American readers will be unfamiliar with the BBC panel show “Mock The Week”. It is a faux quiz chaired by Irish comedian, Dara O’Briain with two teams of three comedians who comment on the main news items of the week.
Comedy is a serious business.
A healthy Democracy needs a safety valve. Comedians have a licence to lampoon governments. Indeed lampooning governments pre-dates Democracy and a wise King would have known that tolerating humourous dissent was a good thing.
I like Comedy. I like Words.
Back in the 1950s/1960s comedians were effectively “establishment” BBC figures….Ted Ray, Arthur Askey, etc…essentially relics from the variety circuit, pre WW2 end of the pier shows and of course (BBC) Radio. Beneath the cheek was deference. The Second World War ushered in a new breed…the Goons, Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock, Tommy Cooper and the rest who replaced the “Old Guard”. But still “establishment”.
The permissive years at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s saw people search for a moral compass…and a nastier breed of comedian, Jim Davidson, Mike Reid, Bernard Manning was unleashed. By todays standards they are rightly deemed sexist, racist and homophobic.
Somehow within a decade, we DID find a moral compass and such acts were swept aside in a wave of political correctness.
But the revolutionaries of the early 1980s….Alexei Sayle, Adrian Edmondson, French and Saunders, Lenny Henry, Stephen Fry are now old people.
But there has been a steady stream of comedians …a conveyor belt…some are now in their 40s, some in their 30s, some in their 20s. …it just keeps rolling. But rather like Ted Ray and Arthur Askey were establishment figures in the 1960s, increasingly Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry (ooops “Sir” Lenny Henry) look like establishment figures in 2016.
Alternative Comedy claims direct descent from The Goons, via Beyond the Fringe, via Monty Python, via the Young Ones to wherever we are today. Nobody claims descent from the discredited years of the early 1970s.
Yet maybe the political correctness which was established in the 1980s is under attack from a new breed who actually are more vicious than Bernard Manning ever was.
Political Correctness…one of the great achievements in my lifetime is now itself under attack. The very phrase is a form of abuse and not just on the Fux News Channel.
It used to be the role of the Media to speak Truth to Power…to hold the politicians to account. But then the Media became more powerful than the politicians and despite Leveson, nobody seems capable of holding the Media to account. Indeed the Media would claim that nobody has a right to hold them account.
The role of holding Politics and Media to account seems to have fallen to Comedy. But what happens when the Comedians are too powerful. Who holds them to account?
Twenty-five years ago, Comedy was hailed as the new Rock and Roll. Ah…I remember Rock and Roll. Or at least the 1960s version. To be honest, it was pretty good. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons….and later Credence Clearwater Revival and the Eagles.
But to be even more honest, what came after the “golden years” wasnt that great. The Rubettes, the Glitter Band, Showaddywaddy…..need I say more?
Same with Comedy. There is actually too much Comedy on TV and new faces are on screen every year…all working their way up thru “8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown”, “Have I Got News For You”, “Mock the Week” to the cerebral credibility of a guest spot on “QI”. Actually it is all careerist…university, open mic, Edinburgh Festival, the comedy clubs, headhunted for TV, some TV spots, more TV, even more TV, adverts for credit cards and a sit-com and presenting a documentary on endangered wild life….and the Great British Bake Off.
There are just too many comedians. How else can Roisin Conaty, Josh Widdicombe and that Australian guy be explained?
But have Comedians just got too powerful. I watched “Mock the Week” last night….in the week that the news was dominated by the EU Referendum and the fall-out. By any standards a rich seam of Comedy to be mined.
Not surprisingly Dara O’Briain teased the panelists and audience by waving his Irish passport. Yet the programme left me cold.
In a rare example of me calling things exactly right, I blogged here before the Referendum that the campaign was being waged by the “Sophisticated” (REMAIN) and the “UnSophisticated” (LEAVE).
The “Sophisticated” include the Bankers, the Young, the Graduates, the Academics, the Metropolitans…..and Britain’s Comedians.
The fact that the Referendum result was 52-48 in favour of LEAVE (and a wider margin within England) should not be overlooked. The “Mock the Week” audience did not reflect this. Nor did the panel.
Forget all the divisions that the Referendum exposed….national, regional, age, education….the key one is CLASS. Dress it up any way you like and its still CLASS. The working class up north voted LEAVE and they wont easily be forgiven by the Sophiticated class that knows better.
I am ….as you know ….a pretty damned sophisticated person. And yet I offended my sophisticated friends by actually voting LEAVE.
Yet I am still offended by the notion that nearly all public discourse following the Referendum result is dominated by the patronising notion that those who voted LEAVE were the victims of lies….or we are just stupid or racist…..or have sabotaged the future of young people.
“Mock the Week” panelists followed that lazy narrative, supported by an audience that would cheerfully have lynched a senior citizen from Sunderland if he had wandered into the room.
Much as I like “Mock The Week” …I prefer it when it is mocking somebody who is not me.
There is of course one very nasty aspect to the fall-out from the Referendum…Racism on the LEAVE side.
But I would go further and say that there is a nasty aspect to the REMAIN side,a sense of Superiority. They simply (in their own view) have a higher IQ than those who voted LEAVE. It is not an edifying spectacle.
And it is counter-productive.
Does it matter?
Yes it does…because this is not unique to England.
John Oliver does much the same in USA…he is a former panelist on “Mock The Week”. His pro-EU rant is very unpleasant.
And on Facebook we see clips of shows from Noah Somebody and Samantha Somebody-Else. They are funny and more importantly rarely wrong.
Yes they are part of the liberal elite but targetting the Republican Party, Donald Trump, National Rifle Association, Bill O’Reilly and that Westboro Church is entirely legitimate…but targeting the less articulate, less educated in American society is a bit elitist.