People go on about political humour, some people have said to me over the years that i should do more politics. Back in the 80s there was a kind of left wing thing pervading the so called alternative circuit. but then they had Thatcher as a massive scape goat figure, a larger than life bogie who could absorb all the justifiable venom that so called satirists spouted. so back then the meaning of political stand up was fairly apparent. i guess Ben Elton kind of personified it. (to be fair Elton did other routines which had no mention of left wing politics, though those too often focussed on the absurd unfairness of every day British society e.g his endless line of traffic cones on the motorway routine – a little bit of politics?).
But you only have to live on this earth a few years and you start seeing that politics is not really left wing right wing debate…i mean it’s not that simple. – I say ‘right wing’ because as i write there are now comedians on today’s ‘alternative’ circuit who actually label themselves as right wing….and that’s probably a good thing, depending on your definitions. There are no comedians i know of who spout racism , but there are clever satirical ones who find loop holes in the left wing frame of reference – e.g. Andrew Lawrence.
anyway….according to the above simple definition of a political comedian i.e. someone who talks about political things in their set/act then i am not and never have been a political comedian. that’s not to say i haven’t done jokes which belong in this category e.g:
How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb ? well of course i can’t give a direct answer to that question, but what i can say is after it is changed it will spread its light not just to the area immediately under the bulb but also to the periphery.
That is a joke, like any joke. it has a set up, a punchline, and it also belongs to a genre of joke, – the lightbulb joke. And it’s a joke i tried a few times…
But i am seen generally as a ‘surreal’ comedian because i do jokes like: I’ve got a peech impediment; I used to live with a family of dolphins etc etc ; my mother was a hammerhead shark; I worked in a night packing plant: difficult work getting darkness into boxes.
I’m not sure why my jokes lead people to the term ‘surreal’, after all there is a logic to them all, and they are all about my various (fictitious) life experiences. But I’m guessing that people see this ‘rambling’ commentary about fantastic things i’ve done as outside a ‘norm’ of stand up comedy…the norm being perhaps: observational comedy, political satire (which is a from of observational comedy), sex jokes (which again is basically observation of human relations).
I could categorise my stand up as maybe a cross between poetry and something else.
But really, like most things, styles of stand up comedy are on a spectrum.
I had a friend, a german woman – and she had that Rainer Werner Fassbinder Baader Meinhof thing going on – who told me that she didn’t see the point to my comedy, or any comedy, if it didn’t make a political point. ‘what is the point of it?’ she asked.
Hmm, ok, well yes it does dig at my insecurities, i mean is there any point to my comedy? well of course it makes people laugh – hopefully, at least on a good day – and that cheers people up….so …isn’t that a point ? Point to me no?
More recently a friend challenged me to ‘come off my fence’ be it on the left or right, that my comedy as it is is too neutral.
she reckons that a lot of people in the UK are having a shit life, and are treated shittily by the govt. a lot of british people live with this, it brings them down, it goes through their minds on a daily basis and there’s not much they can do to escape. And so, she reckons, downtrodden people like hearing their opinions reinforced, these thoughts given voice by public speakers like comedians. In fact when people hear these comedians voice their thoughts it releases dopamine in the brain…Wow ! now that is a noble purpose indeed for stand up comedy.
but left and right are just words. There’ bad injustices in the world, and at the same time there’s some good justices.
I for some reason get more and more pained inside by the stories in the welsh press -and beyond- about people denigrating and insulting the welsh language, To me that is an issue. is it a political issue? it must be….i guess.
But how come i find it so difficult to imagine doing a stand up routine about this stuff? am i sitting in the fence? or am i avoiding being ridiculed by a non understanding audience.
To me Bill Hicks was the best ‘political’ comedian. Because he was charismatic, dramatic, and really funny. He was deep but not pretentious. He tried to be entertaining.
I liked Jeremy Hardee. He was also a funny political comedian. But when i saw him do a gig in Wales he did a one liner about not voting for any party with the words National and Socialist in the name….the joke being he was comparing Plaid Cymru to the Nazi party. his audience laughed. Of course they did, they were mainly made up of middle class incomers or holiday makers in Welsh Wales. And they are welcome but what the fuck did they care about the culture of England’s oldest colony? They don’t want to think about it other than in simple superficial shades.
Just recently an employee of a health organistaion working for schools in Wales critiscised the campaign for welsh language schools. In his personal web comments he compared the treatment of english medium school children to that of the blacks of apartite south Africa by the regime’s whites.
Really? is that a fair comparison? I mean, how stupid, blind and ignorant have people got to be to make such an extreme analogy? Ironically it was Mandela who said: if you talk to a man in a language he understand that goes to his head, if you talk to a man in his own langauge that goes to his heart.
Where’s the examination of history ? where’s the research? The welsh language was systematically dismantled by the Education act of the 1800s which forbade the speaking of welsh in schools, if any kids were heard speaking it their punishment was the Welsh Not: a piece of wood around their neck with the initials WN. And people wonder why it’s barely 20 percent of wales’ population left speaking their own language today… Why do some people, educated people, hate and malign the welsh culture so? are they scared of something? a growing fascist dictatorhip in their own backyard ? Bollocks, It seems that they’re the fascists. The historical process of linguistic decimation is ongoing.
