Two accountants walk into a bar. “Why the long face?” they ask. A comedian is drinking lugubriously inside. “Because you’ve just axed the fookin Comedy section,” he says.
That is, indeed, no joke. Time Out has apparently axed its Comedy section in the latest round of cuts and restructuring. The least funny thing about this is that it’s not due to lack of space, or because comedy has become too mainstream, but because it does not fit with the new Time Out vision of becoming a “global commerce platform in the key vertical categories”.
When Time Out cut the Gay section and ousted the redoubtable Paul Burston (now doing very nicely with his award-winning Polari literary salon), I wrote about it in the Guardian. I can’t get as worked up about Comedy, but you’d think ex-TO Editor-in-Chief/Global CEO Tim Arthur would be upset – he is a former TO Comedy Editor himself, having taken over from his step-father, the lovely and long-serving Malcolm Hay.
Mostly, I feel nostalgia for a time when comedy was an underground movement, a time of experimentation and firecrackers up the arse (yes, literally), of political protest, of confounding gender expectations. And full of such lovely, fun people. I’ve spent a happy afternoon in the pub with Arthur Smith, having bumped into him by accident near the Time Out offices; propped up the bar at a TO Christmas party with Paul Whitehouse, after he followed his interviewer back there; found myself unconsciously mimicking Vic Reeves, to my great embarrassment, when chatting to him at a TO party in Heaven (the nightclub, that is; we’d be more likely to choose the Other Place as a venue); told Eddie Izzard at a party that he’d never break America as they wouldn’t “get” his humour (boy was I wrong); even had the great Sally Phillips star in a short film I wrote.
All of them swore by the Time Out Comedy section. (“That fuckin’ section,” they’d say… I jest.) It was the beating heart of a vital, vibrant movement that was richer in London than any other city in the world – comedians would famously even use it to find out where they were meant to be playing that night, and would swap Malcolm’s cryptic two-word descriptions of them backstage, trying to decode whether “very funny” was better than “anarchic”.
I’m an admirer of the new-look Time Out. It needed to go free to survive; going free means change, catering to short attention spans and chasing ad revenue. All the same, it’s a sad day, and a symbol of the ever-encroaching, seemingly unstoppable de-bohemianisation and de-eccentrification of London. The day the laughter died.