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In depth: The rise of comedi Cymraeg

After spending 20 years in the shadows of Welsh entertainment, comedi Cymraeg is finally enjoying some time in the spotlight

Welsh language stand-ups have been telling jokes for 24 years, but with the microphone switched off. Over the past three years, someone has switched it back on.

This latest generation of Welsh stand-up comics is enjoying considerable success. But they perform on the foundations laid by the likes of Daniel Glyn, Gethin Thomas, Jâms Thomas and Gary Slaymaker who pioneered a new style of stand-up in the early 1990s. Drawing on the sharp-witted American style, they provided a new, edgy alternative to the traditionalist form of Welsh humour.

Now, 24 years on, the current crop has picked up where they left off. Having previously been part of the English language circuit, the likes of Elis James and Dan Thomas have returned to Wales, leading the resurgence in comedi Cymraeg.

Elis James, The Glee Club, comedi Cymraeg, Cardiff

The poster boy of Welsh stand-up: Elis James pictured performing in front of a packed crowd at The Glee Club, Cardiff on 5 December. Courtesy of Richard Wood, ©Comictog

A growing market

In 1991, the Welsh speaking stand-ups weren’t your average entertainers – dependent on S4C exposure. Back then they weren’t guaranteed airtime, which meant they would have to take their act into the rugby clubs and communities. But the times have changed. On 19 December, the current poster boy of Welsh comedy Elis James will have an unprecedented hour-long special televised on S4C. Following this will be the broadcast of a six-part stand-up series in the New Year.

“Comedy is the one area of entertainment in Welsh which is actually growing”

Member of the Welsh language circuit Dan Thomas explains, “Comedy is the one area of entertainment in Welsh which is actually growing.” Thomas, also a producer for Welsh production company Zeitgeist, believes S4C has got to treat their stand-up viewers like adults in order for comedi Cymraeg to grow.

He and many others weren’t best pleased when S4C decided to bleep out the swearing in the post-watershed broadcast of Tudur Owen’s Pechu earlier this year. As #pechu set Twitter alight, S4C suffered a backlash from its younger viewers.

The Welsh comedy audience has changed. No longer are they the swear-fearing traditionalists of yesteryear, but a new youthful audience – brought up on the foul-mouthed comics such as Jack Dee, not the music hall performances of Eric and Ernie. In order to change with the times and their audience, S4C media officer Ffion Rees has revealed that the channel is currently developing upcoming ideas in order to increase the number of their comedy programmes.

Zeitgeist are approaching Welsh speaking comics and offering them shows on the condition that they reach a proficient standard of Welsh within eight months.

Carry on regardless

However, the transition isn’t easy for some. Mutations and phrasing can’t be learnt overnight, and for those returning from the English language circuit, it can prove a nightmarish task. Cardiff audiences are quite happy for him to speak imperfect Welsh. “I think some people are fine with it, in fact I think they appreciate the fact that my Welsh is probably as good as theirs – so not great,” he says. But opinion on this matter is much like Thomas’ Welsh – fractured. He says that audiences in other places have been offended by the fact. But like his hero, Tony Hancock, Thomas seems to carry on regardless.

Dan Thomas, Cardiff, Zeitgeist, Comedy Cymraeg

Funny whatever the language: Dan Thomas performed his first Welsh language show in a room above Tŷ Tawe – in front of a crowd of ten people. He has since performed in Welsh on S4C comedy shows such as Gig-l and Gwerthu Allan.

Other comics have started to follow in his footsteps. Brechfa-born comic Dan Mitchell has also started to perform in Welsh, becoming another recruit to comedi Cymraeg’s ever-growing ranks. Mitchell saw the opportunity to perform in Welsh as something exciting and new. “To get those nerves that you got when you first gig back, it was just like starting all over again,” he recalls.

At the moment Welsh stand-up comedy is in popular demand. James Allen, manager of The Glee Club in Cardiff, says that he would definitely host a night of Welsh language comedy to capitalise on the growing interest in comedi Cymraeg.

In the past three years, our Welsh language stand-ups have been getting the laughs, applause and recognition they deserve. The likes of Elis James, Dan Thomas, Dan Mitchell and Tudur Owen should be given credit for what they do – not just as important figures in the world of comedy but of language. After all, it is their work which will help make the language interesting and current for young Welsh people.

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