominating websites for inclusion which relate to collections that we already have within the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive. For example, I have been nominating the websites and social media accounts of those whose work we have been physically and digitially archiving at the University, such as Attila the Stockbroker’s website and twitter account. I have also been nominating sites which complement the collections we have. For example, within The Mark Thomas Collection we have copies of articles he has written, but only those which he collected himself. In fact there are many more which he has written which are only available online. The idea behind this approach is that we can ‘fill the gaps’ for researchers interested in those whose archives we have, by ensuring that other material relevant to that comedian/performer is being archived. These websites are provided in sub-categories with the name of the collection they relate to (i.e. Linda Smith Collection, Mark Thomas Collection).
Approach 2: providing an overview of stand-up comedy in the UK today
As we are trying to collect material related to stand-up comedy in the UK I think that it is really important to try to capture as much information as possible about current comedians and the current comedy scene, nationally and locally. So my second focus has been on nominating websites which provide an overview of stand-up comedy in the UK today. Rather than initially focussing on nominating the websites of individual comedians (which would be an enormous task!) I have instead been nominating websites which are dedicated to comedy in the UK, both at a national level, such as Chortle and Beyond the Joke, and those at a regional level such as Giggle Beats (for comedy in the north of England) and London is Funny. I’ve also nominated the comedy sections in national news outlets like the Guardian and The Huffington Post (UK), as well as in regional news outlets such as The Skinny (Scotland and the north west of England), The Manchester Evening News, and The York Press. These websites include news, interviews with comedians and others involved in comedy, as well as reviews and listings of upcoming shows. The idea was that capturing these sorts of websites would help to demonstrate which comedians were performing, where they were performing, and perhaps some of the themes discussed by comedians in their shows. These websites have been categorised into the sub-category 'Stand-up news, listings and reviews'.
I’ve also been focusing on the websites of comedy venues in order to document the variety of comedy clubs there are, to provide an overview of the comedians who are performing, as well as to document other issues like the cost of attending a comedy club night. Many of the clubs whose websites have been nominated are quite longstanding venues, such as Downstairs at the Kings Head (founded in 1981), the Banana Cabaret Club in Balham (established 1983), and The Stand Comedy Club (established in Edinburgh in 1995). And of course I’ve also been focusing on comedy festivals around the UK. Much material relating to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had already been included in the UK Web Archive but websites for Free Fringe events (which many see as important for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe*), such as the Free Festival and PBH’s Free Fringe, have now been nominated. I’ve also been nominating websites for comedy festivals around the UK, ranging from large established festivals such has the (Dave) Leicester Comedy Festival and the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, to smaller festivals such as the Croydon Comedy Festival and Argcomfest (Actually Rather Good Comedy Festival). The sub-category of 'Venues and festivals' is by far the largest sub-category so far!
Other features of current stand-up comedy that have been captured include organisations such as the Comedy Support Act (a charity funded by benefit shows which aims to provide emergency funds and assistance to professional comedians who find themselves in financial hardship through serious illness or accident) and organisations and events which celebrate and promote women in comedy such as What The Frock!, Laughing Cows Comedy, and the Women in Comedy Festival.
For me, the idea behind the special collection has been to (begin) to ensure that websites and social media relating to stand-up comedy in the UK are being archived for current and future researchers (and others) interested in stand-up comedy. But there are so many more websites that I haven't yet been able to nominate, particularly those of individual comedians or performers. But, the UK Web Archive is open to all (as long as the website is part of the UK web domain), so if there are websites relating to UK stand-up comedy that you want to be archived in the UK Web Archive please nominate them here http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/info/nominate!
* Luke Toulson, 'Why free is the future of the fringe...and 7 more ways to improve the festival', http://www.chortle.co.uk/correspondents/2013/08/04/18425/why_free_is_the_future_of_the_fringe; and Nick Awde, 'Free shows are ringing the Edinburgh Fringe changes', https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2015/setting-theatre-free-edinburgh/
For further information about the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive find out more at these links:
by Elspeth Millar, Project Archivist, British Stand-Up Comedy Archive at University of Kent