We asked Emma Taylor, producer of Newsrevue the world’s longest-running live comedy show, now in its 43rd year, about its background and success.
We can nurture comedy-writing skills that people often did not know they possessed
Emma, can you tell us the history of NewsRevue and why it's been such a prolific institution?
In a nutshell, NewsRevue was the brainchild of the late Professor Michael Hodd when he was at Cambridge University. He and a few friends thought it would be a good idea to mock the news in a revue-style format and people rather liked it. It launched in Edinburgh in August, 1979 and the rest as they say is history. I think it has been a prolific institution because it has always been open to so many people.
Unlike other sketch shows that retain the same line-up, we always cast people for seven weeks only (one week of rehearsals – six weeks of shows) in London and we also appoint a different director and musical director each time. Effectively a new NewsRevue company is formed every six weeks. We have a turnover week, where we have one cast doing their last week while a new cast is rehearsing, ready to start on the following Thursday so there is no gap. The show runs every week throughout the year and just takes a week off for the Christmas/holiday period. I think it’s a unique format and requires a huge amount of administration behind the scenes but it means so many people get to cut their teeth on the job. In that sense, it is effectively a training institution and is often referred to as a school or university of comedy. Mike, himself went on to become a professor of Economics at Westminster University and Vice Principal of Baze University in Abuja, Nigeria. He was a true philanthropist. He also loved sport and for a little while there was a ‘Sports Revue’ at the Canal Café which apparently a young Hugh Grant appeared in.
Why do you think NewsRevue has been so successful?
I think much of its success and longevity in addition to being open to all, is in the constant updating of the news and that our ethos is always to punch up. Much discussion takes place around what is acceptable and what is funny now. Everyone needs to move and adapt with the times. This is what keeps the show fresh and exciting. We want as many voices as possible in NewsRevue. Also, we’re much more than just another comedy show. We showcase exceptional talent in what people are required to do on stage: sing, dance, act, do accents, do impersonations, learn a huge amount of material in a really short space of time and be a great team member.
How did you get involved yourself?
I saw an ad in The Stage for artistic director of the Canal Cafe Theatre and Producer of NewsRevue in 2001. I am told Miranda Hart also applied. Miranda did a lot of her early work at the Canal. I was delighted when I was shortlisted and then appointed. I agreed to stay for one year but I fell in love. NewsRevue has only ever done four out of our 14 available weekly slots. Back then I’d be booking acts that filled every slot, every week. I was booking the likes of John Oliver, Eddie Izzard, and Adam Riches who used to do regular three-week runs of new writing with us. This was pre-Soho Theatre and many other comedy venues have sprung up since. Indeed we used to host Steve Marmion’s (former AD of Soho Theatre) Late Night Gimp Fight back in the day.
How do you go about selecting new content and talent?
Many things have changed during my 22-year tenure. Nowadays the performers, director and MD of each run write a huge amount of the content. We are very proud of the fact that we can nurture comedy-writing skills that people often did not know they possessed. I think it’s a mixture of being with like-minded people but also there’s something so special about that room that is conducive to comedy writing; some sort of osmosis from all the comedy legends that have trodden those boards maybe! We now have a writer in the room format too. This means we invite back former NewsRevuers who excelled in writing and understand the format to come in for a day on a freelance basis and help the current team with material. We also have an open-door policy for writers so anyone can submit a song or a sketch and if we like it, it will be included in the show. Most of our performers come via their agents on Spotlight. Others are recommended to us, usually from other people who have done the show and believe a person would have ‘the chops’ for it. They often do.