// Steve is a stand-up comedian and a photographer from the UK. He has combined his love of comedy and photography and shared a set of black and white photographs from his “Comedians: Back to Front series”, showing comedians both on stage and rare glimpses of them behind the scenes.
Steve has been a stand-up comedian for 20 years. Over the last 7 years he has carried a camera with him backstage and the result is two books, Comedy Snapshot (2015 Articul8 Publishing) and Joker Face (2017 Unbound) with over 1000 of his photos of comedians, with their jokes and weird and wonderful facts about them. 15 of his photos were on Micky Flanagan’s documentary Peeping Behind the Curtain, which first aired in the UK on 18th December 2020. Many of Steve´s photographs have been exhibited around the UK, including on the Saatchi screen, and are currently being shown in London in the Spotlight Gallery at the Observatory Photography Gallery The big thing for Steve is to keep on producing and creating art, whatever it is, painting, stand-up, photography. He used to have a problem with critics but, he says, it really doesn’t matter to him anymore what other people think. One doesn’t have to pigeonhole oneself, ‘I’m a comedian’ or ‘a photographer’, just do stuff… have fun!
Steve is currently working on an art book, Comedians: Back to Front — photos of comedians backstage and on stage —, and we are pleased to present a small selection here.
“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
What draws you to the arts?
“I’ve always worked in the arts. I’ve never had a ‘proper’ job, never had an interview 🙂 My mum was an artist, mainly pen and ink drawing. I was obsessed with magic when growing up (still love it), and juggling, performing skills in general. And then obsessed with the guitar – I used to practice some 8 hours a day! I mixed them all together and became a stand-up. And then photographer.“
What impresses you most about comedians?
“I am very lucky in that I have access (and hopefully a good eye) to the backstage comedy world, a place very few people are allowed into. Because I have been a comedian for so long I have worked with and befriended most comedians. Access and the fact that everybody is relaxed with me being there allows them not to play up to the camera (too much) and I can get candid and very real shots. No one that I know, in the world, has such a collection of photographs. I also feel that this collection is a historic record of the comedy circuit. One that I fear will never quite be the same.“
Stand-up comedy, in which a comedian performs in front of and speaks to a live audience on stage, started out in Great Britain in the early twentieth-century in music halls. Until 1968 comedians in the U.K. had to submit their acts for censorship to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, where “offending” passages would be marked and had to be removed. After the 1970s, when music halls were no longer in demand, alternative venues evolved for comedy performances, such as working men’s clubs and folk clubs. The first American-style stand-up comedy club, the Comedy Store, opened in London in 1979. Satire had a boom in the 1960s, and from the 1980s onwards political and observational humour became popular. Nowadays, comedians perform anywhere, from dedicated comedy clubs, to theatres and in festivals, and of course they appear in radio and television shows and via other media, such as podcasts.
We say cheers and thanks for the laughs! Because we all need a strong dose of laughter, anytime, and especially when life sends us troubles.
Click on the photos to see the full image.
Comedians in these pictures, from left to right, top to bottom:
- Jimmy Carr: Jimmy is a touring beast. This is at the O2 Academy, Brixton before going on stage in front of 2500 people. He rocked up some 20 minutes before the gig, got dressed, and did his stuff.
- Felicity Ward: Taken at the Old Rope Comedy Club in London. This is a club where comedians try out new material. As you can see there is a noose on stage. If you are holding the rope it means you are doing older material and when you let go it means you are trying out something new so the audience aren’t so judgemental. It’s a club where very famous comedians try out stuff in a safe space.
- Omid Djalili and Jack Dee: Backstage at the Comedy Store, London. The Comedy Store has seen all the greats pass through its doors. And backstage… if only the walls had ears! Luckily Steve had a camera.
- Julian Clary: A look of love. Paul Thorne was compering and introduced Julian Clary onto the stage. Steve was backstage and caught the passing moment.
- Mike Gunn: At the Hammersmith Apollo on a huge nationwide tour supporting Lee Mack. As a support act it can be quite a hard task (Steve toured with Frank Skinner for 80 nights many years ago) as the audience have come to see the main act. Mike is a true professional and did a great job. This picture also portrays the solo perspective of the art – one person and a microphone. It was shortlisted for the RA Summer Exhibition 2020.
- Jeremy Hardy: Steve took this photo a year and a half before Jeremy died, taken at the Comedy Store, London. He was a master of the art, a truly great comedian. He looks surrounded, which he is, but not quite as you would see in real life. The shot was taken by the sound birth next to a mirror so the audience is doubled.
- Jon Udry: Steve only took one shot and by chance shot the juggling ball at the exact right spot in the trumpet. “I love this shot! I was gigging that night too. My guitar is on the top and my black and white spats are on the floor (these were both unfortunately stolen on New year’s Eve 2019 after a gig – but that’s another story).”
- Ian Cognito (L), Mickey Hutton (C), Sean Hughes (R): Backstage at Headliners in Chiswick. This is the old dressing room before the club got a refurb. Sean Hughes and Ian Cognito have sadly passed on. The picture shows the real friendship and camaraderie between comedians, and they actually laugh too.
- Jack Whitehall: Backstage at the Comedy Store, London. The dressing room is actually rather small and pokey for such a big club, the best comedy club in the UK, perhaps the world. Jack is a really hard working comedian, constantly writing and trying out new material.
ALL PHOTOS © STEVE BEST
To see more of his photography visit Steve´s website and his Instagram page and Facebook page.