CentreRight is a smashing forum that gives those of us privileged enough to be contributors the chance to write about pretty much anything. There is a basic requirement, however, that pieces should be vaguely political. Well, this post is that (exactly that). But it's also terrifically self-serving. I do hope that Tim, Jonathan and Paul forgive me.
I want to invite all of you to see me and some friends perform stand-up comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The show is called This Is What You Get, and we are at the Banshee Labyrinth at 8.30pm up to and including the 17th August. The show has started already, but I will be there from Wednesday. It's free too!
I also would like you, dear reader, to help to get me on television. Read on for more details.
Now, how do I justify this free advertising? I'd better make some political observations. And provide some evidence that ConHome has got into comedy reviewing before. Demonstrates a precedent, you see.
There have been a few occasions on ConservativeHome where people have asked why stand-up comedy and wider culture are so dominated by lefties, and why comedy panel shows that cover politics and current affairs do so from an overwhelmingly left wing perspective. (Examples of these matters being covered on ConHome can be found here, here and here. OK guys?!)
First the good news. Audiences, made up as they are of real people, are far more tolerant of diverse views than they are given credit for (by, for example, the BBC). As I've written before, I steered clear of discussing my conservatism (let alone my Conservatism) when I started doing stand-up because it was nerve-wracking enough to try to make people laugh and additionally because I didn't want to get typecast as a "political" stand-up. (The aim is to be known instead as a funny one.) But when I got a bit more confident I thought "What the Hell?" and started to reveal my right wingery. I have had good responses even from spectators who told me afterwards that they didn't agree with me. Normal people (and most comedians) have a great generosity of spirit and want to hear different, unusual and challenging views.
But here's the bad news; and you know it already. It is perfectly clear that TV executives have an utter horror of anyone who doesn't toe a specific line. They think - erroneously - that you can't be witty about politics if you're not anti-establishment. I believe they also believe that "right wing comedian" means Jim Davidson.
There are a number of problems with this approach. It ensures that stand-up comedians on television are lacking in variety and predictable. As soon as the element of surprise goes, so does the humour. (Unless you are a moron and/or a Peter Kay fan. Anyone care for some garlic bread?) It gives those impressionable youngsters whose exposure to current affairs comes from Mock the Week rather than Newsnight an unbalanced perspective (and being left wing, it is of course the wrong one!).
And what is the Establishment anyway? The Tories were out of power for thirteen years. Nonetheless, satirists remained obsessed with Margaret Thatcher and only really turned on Blair when he invaded Iraq. Moreover, if anyone is part of the Establishment it is surely well-paid TV executives and the entertainers for whom they act as patrons. Yet the nearest the BBC gets to mocking itself is to let Sir Terry Wogan make a few lame gags about the Beeb's staff canteen (which I suspect is in fact luxurious).
What I really object to is the sheer laziness. Here are a few of TV's comedic shibboleths, to which the worst performers return time after time (perhaps more will be added in the comments section):
- David Cameron is an Old Etonian Oxford graduate who has no idea how real people live. I happen to think it's a good thing that the Prime Minister is so well educated. And his education has continued well beyond university. He has been holding constituency surgeries for nearly a decade, where he meets all sorts of people who have all sorts of problems. Like most MPs he absorbs himself with these matters every day and works ferociously hard in trying to deal with them. Marcus Brigstocke, Russell Howard and Jeremy Hardy don't.
- The rich are to blame for everything. Why not have a pop at those public sector staff with ludicrous pay and pensions (not just MPs) or violent strikers, seeing as they actually cause the country harm?
- Boris Johnson isn't fit to be London Mayor. Yes he is, and he's funnier than you. What about his predecessor, who likes terrorists, tyrants and lavishing undesirables with taxpayers' money?
- The Israelis always act in a disportionate manner and are invariably in the wrong. Oh for crying out loud, read a decent newspaper and maybe, you know, actually visit Israel if you're so interested. And by the way, failing to in any way differentiate a nation from the actions of its government is racist.
- The Queen eats swans. Alright, that one was quite funny the very first time - but they say it whenever I watch Mock the Week.
I also object to ignorance in those who portray themselves as sagacious observers of current affairs. I'll admit that I can be a bit po-faced when comedians crack jokes about politicians or political movements I care about and that this is not a good quality. But I make no apology for despairing at objective factual inaccuracy and a failure to think outside of a very narrow box.
So are there any good left wing or non-Conservative comedians, people who are both funny and informative and insightful? Who make you think about an issue in a new way even as you are choking back tears of mirth? Absolutely yes indeed.
Stewart Lee is actively and passionately hostile to the Conservative Party, but I love him. He has even convinced me that there is a lot to be said for political correctness. Glenn Wool is a liberal, and he is also tremendously funny and has a unique and interesting perspective on current affairs. David Mitchell has been rude about Boris, but I think he is very funny and the best panel show performer by a country mile. (I like his mate Robert Webb too, and each of them is a really good and funny newspaper columnist.)
There are lots of other comedians I rate highly - such as Dara O Briain - and I have no idea how they vote. (Yes I do: they put a cross by the candidate of their choice! Hahahahahaha!!!! Don't worry, that one won't be making the cut for Edinburgh.) Many of them aren't on TV at all - go and see some live comedy in a room above a pub. You may well like it more than the Comedy Store or Jongleurs.
I don't demand that comedians pass a political litmus test. I just want for me and indeed every comedian to be extended the same courtesy.
As I am accusing TV comedy programming of left wing bias it is only right that I record that despite never having solicited television work, not having an agent and not being at all well-known, I was invited to appear on Channel Four's election night show and a couple of years ago to go on a semi-pornographic television station to talk about being a stand-up comedian who also writes speeches for senior Conservative politicians. Sadly I had to decline both offers - for rather different reasons.
Sky News are kind enough to have me on as a pundit from time to time and describe me either as a blogger or a comedian.
I don't want to go on most shows, as I think they're rubbish. I can't bear those in which comedians shoehorn pre-existing material into chat about recent events and pretend they are ad-libbing. But you know what I would do? I would, in a heartbeat, take up an offer to go on Have I Got News for You or QI. I've never listened to The News Quiz, but given how upset ConHomers are about its alleged left wing bias, I'd go on that too.
I've been missing out on jobs at an alarming rate recently. As a result, I am beginning to wonder if massive arrogance, self-absorption and self-promotion might be better than being humble and politely staking one's claim. (Hey, it's worked for several of the A-Listers.) In for a penny, in for a pound: I'm going to go the whole hog and ask ConHome readers to start a campaign. A campaign based around me. Let's get Tom Greeves on Have I Got News for You or The News Quiz. Ideally both. (I have friends who work for the brilliant QI, so it would be even more inelegant to campaign actively for that.)
I can't promise to be funny or that I wouldn't be nervous. Comedians notoriously find it dreadfully hard to match the seasoned wits and professionalism of Ian Hislop and Paul Merton when they first go on HIGNFY. But I can promise to be right wing. And conservative. And, where appropriate, Conservative.
Shameless and vulgar of me? You bet. But someone has to fly the flag, and seeing as I don't need to be circumspect about things rebounding badly on my employer right now (because I don't have one) I am in a position to wave it. Is anyone with me? Anyone at all?