Opinion: End Of An Era – Time Out's Comedy Section Shuts Up Shop

The news that this week’s Time Out will be the last one to feature a dedicated comedy section has been greeted with understandable gnashing and wailing from the comedy fraternity. 

It came as a huge surprise to me and yet in some ways it wasn’t a surprise. The mag's comedy section felt like it had been shrinking for a number of years. For a long time it was famous for having comprehensive comedy listings. Gigging comedians would use Time Out to find out where their shows were and new comedians would use it to ring around and get work. It's hard to do that when only a fraction of clubs were listed.

I’m not sure when Time Out stopped running full listings but it probably coincided with the explosion of the internet. There was no squeeze on space in cyberspace. Clubs could set up their own websites with efficient, targeted mailing lists. And then a few years later Facebook and Twitter helped to publicise shows. Time Out's circulation is bigger now that it is free but it doesn’t seem to see comedy as part of its way forward, which is a real pity.

The demise of the comedy section reflects a wider change in all sorts of things. Not just publishing, maybe also the way we make our decisions. A few months ago a Facebook friend wrote online – I’m paraphrasing here – that “now that Time Out is free it is shit. Where do I find cool things to do in London?” Someone said try Yplan.

Now I have nothing against Yplan. In fact I run their ads on my this website. But to me Yplan is about selling tickets. OK, it might consider itself to be hip and sell tickets for pop-up-this and secret-that but it is primarily in the market to sell tickets. It is not a magazine staffed by expert journalists who know their subjects inside out and get to write at length about their specialist areas. And while we are at it, how can something be "Secret" if it is advertised on Yplan?

I used Time Out’s comedy section in the 1980s, circling the gigs I wanted to go to as soon as I picked the magazine up. I worked for Time Out in the 1990s and turned to the comedy section before I turned to the TV section that I wrote for. Successive Comedy Editors Malcolm Hay, Tim Arthur and Ben Williams did an awesome job supporting live comedy in London. Their coverage had a real impact on the comedy world, making and breaking acts. 

London has the best live comedy scene in the world. If Time Out wants to be London's best magazine then maybe it should be doing more to support it. 

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