In 1979, there was a schism, where the end of the pier crashed into the bar of the Marxist art school, and the streets ran red with dye of frilly shirts and Communist flags.
Alexei Sayle looked Jimmy Tarbuck square in the eye, and bit the tip of his nose off.
All mainstream comedians were sent to a Blackpool gulag, and French and Saunders were made Director General of all television. So it might seem from some revisionist histories of mass media. 3-2-1 ran for another 9 years, Cannon and Ball until 1991, Jim Davidson hosted Big Break and The Generation Game until 2002. The alternative movement only strangled the life out of the mainstream if you ignore all TV listings bar the ones made up in your head. Perhaps you have a TV listing like the one in the head of the human who commented under a Telegraph interview with Clive Anderson, “The chance of a middle-aged, ‘pale male’ getting work on the biased BBC is pretty much zero!”
How true, except for Nick Knowles and Alexander Armstrong and Brian Cox and David Fletcher and Matt Allwright and Richard Hammond. With that list you can see why someone else commented, “Of course he’s finding it a bit tougher to get more work in the world of medjia (sic). I understand he his heterosexual, married with kids.”
Yeah, I am sick of Nicaraguan, childless homosexual Jeremy Clarkson being smeared on my screen like a virulent STD.
But the spat and bar brawl of 1979 did change comedy, it made clear lines between what was seen as mainstream and what was for the youth and other reprobates. Cook, Moore, Milligan, Alf Garnett and Python were revolutionaries, but perhaps the media was so small then, and TV so new, that they were still embraced as primetime, even if middle England was sometimes disgusted. Alternative comedy, though never a vast ratings grabber, was a televisual equivalent of seeing The Sex Pistols at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, everyone watching went on to be a stand up, if only for a while.
Up at the Fringe again, there are hints of a little schism again. It’s been bubbling for a few years now. The comedy circuit is so vast, that the form has broadened out, as has the audience. Without a defining moment, though hinted at when Ben Elton hosted Wogan back in the last 80s, alternative became mainstream, but with sub-cultures within. Whereas the street gang of 1979 were new on the block, in the 21st century, many are part of the extravagant venn diagram of comedy culture. And so the in-fighting begins.
I think I have written before about the supposed line, are you an Edinburgh comedian or a club comic?
Each side, and if I am honest, most people can’t be bothered to join either, apparently has skills the others deride. The club comic can crush the most abusive stag night, the Edinburgh comic has the most blistering absurdist analysis of the films of Eric Rohmer.
There can be a “poor me” attitude from “the club comic” that they are not properly loved by the critics, while “the Edinburgh comedian” weeps that the philistine audience did not appreciate their routine about the melancholy of butterflies.
The comedy world is big enough for all variants, we just have to get beyond that thinking that “one size must fit all” with comedy. If you can’t make them all laugh, then you are failure. And so we are all failures. The idea that somewhere there must be a comedy somewhere that will bring the nation together like Morecambe and Wise or Hancock is nonsense. If Hancock was on now, with his jokes about Bertrand Russell and Beatniks, would 30 million tune in? Though TV may not reflect the variety in all arts, there is an incredible diversity out there. You can watch Jack Dee doing a Japanese tourist routine, Peter Kay doing air guitar to a Queen song, Sara Pascoe talking Kierkergaard, Josie Long talking about love and loss, Tim Vine doing a thousand one liners and puns. If you look for it, somewhere there should be a comedian for you. The idea that “you are not a comedian unless…” is nonsense. Do people laugh with you, and do enough of them do that so you can earn a living? You are probably a comedian. (earning a living is not prerequisite but it was the simplest thing of narrowing it down.)
Or I am on my never-ending tour (must end January) from Sheffield to Cardiff, Exeter to Newcastle HERE
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