An Open Letter to the Arts Council England

Subject: An Open Letter to the Arts Council England
From: The London Sketch Comedy Festival
Date: 10 Aug 2015

Dear Darren Henley (Chief Executive, Arts Council England),

As ambassadors and patrons of sketch comedy in Britain, working to support, develop and promote the art form, we are writing to air our concerns over the Arts Council England's position on comedy – in particular the view that it doesn't deserve any support or funding because "comedy is commercially sustainable".

In the four years we've spent actively engaging the industry, we find this stance to be negligent and dismissive of the vast majority of live comedy and its artists, who are suffering because of it.

In recent correspondence with your parent body - the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – we were informed that even though "comedy plays a major role in the country's culture and identity" it is believed that it "tends to be a commercially self-sustaining performance form" and as such "doesn't fall under the definition of art forms that receive Government funding. However, it plays a growing role in the programmes for many theatres and arts festivals funded by Arts Council England."

We realise that the only comedians visible are by the nature of their success those who do make money and would be said to be "commercially viable". But you seem to be unaware of the grassroots festivals; local comedy venues; and emerging comedians looking to develop independent productions who may need to rely on arts funding to progress their development and attain commercial sustainability. Much like in theatre, creativity and innovation needs support before it can find an audience otherwise the form stagnates. Some new comedians' work is not suitable for the existing and restrictive comedy circuit.

It appears that there exists a misunderstanding of comedy at an institutional level, which serves to dismiss a whole genre of performing artists. It is a directive that ignores hundreds of proficiently skilled performers working independently to create shows with a real artistic vision, beyond the scope of comedy club sets, many of whom are creating comedy with little commercial distinction to theatre that you currently fund.

Furthermore, by allowing only arts festivals and theatres to produce funded comedy you are dividing the community and preventing some artists and producers truly invested in the art form from contributing to its development.

The answer we have received from both the Arts Council and the Department for Culture, Media and Sports does not represent the true breadth and scope of comedy and comedians in this country, nor the organisations working to develop the British comedy scene beyond merely commercial strands. It in fact hinders the artistic progression of British comedians, weakening our potential to develop the nation's talent, provide audiences with uniquely different points of view or enable access to a wider range of comedy artists.

In the instance that your organisation may not understand the live comedy scene in England we'd like to point out a few commercial facts*:

  • 51% of comedy attendees wouldn't pay to see someone live if they had not already seen them on TV.
  • Only 33% of comedy attendees are interested in smaller events with a variety of mostly unknown talent.
  • The cost of attending comedy events is the biggest barrier-to-entry for people.

In addition most new and emerging comedians (even those enjoying awards and producing their own shows or events), much like other artists, are out of pocket, subsidising their work through their day jobs and often performing without pay. Many independent venues are struggling, ignored by their local authorities as a result of government guidance, whereas festivals and events are disappearing due to lack of commercial interest or support, meaning even less opportunity for artists.

While the Arts Council England grants awards combining to £6,000,000+ each month to over 300 worthy projects from across literature, dance, theatre, music, visual and combined arts, it continues to discriminate against comedians as if it considers them to be better off than artists from other disciplines for whom numerous funds already exist.

We'd like to call for a proper consideration of arts funding for comedy, passing judgement on a case-by-case basis rather than blanket discrimination of all comedy applications. With the actor's union Equity now recognising comedians for the first time in its 85-year history, we would like to request that the Arts Council reappraise its understanding and awareness of comedy as an art form so as to include those artists, venues and organisations that are working to develop and advance British comedy.

Yours Faithfully

Adam & Ofer, Producers of the London Sketch Comedy Festival (

Co-signed in support by the UK Comedy Guild (

*Data from the report "State of Play: Comedy UK" by Ticketmaster UK.