Edinburgh Fringe: Why comedians need to get serious

Richard Pryor in 1977 Image copyright AP
Image caption Richard Pryor met the harsh truths of his real life head on

Back in 1967, when Richard Pryor was a 20-something stand-up, he found himself waiting in the wings of a club in Las Vegas about to go on. The house was packed. He was probably nervous and almost certainly high.

He walked on and spotted Dean Martin sitting at one of the front tables. The actor's famous face was full of boyish excitement. Pryor looked around and saw hundreds of other similarly expectant faces: eyes bright, mouths cracked open primed to laugh.

The comedian, who'd grown up in a brothel in Peoria, Illinois, paused. A series of questions went through his mind. What were they looking at? What did they want? Then he swore and wondered out loud what he was doing there.

He turned on his heel and left the stage.

That was the last anyone saw of Richard Pryor the pleasing comedian. He was done with sparkly one-liners with which he had made his name. He reinvented his act and became the man who became the legend who used profanities because they were part of his natural vernacular and not a way of getting a cheap laugh.

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First Nigerian-produced musical hits London's West End

Media captionFirst Nigerian-produced musical hits London's West End

It was a hit in Lagos - and now it has come to London.

Wakaa The Musical follows the fate of a group of young graduates as they begin to find their way in the world.

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Spielberg and Rylance's Big Friendly bromance

Media captionSteven Spielberg and Mark Rylance talk about working together in The BFG

"He's one of the greatest actors I've ever experienced in my career."

That's not a bad accolade for British actor, Mark Rylance, especially when it comes from one of Hollywood's biggest directors, Steven Spielberg.

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Georgia O'Keefe: Beacon of beauty and range

Georgia O'Keefe Image copyright AP
Image caption Georgia O'Keefe's trademark voluptuous flower paintings were originally interpreted by some as allusions to female genitalia

In or around 1917 the notion that art should be beautiful was deemed passe. Marcel Duchamp had brought his homespun and highly persuasive cod French philosophy to Manhattan and declared that art should henceforth be "anti-retinal". He made his point with a "readymade" urinal.

The idea caught on and prevails to this day in the shape of unmade beds and rotting cows' heads. But not all artists swallowed Duchamp's ugly Parisian pill.

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The quiet man at the British Museum

Hartwig Fischer Image copyright Sean Gallup
Image caption Hartwig Fischer took over from Neil MacGregor earlier this year

When Neil MacGregor was the director of the British Museum, press conferences tended to be lively affairs. He was a born raconteur who'd make his points by telling stories and cracking jokes. He had the ability - like all natural showmen - to reach out to his audience.

His successor, Hartwig Fischer, is cast from a different mould. Three months into the job, and quite reasonably still sizing up the enormity of the task, he cuts a more circumspect figure. There were no laughs or stories or great statements about future plans at his press conference this morning. Instead, a gentle earnestness prevailed.

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Venice Biennale's brighter future

Venice Biennale
Image caption An office made out of a reconfigured water pipe, part of this year's Venice Architecture Biennale

With thoughts on how to house Millenials and designs for an airport for drones, the visionary architects and curators at the Venice Architecture Biennale are looking to the future.

"If we're going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk," insists the Pritzker Prize-winning Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena - curator of this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.

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Turner Prize: Art not gibberish, please

Anthea Hamilton Image copyright Tate
Image caption Anthea Hamilton explores desire, fetish and pop culture

To start, a moan: why do the Turner Prize curators write such unintelligible gibberish about the artists shortlisted for the prize?

Where do they go to learn to produce these texts laden with pseudo-academic speak? Does their dense, mangled prose reflect a lack of confidence in the artists whose status and work - the curators' might think - needs to be elevated by arcane, pompous language?

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Pushing the art of protest to new limits

Pyotr Pavlensky Image copyright DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV
Image caption Pyotr Pavlensky faces a possible prison sentence

If you were going to use art as a form of protest, would you (a) drop an unannounced album on Tidal accompanied by a one-hour special on HBO, or (b) nail your genitals to a paving stone?

I (like you, I'm guessing) would go for A. But that's not an option. We are not Beyonce (when your name auto-corrects on Word, you know you've made it).

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Conceptual art: What’s the big idea?

Pablo Bronstein at Tate Britain Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Pablo Bronstein makes 'playful investigations into Rubenesque baroque with a dollop of contemporary irony'

I'm down at Tate Britain and chatting to an old friend and half looking at a performance art thing happening in front of us when I realise we are the most attentive inattentive art-watchers at the early evening private view.

So, we weren't exactly concentrating on the choreographic goings-on central to Pablo Bronstein's newly unveiled performance installation, but at least we were giving it a respectful this-is-the-reason-for-all-the-free-hospitality glance.

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Why is Shakespeare more popular than ever?

  • 23 April 2016
  • From the section Magazine
Shakespeare's face in neon lights

It's amazing, don't you think? Shakespeare is more popular today than he has been at any point since his death four centuries ago (there are no hard-and-fast stats to actually prove it, but the scholars to whom I have spoken all agree it is the case).

The Internet has played its part in the brand Bard propagation (Spark Notes, hem, hem), but it has also produced a mountain of alternative, more contemporary content upon which we could choose to feast. And yet it is Shakespeare who has risen to the top. And not just online where he's looked up so much that there are now bespoke Shakespeare search engines.

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