You don’t know what your ethics are until you are offered money for them.
It is easy to be idealistic and morally pure as snow (which rarely seems to be that pure anyway, you should see the snow I’ve seen), when you are comfortable and not in the hands of a manipulative psychologist bossing you into electrocuting quiz failures.
It always becomes problematic when fear of authority, comfort of cash or the mania of a sudden genocidal spree takes hold.
Everyone is a commodity, we’re all for sale – that’s the dystopian or utopian future we’ve read in storybooks. With so many things to buy, when do you have enough stability that a casket of cash won’t veer you from the righteous you you wish to be?
Adverts are seen as the golden cow and the great taboo of stand up comedians.
No other artists seem to be scrutinised so closely on one issue of “selling out”, especially amongst their own. Why is the stand up’s autonomy seen as sacrosanct, while poets, actors, artists, even art critics, are happily permitted to sell lollies, chips, supermarkets, banks and laptops.
It is a case of “are you with Bill Hicks or are you not?”
During my hungry days, though I was never too hungry as for much of that time Somerfield did a low cost pizza pack and I like carrots, I did go to audition for an advert once.
I gave being a talking, abusive and pugnacious giant Twiglet a go. That job went to Justin Lee Collins. I also have a vague recollection of doing something with a Pot Noodle. I remember the waiting room of comedians for that one, each looking vaguely embarrassed and with the same cover story that their agent was very pushy about this one and they wouldn’t do it if they got it and anyway they know the director who they are hoping to do a film with and…
In the 80s, I don’t remember being cross that Ade Edmondson was telling me to go to the Midland bank or Fry and Laurie were the honey trap for the Alliance and Leicester. Sometime in the mid 90s, by then a stand up myself, I started to feel uneasy about comedians selling financial services and soap. A few years later, I made the definite decision that I would not do adverts. I have had it tested by being offered money to do them and, with little internal debate, I was successful in turning them down.
I was lucky, I could turn them down. I am paying my mortgage, I sometimes have three cheeses in the fridge, and I can run free in any Oxfam bookshop.
And I am not sure that the extra money I had would have had to fritter would have given me the same satisfaction as turning it down did. There is a sense of minor victory each time you’re not bought by something that requires you to do what you really know you shouldn’t.
Of course, when no one wants to see me jumping out shouting about Darwin on stage and I find myself living in a hollowed out marrow in the corner of an allotment, then my chums who were the friendly faces of mortgage providers and supermarkets can come and laugh in my face before crushing my roof with a trowel.
When I see someone rich and successful pitching product from late night screens, I just wonder why they would want to do it. Partly we have grown to find money terrifying, we fear it so much that each time it gets offered to us, we must take it in case it is the last time. the logic of careers evaporates, the paranoia of the 21st century kicks in. The paranoia of penury is how they get us. I remember my agent once trying to persuade me to do something that sounded like it would stick in my craw, but that would supply me with enough money for expensive salve to ease the craw pain as the odd oyster slid down whatever was stuck there. “It pays the mortage”, he said. “But I am paying the mortgage anyway”, I replied, and that was that. I am a difficult client.
Some teenage idealist is within me, that has a deluded image of comedians as outsider fools, though history has many examples that show a flaw in my imagery.
Personally, I think the reason I turn down money to be the face of hair replacement therapy (I imagine I would be on their list for possible billboard faces), is uncomfortable sense that if I am going to stand on stage and be furiously or absurdly opinionated, then I shouldn’t take money to pretend I have an opinion on a consumer durable.
I find there are so many times that ethical lines blur, or I buy something from a company that I shouldn’t because I am lazy or it’s bargain, that to have some small amount of control, some line that cannot be crossed, may give me the illusion of an ethical existence.
I don’t sell stuff, because I don’t have to.
Perhaps it’s because I see something as frequently preposterous as the advertising industry as something for mockery rather than cuddling up to. It may just be that having failed to win the part of a belligerent Twiglet, I have covered up my failure and shame with the pretence of a standpoint.
In writing this, I hoped it would work out why I’m not keen as the comedian as snake oil salesman, and 800 words later, I am still not sure. Some hotch potch of idealism and politics that can’t find the words needed to explain (a week of insomnia doesn’t help).
Maybe there is some kind of pill available that helps blood to the brain and improves arguing skills, I haven’t seen it advertised, maybe they need a figurehead front man? See you in the Holland and Barrett magazine advertorial.
now let me sell you my tour – I am in Newbury, Croydon, Shoreham and Aldershot next, plus 50 more dates from Edinburgh to Exeter via Manchester etc all details HERE
Here is comedian Chris Coltrane’s post on this sort of thing too http://chris-coltrane.livejournal.com/409117.html