Opinion: Do Comedians Need Reviews?

Critic at work

One of the bits of fall-out from the whole Andrew Lawrence furore is that he told me on Facebook that I am not welcome at his forthcoming London shows. Not much change there though. There was no press ticket for me for his last London run at the Bloomsbury Theatre. Or the one before that at the Soho Theatre. 

This, though, is the first time I’ve had the non-invitation from the horse’s mouth. It usually comes via the PR or the management. And interestingly, although Lawrence is no longer with them, he was previously managed by the same company that oversees Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr – two other acts who I've had difficulties getting access to in the past.

Obviously with Boyle and Carr you could argue that they are so big they don’t need a review to sell more tickets. But that doesn’t stop the likes of Michael McIntyre, John Bishop and the other arena-fillers (apart from Peter Kay) offering review tickets to their recent mega-tours.

This reviewing business is complicated. Producer David Johnson recently threatened to stop giving press tickets to certain writers. Yet it is clearly good for ticket sales – particularly a good review – and it also gives needy acts validation. Some acts profess not to read their reviews, or at least not until their tours are over, but I’ve always been sceptical about this. It was hard enough to avoid them pre-internet, but when a critique of your every quip is a click away how can anyone with a broadband connection and time on their hands resist? Maybe that's why stand-ups play golf – to avoid the papers all day.

Other performers certainly have a different attitude to getting coverage to Andrew Lawrence. In Edinburgh there is a frenzied thirst from all sides for a review just to get noticed above the throng. I think Lawrence even let press into his Fringe run. But even outside Edinburgh I’m constantly getting asked to review shows from acts just starting out to acts selling out. It's always handy to get a favourable quote to slap on your adverts and posters and then there are those elusive 5 star reviews to help put inquisitive bums on seats.

The other week I went to a very big new show and when my review hadn’t run for a few days I was DM’d directly by the writer asking when my review would appear. It was obviously important to him that the review ran, and I’m not so vain or naive as to think it was because he wanted to hear what I thought of his show. It was free publicity. What's not to like?

Reviews clearly help spread the word. Even a bad review is arguably better than being ignored. If you don’t like the critic who pens a negative write-up then you may decide to buy a ticket for the show anyway. And acts who do read reviews have been known to tweak their sets accordingly.

So Lawrence has decided that he doesn’t need reviews and doesn’t want to give out free tickets. That’s his choice. Critics can always break the habit of a lifetime and buy a ticket. I’ve never known a case of a critic with a paid-for ticket being refused entry. 

I did wonder though, whether maybe Lawrence has made a bad call here. Maybe it isn’t all those women posing-as-comedians and ethnic comedians getting the breaks that’s holding him back. Maybe it’s the fact that he is reluctant to help critics write about his show.

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