I don’t know when it happened exactly, but at some point during the last decade I stopped watching British stand-up comedy. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather a dawn get-a-way, tiptoeing with stealth and acuity out of a dodgy hotel room you might leave a whore in (I’ve been told) or a heap of hung-over drunken sailors after a night of debauchery. It just stopped-being-funny and became more of an angry pedantic lesson on how to think and what political beliefs were and were not acceptable in polite society.
Take, for example, ‘alternative’ comedian Stewart Lee in last night’s episode of Comedy Vehicle entitled ‘Migrants’ – go on, I bet you can guess what Mr Lee’s views are on migrants? Go on try it. You’re going to be right. You are right. He has exactly the same views on migrants as every other dinner party liberal; same as he does with UKIP, Islam, the Tories and a whole host of other stuff that preoccupy this narrow minded sub-strata of society. You know what they’re going to say before they utter a syllable and it’s boring.
In fact, Stewart is such a stereotype that he even has a regular column in the Guardian – the bible of the faux left chattering classes. It’s a shame, because he was, once, actually very funny and genuinely alternative (watch his stuff from the 90’s). Now, he seems to have fallen in line with every other comedian: stand-up saturated with rigid political orthodoxies, right-on, faux left and generally mocking of anyone who doesn’t share his twisted liberal view of the world – particularly the common muck.
Stewart, bizarrely, spent 20 minutes of his stand-up routine mocking Spectator and Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle (who is side-splittingly funny, by the way); which is fine, only, it wasn’t funny at all – which is a bummer if you’re a comedian. What is revealing is that he chose to mock not only Rod’s political beliefs per se but also his working class roots and ‘plebeian’ background (as he sees it); which, I assume, he believes is responsible for all of his awful uncivilised views.
Embarrassingly, the pompous wanker could barely conceal his utter contempt for the working class, as he rounded off his tiresome pageant of Rod being covered in gravy, angel delight, suet, jelly from a pork pie (not anything as middle-class and foreign as pate, he insinuated) and Tunnocks teacakes. The last ten minutes was particularly cringing as he mimicked Rod eating a poppadum in an Indian Restaurant – it went on and on, until I actually started to feel sorry for the guy. But hang on Stewart, isn’t that racist? You could’ve at least chosen an English chippy – you’re supposed to resent the culture you come from, right?
Anyway, Stewart Lee has spent his career being the anti-hero of comedy, but now, unbeknownst to him and his legion of smug Guardianista fans, he is no longer alternative but rather the choirmaster of a seemingly endless chorus of ‘comedians’ who advertise for the liberal establishment – there’s nothing alternative about him. He’s totally mainstream. And the same goes with practically all of them – except maybe Ricky Gervais – at least not yet.
Whether it’s the cross-dressing Euro-nut Eddie Izzard who used make brilliant surrealist observational comedy, but is now content with moronic jokes comparing Nigel Farage to Hitler. Or star of the brilliant Peep Show, David Mitchell, who now presents ‘soap box’ videos for the Guardian Website – guess what gets on his nerves the most? Go on guess. Even his co-star Robert Webb, again used to be funny, but now writes a weary column for the Guardian’s big brother – the endlessly tedious and humourless New Statesman.
Then, there’s Marcus Brigstock, who loathes working class culture and mocks ‘overweight women who tuck a copy of a women’s magazine under the pizza in their shopping trolleys’ and lazy builders who ‘need eight gallons of tea every five minutes’. (Maybe some of those builders are Polish – the coward wouldn’t dare mock them). Even risqué standup Frankie Boyle has a Guardian column in which he slags off the Tories and hurls insults at Americans – the only nationality you can mock without being called a racist – again, another coward.
So, you see there’s something a lil’ bit fishy going on; but don’t be fooled – this isn’t just a troupe of annoying elites spitting bile at anyone who has the audacity share an opinion other than what they deem acceptable; no, this is much darker and has more wider cultural significance.
A few years back I attended a Christmas party and as is the norm on these occasions I, along with my co-workers, got pebble-dashingly pissed faced. The conversation turned to British Comedy and why it isn’t funny anymore – because you can’t laugh or joke about anything – a wry and fellow piss head observed; someone even suggested that Thatcher put an end to jokes about the Irish – this, though, has yet to be proven.
Anyway, I can’t entirely recollect what happened next, but I recall putting a serviette on my head and performed my embarrassing gay Jesus routine – this went down well (everyone was hammered); then I pretended to be Mohammed and the scene turned nasty – that’s offensive, that’s racist, stop it, they all cried – even though nobody was Muslim and everybody was, supposedly, a Christian.
Make of that what you will – but when society at large, and increasingly the state, starts to police jokes, we’re in very dangerous territory indeed. Old working class pub stand up, Bernard Manning, was probably a bigot, but I’ll take him any day over this new breed humourless, PC, patronising bien pensants.
RIP, Ronnie Corbett