Sunday, November 02, 2014

Jokers to the left of me, jokers to the right - here I am, stuck in the middle

In an article for the New Statesman last year, Stewart Lee reflected on the dearth of right-wing stand-up comedians - something bemoaned by BBC Radio 4's commissioning editor for comedy Caroline Raphael, who is expected to make at least some attempt to represent views from across the political spectrum. Lee's argument was that they don't exist primarily because stand-up by its very nature is about taking swipes at the entrenched (right-wing) establishment and status quo. All of which makes Andrew Lawrence's recent anti-liberal outburst on Facebook all the more remarkable.

Prior to him making those comments, I'd thought of Lawrence as a not especially amusing comedian with a really fucking irritating voice. Now I think of him as a right-wing prick and a hypocrit who has the nerve to accuse certain other comics of being careerists who do and say particular things to attract attention but at the same time refuses to acknowledge that his rant will have functioned to raise his own public profile.

Dara O'Briain - the focus of much of Lawrence's ire, as the presenter of Mock The Week - is among those who have responded to the charges, branding Lawrence "bitter" and "self-delusional". (Incidentally, I wonder what Lee would make of Mock The Week being described as a bastion of left-wing critique and satire?) Lawrence has since declared he's "become the target of a witch-hunt". That, he claims (as if to counter Lee's argument), is the reason there aren't more openly right-wing comedians.

Despite all that, and beneath the sneering comments about "ethnic comedians" and "women-posing-as-comedians", the anti-immigration sentiment and the Daily Heil-esque disgust at "ever-creeping militant political correctness", Lawrence may possibly have had a point or two. For a start, many of the jokes on Mock The Week are indeed stale and unimaginative, about as easy (and as funny) as shooting fish in a barrel - the excruciatingly smug Andy Parsons is particularly guilty on this front. (Not that having a pop at political correctness is exactly earth-shakingly revolutionary in comic terms, Andrew...)

And then there's the issue of the BBC's ban on all-male panel shows - clearly something had to be done to help get more female comedians into the spotlight, but positive discrimination isn't necessarily the best solution. Interestingly, O'Briain himself objected to the BBC's decision - not to the ban per se, but to it being made public, arguing that it would make regular female panellists "suddenly look like the token woman".

The situation begs comparison with that of football, where there are currently just two black managers in the top four English divisions and where proposals are under discussion for the introduction of a version of the American NFL's Rooney Rule, which would make it compulsory for clubs to interview at least one black candidate for managerial vacancies. It's certainly a thorny issue whichever way you look at it - positive discrimination may certainly be a welcome short-term quick fix both in the world of comedy and the world of football, but it doesn't necessarily address the root causes of the disparity.

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