What is The Velvet Onion?
Welcome to The Velvet Onion: a central hub for an interconnected alternative comedy family.
The Velvet Onion is a not-for-profit news outlet for alternative comedy, celebrating the work of a group of frequently collaborating artists across alternative comedy and beyond.
Founded in 2010, TVO is now read by a regular audience of 40,000 unique visitors per month across 161 countries, and is publicly supported by many of the artists we feature.
Below, we’ve tried to explain the logical structure of The Velvet Onion’s focus, and how and why we chose to feature who we do…
The Artistic Core
The Velvet Onion’s primary focus is on the work of inter-connected comedic groups responsible for some of the biggest alternative comedy shows of the last 20 years.
The largest part of this collection were known as Ealing Live: an eclectic bunch of comedians at the turn of the millennium which included, but was not limited to:
John Willie Hopkins
At the same time, The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi, the latter of which also featured Ealing Live’s Alice Lowe, were growing in popularity: fresh from their successes at the Edinburgh Fringe, the two shows both transferred to television in 2004, quickly earning cult status and paving the way for a cavalcade of alternative comedy to follow.
Things are never straightforward, however. As time went by, more and more TV, radio and stage productions featuring these talents were unleashed onto the British public, and these ‘groups’ would frequently intermingle. The majority of the Ealing Live and Garth Marenghi crews appeared in The Mighty Boosh at some point, whilst Fielding & Barratt cropped up in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace for good measure.
Talent would win out, and by 2010 dozens of hit shows and cult favourites had been produced by this team. But they were also stretching backwards and forwards to the generations before and after them, as well as sideways to their contemporaries for more opportunities for collaboration…
The Many Layers
Indeed, the real origins of the Boosh go back to early work for the Paramount Comedy Channel, with shows like 1998’s (Un)natural Acts, and 1996’s Asylum – and as such, they are also tied into the birth of Edgar Wright‘s work with Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes, which ultimately led to seminal sitcom Spaced and the legendary Cornetto Trilogy.
In these early days of television success, much as Pegg and Hynes had branched out to work with artists of previous generations, shows like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, AD/BC: A Rock Opera and Nathan Barley would recruit the likes of Graham Linehan and Chris Morris to the fold, while The Mighty Boosh had Steve Coogan and Henry Normal fighting for its place on television.
Whilst all this was happening, the core team were also pulling in their contemporaries to work with them on projects. This included members of sketch troupe Dutch Elm Conservatoire – featuring Stephen Evans, Jim Field Smith, Rufus Jones, Jordan Long and Dan Renton Skinner. Also finding their way into the mix were another sketch trio: Pros From Dover, comprising regular Boosh collaborator Neil Cole, Ealing Live veteran Richard Glover and improv legend Phil Whelans, who already had an impressive CV of writing work behind him including Brass Eye and The 11 O’Clock Show.
Alongside them were a number of other performers who we’d begin to see an awful lot. Shows like The IT Crowd, Beehive, Blunder and Angelo’s highlighted – amongst others – the likes of Tony Way, Sarah Kendall, Chris O’Dowd, Sharon Horgan and Rhys Thomas (the latter already making a name for himself on The Fast Show).
As time progressed, new additions to the regular company of recognisable faces were added to the fold. Indeed, The Velvet Onion has been actively involved in pushing some of these names to the forefront of your minds over the years, such as Colin Hoult, Aisling Bea, Rachel Stubbings, Mike Wozniak and Morgana Robinson. Music artists have also been added to our ‘family’, thanks to their regular creative partnerships with these comedy acts: people like Antony Elvin, Oliver Ralfe, James Cook, Sue Denim and Dee Plume. But any additions are always led by the work that our existing regulars are doing, and with whom…
How we decide who to feature
It is a common misconception about The Velvet Onion that, because of our name, we were set up as a Mighty Boosh fansite. Whilst we love the Boosh dearly, the initial set up of the site was intended to point the enormous Boosh fanbase towards the other ‘core’ names we have mentioned above, who were not always getting the same level of exposure.
As we focused on the work of Alice Lowe, Oram and Meeten et al, we realised the massive web of connections that tied everyone together, found more names to add to the mix, and welcomed them to our fold, as they in turn welcomed us into theirs.
The incestuous nature of comedy makes the lines that define these groups of performers harder and harder to distinguish. What was once a cut-n-paste, cookie-cutter definition of ‘our group’ versus everyone else has long since eroded away. Recent favourites such as House of Fools, Brian Pern, Inside No. 9 and Harry and Paul have mixed the talents we’ve always covered with those who found fame a generation or two before them, and in turn, these household names have become just as relevant and vital to the work we champion as any other.
So too, has the support for The Velvet Onion extended beyond our core team. In service of these recent hits and others, we’ve fallen under the radar of established comedians whose work we have admired since the 1990s, and in turn, they too have supported our work: from Paul Kaye to Matt Lucas, Reece Shearsmith to Simon Day, and more. They, like our longstanding regulars, get what we do: we champion the underdogs, whilst simultaneously toasting the successes of those who get the attention they deserve. Everyone we feature on our pages as a ‘regular’ is considered equal: it is the work that matters to us, not the star-quality (or lack thereof) attached to those behind it.
By the same token, some of our core team are not as active as once they were, and several have not been involved with any tangible productions for some time. They are still close to our heart, and when they produce new work, we’ll be ready, but to stay slavishly devoted only to a small team of performers is to do our readers – and alternative comedy today – a disservice.
The Velvet Onion today remains indefinitely tied to the talents we’ve supported since 2010, and our aim is still to focus our work on material which links back to that original group in some way. However, as that core group has expanded its own remit, so we must expand ours, and the site will, from time to time, go beyond the inner layers of our onion and out into its peripheral vision.
This doesn’t mean we will feature any old thing if you call it alternative comedy: the ties to our core must be there. Names get added to our roster when their work repeatedly includes the people we’re already writing about, and only when they fit into the spirit of The Velvet Onion and the work it has championed all these years.
Why haven’t you mentioned this project yet?
We are proud of all that The Velvet Onion has achieved over the years, from behind-the-scenes documentaries to honest, personal interviews with top notch names in alternative comedy. We’ve provided exclusive ticket deals, competitions and pre-orders, and given fair verdicts through our reviews and previews time and time again.
But all of us involved in TVO do this in our spare time, around our other commitments, and we can’t always be 100% on the ball. If we haven’t featured a project you’re aware of yet, and it has bonafide links to ‘our lot’, then it may be that we simply don’t know about it yet!