Why we all must take risks on emerging comedians

Alan D and Lou

By Iain Coyle, Senior Commissioning Editor, UKTV (pictured, right)

Last night I was at a recording of the new series of Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled (if you haven't seen it, watch it, they've not done a bad one yet, honest). It was a great show, Harry Shearer, Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson were on, along with, the brilliant, new(ish) stand-up Lou Sanders. She absolutely smashed it, as did the newish Luisa Omielan, Alex Edelman, Mark Olver, Dane Baptiste, Josh Howie, Lolly Adefope (and anyone else I've forgotten) before them in the run.

But I was struck by a troubling thought, as I sat in the gallery eating my vegetarian Percy Pigs (thanks to Phil McIntyre Productions and M&S). Bar performers like this writing their own sitcom (and we all know how easy they are to get away), how else can new talent get on telly? And more importantly, how have we got to this situation?

Just think about it. Years ago, if you won the Perrier Award you were almost guaranteed your own Channel 4 show but these days Perrier (or whatever it's called this year) winners are light-years from being offered their own series. The last five years we've had Adam Riches, Doctor Brown, Bridget Christie, John Kearns and Sam Simmons, all brilliant, brilliant, acts but practically not so much of a sniff at telly between them.

I've lost count of the amount of times I've been cornered by agents and talent alike, frustrated at the current lack of opportunities.

Channel 4 is perceived to have dialed down its comedy for the last few years, concentrating on its, admittedly brilliant, factual stuff; BBC Three is, to all intents and purposes, closed (I don't necessarily mean the going online bit but it's reducing its commissioning); ITV and comedy are not the most comfortable of bedfellows (I'm happy to be proven wrong with the rebirth of The 11 O'Clock show); and despite Stuart Murphy previously pumping money into an admirable attempt to replicate his own comedy DVD collection, Sky's comedy audiences just haven't been consistent.

So where does that leave us? It's difficult in a multichannel world and, although we are making progress at UKTV, we're still largely dependent on big, familiar names to bring audiences to Dave and Gold. That's why I'm so keen to make sure there is a seat for a lesser-known comic at the table of As Yet Untitled, and I'm pleased that we're doing the same on another of our hits, Taskmaster, with fresh talent such as Rob Beckett, Sara Pascoe and Doc Brown joining the lineup.

I know from experience on As Yet Untitled, the smaller names are often the ones that surprise and light up the show. However, they wouldn't get the airtime without having Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry or Catherine Tate sat next to them (they are all actually gonna be on the next series too, fyi).

These days our commissions are doing well and it feels like we've come a long way. But lest we forget, Dave is a channel that originally built its success on the foundations of repeating brilliant BBC and Channel 4 shows, benefiting from their brave commissioning.

Historically, the UK has been a great place for nurturing new and emerging talent, but is it just me? I don't see that anymore. We need a coordinated push from all of the big players (UKTV included), to take some risks or we're not going to get a new generation of talent to keep us all in kale smoothies or indeed, vegetarian Percy Pigs.

An abridged version of this comment piece was published by Broadcast on 10th March 2016. View it HERE.