Opinion: Should 'Real' Comedians Do Britain's Got Talent?

Lorraine Bowen

I’ve been a comedy critic and a TV critic for longer than I care to admit so I should have known about this years ago. Until recently I always assumed that the acts on Britain’s Got Talent are all wannabes who queue up at the studios at dawn hoping for their big break in front of Simon Cowell. This is not the case.

Maybe there are plenty who still do this, but I found out a short while ago that talent spotters and scouts regularly trawl comedy clubs, the Edinburgh Fringe – and possibly this website – in search of people to plonk in front of the panel. So some contestants on the show get approached rather than do the approaching.

I don’t know whether Lorraine Bowen was approached or whether she approached them, but I expect it is the former. I’ve been watching Lorraine on the circuit for over two decades now. She was doing left wing benefit gigs with the likes of Billy Bragg when we really had a left wing Labour Party – that long ago. I think I may have even met her when I was in Latvia and Billy Bragg was doing a gig there (he used to take his own tea-bags on world tours and the band I was with wanted to borrow some, fact fans). In fact I think The Crumble Song played on a keyboard resting on an ironing board that nearly got her voted off until David Walliams pressed his golden buzzer to save her dates back almost as long. Well, she’s hardly going to blow her new club material on TV is she?

Jayde Adams told me last year that Britain’s Got Talent wanted her to go on the show. They had seen her do her Nessun Dorma routine in her naked fat suit and thought she would slay the audience. Adams has so far resisted their advances despite the fact that she has admitted on Facebook that she is struggling to make a living out of stand-up at the moment despite winning the 2014 Funny Women award. There is always a risk that you will feel misrepresented, but Bowen seems to have pulled it off. I guess as she plays it daft and kooky they can hardly make her look daft and kooky.

There is actually a surprising overlap between BGT and the grass roots live circuit. 2013 finalist Jack Carroll had gigged regularly before wowing the TV crowds. And earlier this year I saw Gatis Kandis in the Musical Comedy Awards final and found out afterwards that he had been on BGT in 2012 – his appearance clip has notched up over 2 million hits and Simon Cowell called him the funniest unfunny comedian he had ever seen. Which I think is a compliment.

So I wonder who else on the circuit has been promised riches beyond their wildest dreams by scouts from ITV? I can see why “real” comedians might resist it. It does somehow feel less authentic than doing the Invisible Dot or even Edinburgh. Some might even call it selling out, but that is ridiculous. It is hardly the same as doing a gig for a whale-hunting company is it? Or doing a corporate for a city bank. And it seems to have worked wonders for Lorraine Bowen and Jack Carroll. Maybe more will be tempted now. 

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