I am sorry that I am even typing the words that follow. You have probably read them before. You know it already. This post is going to be a frippery. If you don’t have much time to read today, then don’t read this. Read about the NHS and PFI contracts, read about the victims of war, read about the latest breakthroughs in our understanding of particle behaviour.
Now, for the one of you who is left (hello by the way, hope you are having a good day), here is the boring, oft-repeated sentence – freedom of speech includes freedom to criticise what has been spoken.
In the backwaters of stand up comedy, sides are being taken. There has been a broadening split on the comedy circuit for years now. There is a definite mainstream and an alternative, and some who can happily, and often brilliantly, survive within both. The difference between this cultural split and the one of 1979 is that Alexei Sayle hadn’t toured with Stan Boardman, 20th Century Coyote weren’t warming up for Frank Carson. The comedy circuit is a vast group now, and it holds within a broad church of opinions and on stage and off stage attitudes. You can see the left and the right, the libertarian and the Marxist, though not as many Marxists as you might imagine if you read comments section, articles and blog posts on the stand up. This view of “an achingly PC” circuit obviously doesn’t take into account the evidence of Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle or Lee Evans’ act. Whether they are funny or not is up to you, but if their PC isn’t aching.
A friend of mine went to a club night recently and, having mainly hung around at the sort of shows that Josie Long and I do, was surprised at the amount of casual misogyny and easy going homophobia. So why is there this tragic image of the castrated right wing comedian, forced to sit in silence in the dressing room, or viciously editing himself as the rest of us talk of Engels and Sartre? This is illusory victim balderdash. If they were too cowardly to be honest, it is not the fault of the few outwardly lefty comedians. (there aren’t as many as you think).
Most comedians are “sort of liberal”, but many of the complaints about the circuit over the last few years have been about the lack of overtly political comedy of the kind you might see in the solo shows of Mark Thomas or Bridget Christie, not too much of it. I heard stories of the eighties comedy circuit, a cottage industry which seemed to have a more specific ideology as it was a subculture. There are tales of the fury if a male comedian used the word “cunt” and that there was a sense of leftist camaraderie as comics toured mining towns and supported strikes and unions.
This was already fading by the time I began. You did not have to show your Socialist Workers membership card before getting a gig at The Chuckle Club.
The delight of stand up comedy is that you can go on stage and declare whatever is on your mind, whether it be right, left or ridiculous. It is then up to you whether you continue on if an audience is resistant or abusive, the internal debate is, do you sell out your ideas for the sake of securing further pay packets? Most of us have done that. There is the freedom of expression which, sadly, leads to the freedom to be booed off or ignored. Some comedians who have come out in support of anti-women comments have actively accused the critics of trying to silence free speech, but debate is not silencing.
For those who think it is career disadvantage to being right wing, think again. These could be good times for you. The BBC actively seeks right wing comedians, the main complaint I hear from producers of News Quiz is their difficulty in finding openly right wing comedians (my left wing stance is one of the many things that counts against me getting back on News Quiz), this may well be true of TV panel shows too. My experience of television is seldom one of political idealists desperately trying to shape public opinion and build the utopia or dystopia of their mind and manifesto, it’s far more lily-livered and self interested than that.
On Monday, I was asked if my comedy show would be Trotskyist. Frankly, I haven’t done the reading. The interrogator then sadly reminisced about those happy days, before PC took over, when “we could laugh at ourselves”, though I think “laugh at ourselves” usually means “laugh at all the cultural groups we don’t like really, you know, the thick paddy jokes and Chalky characters that were such a happy cavalcade on primetime”. The lighten up, it’s a laugh gang are usually far less light when the jokes is on them (see UKIP, climate change denialists, right wing libertarians, corporate financiers etc. It’s all “just a bit of harmless fun” if it’s racist gagsmiths at a conference, and all, staple their lips when the joke is on them).
Political correctness is not saying something you really believe because you fear ramifications of judgement. The reason I don’t consider my Lesbian or Jewish, Irish or Asian acquaintances to be beneath me is not due to a regulating body that insists I must follow a code, I just don’t due to experience and education and thought (I try to have one of each group as that is best for your liberal top trumps). A lack of homophobia is not necessarily due to “PC gone mad”, you just might not have a problem with it. Like those people who declare, “I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking”, there are those who confuse their mean-spirited superiority and sneering for festering in everyone’s mind. We all have bigotries, cultures create invisible divides that are hard to scrutinise, but not everyone is so keen to hold on to them or proud to possess them.
One of the most useful propaganda weapons, as wielded by Fox News, is to turn make it look like trying not to be a dick is a smug position. “Look how smug people are who are more accepting of others” Acceptance as weakness. “Why are those who loathe without reason so underrepresented?” Some of my closest family are right wing, I’ll still talk to you. If you are worried about a Cyclopian view of the world, then most of our newspapers and TV news shows are pretty good at offering a milksop, neutered view of the world’s stages,we should probably tackle them before Mock the Week and QI. The status quo of the powerful is predominantly right wing – corporations dodge taxes with legal aplomb, dismantling of NHS, vast gap between the richest and poorest, and yet the liberal jackboot that bruises and pummels the victorious is “but where are the poof and paddy jokes?”
Can we do you a deal? You can have your jokes back primetime, and we’ll have an NHS, nationalised rail and a more effective tax system.
http://www.robinince.com for tour dates – Totton, Barton on Humber, Canada Water, London, Manchester, Stowe, Bordon and on and on (to USA and Australia in 2015)
And there is a brand new Vitriola Music podcast right here
also, I am going to do a gig with Alan Moore and Grace Petrie at the NN Cafe in Northampton on 19th November.