There’s something fasincating about charting the development of things through their contemporaneous newspaper clippings. So let’s take a wander through the early years of The Comic Strip, and it’s beginnings in Soho.
On the 25th September 1980, news broke that a contentious row about the chosen venue of the new Comic Strip had been resolved.
Comic Strip goes ahead after row … A MAJOR new London venture into alternative cabaret opens next month following a behind-the-scenes row over its name. Now, with less than two weeks before the first entertainer takes the stage of the capital’s Boulevard Theatre, the man behind the idea has won his battle to term the project the Comic Strip. Writer and director Peter Richardson … came up against opposition from sex comedy and strip king Paul Raymond, who owns the Boulevard. It was felt that the word “Strip” would confuse visitors to the theatre, which is housed in tht same building as the Raymond Revue Bar. The problem was resolved with Richardson agreeing to underplay the “Strip” portion of the name in the hoardings outside the theatre. The 150-seater Boulevard Theatre has been empty since American strip per Marilyn Chambers vacated the premises last May. The Paul Raymond Organisation is not backing the show financially, but has come to a commer cial agreement with the Comic Strip, whereby it will take a percentage of the box office takings. … Richardson came up with the idea when he was doing a stint at London’s comic talent-spotting platform, the Comedy Store. He decided to bring together the best of the kind of alternative entertainment he had witnessed there.The Stage
The Strip opened soon after, and on the 16th October, Peter Hepple posted this review of the show he saw the night before.
I MUST CONFESS that it is a long time since I have laughed quite so heartily as on the first night of “The Comic Strip” … Designed primarily as a vehicle for “new wave” comedians, most of whom seem to have been originally discovered at the Comedy Store … it appeared to me a triumphant vindication of the assertion that there is plenty of comedy talent about. Mind you, I was not over-impressed with Keith Allen, who already appears to have a following. Best described as a Deptford Lenny Bruce … his stock in trade lies in angrily insulting the audience and then losing his temper when one or two of the braver mem bers answer back. … Much more capable of development, and indeed greatly improved since I saw him last year, is Alexei Sayle, a comedian with the authentic mark of genius. … For all his wickedness, he has a rough, untutored warmth that will take him a long way. … The two double acts, the Outer Limits (Peter Richardson and Nigel Planer) and Twentieth Century Coyote (Rick Mayall and Ade Edmondson), have often brilliant material … which lacks polish in its delivery, a criticism which cannot be aimed at the three members of the Oxford Revue Group who call themselves the Hee Bee Gee Bees.The Stage
A year later, and Moira Petty was rather less impressed with the show. Here’s her review from the 24th September 1981.
How about some alternative material? … the Comic Strip per formers are as much a part of the “pine- stripped, scatter cushion, the weekend’ Rastafarians of the Hemel Hempstead Front Line” mentality as the audience they deride. And with a decree banning the serving of drinks during the show, they are patently as prone to artistic paranoia as any of their establishment counterparts. Leading wit Alexei Sayle, pork pie titfer perched atop, gives intellectualism a vigorous dash of street credibility. … He’s a comic anthropologist set loose in modern Britain, sternly documenting the ritualistic cries of tribes like the skinhead and the mod. The latter group can be identified by strange, rhythmic refrains like: ‘”Ello John, got a new motor?” … Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson of 20th Century Coyote produced a hilarious account of the rationalist’s a proach to joke telling. “What’s green and goes up and down?” “a gooseberry in a lift” is followed by a maniacal discussion on the properties of gooseberries which allow them to press the lift buttons. The Outer Limits (Peter Richardson and Nigel Planer) impersonated space invaders and the singa-longa-punk routine, with “Anarchy in Dreamland” sung to a swinging finger-clicking rhythm. And female duo French and Saunders exhibited the trendies’ obsession for spiritual consciousness as they attemp ted to locate their “astrals”. All of which is very well and very funny. But for London audiences who have seen the repertoire before, the question, as posed by one wit, is: “Alternative comedy is fine, but how about some alternative material?”The Stage
No more than six weeks later, Peter Hepple returned to the Boulevard, and was distinctly unimpressed with the new replacement for the Strip (though is opinion of Keith Allen seems to have evolved).
Alternative and unfunny … I HAVE a feeling that “Alternative Cabaret” might have reached its height with the Comic Strip, because its successor at the Boulevard, “Comedy Cabaret”, is a mere shadow of Alexei Sayle, the Outer Limits, 20th Century Coyote and Co, and “alternative” on this occasion merely means not as polished, not as funny and not as good as an evening in an ordinary social club. … Ben Elton is a comedian of some promise, but it is noticeable that, “alternative” or not, he spends a large part of his act in demolishing television targets in the approved manner of the club comedians he affects to despise. Andy de la Tour, who presents and comperes the show, strikes me, I am afraid, as an actor pretending to be a comedian, and his material is depressingly predictable. Another disappointment is Skirted Issue, who do an overlong impression, halfway to a burlesque, of the Andrews Sisters, which might be better if their grey two-piece costumes had been in the same style and material, and after a tedious change, do another impression, even more pointless, of the Shangri Las. The main redeeming feature is Combo Paste, a Latin-styled band whose current single of “Tico Tico” may sound like pastiche, but is misleading to the extent that when they were joined by singer jimmy Chambers, the set took off like a rocket and ended with a great piece of jazz salsa in the Mongo Santamaria vein, which showed some fine musicianship and interesting instrumental textures through the use of Heel drum.The Stage, 19th November 1981