Right, so i’m supposed to do a comedy set about this. Who’s gonna want to listen let alone laugh at that ? It’s not like i’d enjoy the challenge of writing and performing a set about this stuff…i’m just saying there’s a pain inside when i read about and meet these people. People who call anyone who speaks welsh a zealous nationalist or fanatic. I don’t want to think about it. i just feel it, will i ever talk about it onstage? Who knows… but i already talk onstage with a welsh accent..is that a political act? I perform often in the welsh language, is that a political act?
Circuit legend Ian Cognito used to brag -and probably rightly – that he’d never been on telly…was this a political act? I think so, but Cognito was not categorised as a political comedian. Politics with a small ‘p’ covers a lot: the politics of dancing, the politics of oooh feeling good…
That’s the thing, life is a mixture of left and right. Marxists have commited atrocities, so have fascists. Good deeds have been done by bad people…The Labour Party took the UK into a wasteful, unlawful war in Iraq that killed loads of people.
Maybe the vanity of politicians on all sides is becoming more apparent in the internet age, and that is one reason why ‘right wing stand up’ manifests as a thing. It used to be one could only be ironic from the POV of the downtrodden about the acts of the higher ups i.e. the ones who were doing the down treading: the rich, the upper classes. Irony came from a ‘left’ stance, because irony is funnier from the POV of the poor and the downtrodden lower classes, maybe because there’s more of them. But now irony works from a right stance it seems, perhaps because our leaders on the left are now also seen as vain, as warmongers, as pro this and that at the expense of life affirming things. They have become, like the leaders on the right, obscure as far as what they stand for. They don’t symbolise anything clear cut anymore like the poor or the working classes. They certainly don’t stand for the poor, not in their own backyard at any rate!
Those targets are moving, so the humour aimed at them shifts.
Entertainment is a good thing. Intelligent entertainment is a breath of fresh air. Human vanity of course will always be a worthy target. And i’d like to think that some my ‘silly, ‘surreal’ linguistic playful jokes, on being got by an audience, also release dopamine, also gives a good feeling, to the listener. In fact, doesn’t laughing generally do that ? Isn’t that why it cheers us up…?
Swift and Pope back in the were satirising, with heavy use of irony, riffing on the authority figures of the day. But at different times of history within comedy you also see other targets, different ones: the Irish were targets, blacks, the germans, the French, Jews, to name but five. This does not pass as irony today, and in fact does not pass as humour today. Or perhaps i should say it does not pass as humour to me.
Ethnicity, cultural roots, skin colour are things impossible to satirise, because today we get that these things are part of nature, part of life. But still people make fun of these traits, like bullies make fun of the odd one at school. It’s called taking the piss, name calling. In recent times tribal differences have caused wars, religious differences too. Nationhood it seems is a subject too, often misunderstood, often on the list of contemporary satirical comics, and yet also qualifying for being part of nature, part of something people have no control over. Thinking about it, maybe you can satirise this – or indeed any subject – in a good way, in a positive way, in a clever way.
But why, for example, do english comedians when making jokes about the welsh invariably reference either sheep; the consonants in the welsh language; or imitate a welsh accent as if it’s a moronic speech impediment? Ok, the consonants joke approaches clever satire, in that at least it acknowledges a culture distinct from English, but it’s a joke that’s been done to death. Why not try soemthing new? How about a joke about the influence of the Normans on the current electoral demographic in Wales? what about a joke about Anglesey being the ‘mother of Wales’? Or a joke about all the Brummie and Yorkshire accents in NewcastleEmlyn ?
I once saw Jasper Carrot at the Glee Club , Birmingham. His opening gag was Max Boyce’s old chestnut: Ogi Ogi Ogi Ogi (WAIT FOR AUDIENCE RESPONSE)…Oi Oi Oi etc…at the end of it he delivers the killer line :’Isn’t it easy to enteratin the Welsh?!’ Ok i get it ha ha, funny line, really clever, rousing the Midlands audience in a collective prejudice, at the expense of any welsh members of the audience, like me. And yet it wasn’t ‘the welsh’ who enthused vocal on the night to Jasper’s chant but the people of the Midlands of England, the ones there in the gig. So it was a snide, underhand, but brilliantly effective punchline immediately grabbing the audience’s undivided attention. And it was this double irony – as Gerry Sadowitz used to say – that gave me inspiration as to how to acknowledge his line when i went on later in the show, that is how to address it within my act without coming across as bitter. (which is never easy for me) ….When i opened my set i did exactly the the same chant: Ogi Ogi Ogi etc etc – it’s not like i was nicking a Jasper original after all – and then delivered my own killer line: ‘Isn’t it easy to entertain the English ?’ Touche…
The great thing about Bill Hicks was he did his act seemingly without any other motive other than the communication of something constructive, something enlightening for all people. and he was not afraid to do his thing in front of any audience, be they rednecks or liberals.
Ok, so to me Bill Hicks is political stand up at its best. I’m not saying he was perfect, but what comedian is ?
But call me a cynic,- today, when i see a so called political comedian i fear – or worry – that the he/she is targeting or making fun of someone or something without any justification other than his own desire to get a laugh, or pursuing a joke guided by his/her own ignorance. These two factors frequently combine of course.
Here’s a question: is political correctness left wing? And if it isn’t why is it so many detractors of PC seem to come from, or are daubed as, right wing ? Maybe there’s a right wing and a wrong wing.