No, don’t laugh; well actually do laugh but at the jokes, not at the idea of me being a comedian. That is, after all, the idea; laughing at the jokes.
What do I think qualifies me for the job of comedian? I hear you ask. Well, first of all I have a university level of education. This means that by default I know everything there is to know about everything. How to run the government? Piece of cake. How to solve the problems of the Middle East? The sort of thing I can do during my lunch break. The global economic crisis? Just let me have ten minutes on stage and that’s it, solved.
What other qualifications do I have? Well, I’m smug. In all modesty I think it’s safe to say I have mastered the art of smug. I’m pretty sure I can do a really good smug sideways look to camera with very little effort. Being smug seems to be the main criteria for being a comedian, more important than the degree or being able to tell a joke, so I’m bound to be a success.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself a little. All comedians need to find their niche. This bothered me a little bit. Where would I fit in an already crowded market?
Nature has ruled me out of certain niches. I’m male for a start so that rules out both female and, by default, lesbian. I’m also not of either Afro-Caribbean or Asian heritage so that rules that sector out. Dressing up in women’s clothes is already taken and I’m not gay, though I suppose I could pretend. No, with my dress sense I’d be rumbled in a no time at all.
I could have a sex change and be the first internationally famous transsexual comedian, but it seems like an awful lot of bother to go to. Perhaps not. There’s the dress sense thing again, though it didn’t seem to bother Lilly Savage or Dame Edna Everidge. Yes I know they’re not transsexuals. I’m just making a point about dress sense.
I had thought of pretending to be from the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zeeland, but the idea of going to someone else’s country and telling them how they’re all screwed up doesn’t really appeal. Mind you that hasn’t stopped all the Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zeelanders that are over here doing just that, but of course we’re generally tolerant enough to laugh politely and paternalistically at them. The German and the French thing have been taken as well, even if I could do the accents. How about Luxembourg? Does Luxembourg have stand-up comedians?
So that leaves more domestic types of comedian, if I dare include the Irish in that. I couldn’t do Irish anyway. Not only is the accent too hard but I haven’t got that “cheeky-chappy-kissed-the-Blarney-stone” thing going for me and my maths isn’t good enough for the only remaining slot, the intellectual Irishman; the anti-Irishman if you like.
So, what about Welsh or Scots? Welsh I don’t think I would be very good at. You either have to pretend to be stupid, you have to be melancholy or you have to be angry. Pretending to be stupid isn’t too hard, but stupid and smug don’t go well together. They sort of cancel each other out. I emphasise “pretending to be stupid”; I don’t think the Welsh, as a people, are stupid but some Welsh comedians seem intent on spreading that stereotype.
Angry I can do, as I’m sure regular readers of my blog would agree, but I would give myself away at the first rugby match I went to watch as a celebrity comedian when I was wearing my England World Cup Winners special edition shirt (on sale from 31st October, place your orders now). That only leaves melancholy which isn’t a whole lot of laughs. It works for a couple of jokes then people start to fidget. Dylan Thomas cornered the market on melancholy and spoilt it for everyone else. Yes I know he wasn’t….. Oh never mind.
That leaves being Scottish. Well, I have some of the heritage for it, but standing on stage for two hours telling jokes about the English isn’t the sort of thing that I would enjoy, nor would just being nasty about everyone, which is the alternative type of Scottish comedian.
There was a time when alternative, when talking about comedy, meant new, edgy and “right-on”. Now it just means swearing a lot and insulting minorities who can’t or won’t fight back. I thought that was what comedians were trying to get away from, but it appears that it only means you can’t insult a short list of specific minority groups. For all the rest it’s open season.
So, that just leaves being what I mainly am, which is English. But what type of English comedian can I be?
Again most of the stereotypes are already taken. I’m not really posh enough to be the middle class twit type; besides that’s a crowded marketplace already. I haven’t been a teacher so don’t have a fund of “hilarious” stories about the pupils who were unfortunate enough to be taught by me. I could be a middle class intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual, as the cap fits) but my supplies of smug, while big, just aren’t sufficient for that to be a lasting career choice.
I could do working class quite convincingly, as that is my “roots”, but I don’t have a big enough chip on my shoulder. Life was too easy for me. Loving parents, half decent teachers, worked hard and was rewarded accordingly. See, no room for much of a chip.
Besides, it’s hard to be working class and also stand on stage complaining about how working class people are kept down by the establishment when you are working class and standing on stage earning pots of money. It’s even harder when that stage is the O2 Arena and the impoverished working classes have paid £70 plus per ticket to get in.
This really is a tough choice. Maybe I’ll just go for surreal. That seems to work. Tell jokes that make no sense and pretend that it’s the audience’s fault if they can’t understand them. Everyone will laugh because they don’t want to look stupid or uncool and all the time I’ll know that they’re….. No, that would be insulting to my audience which isn’t a good thing to be, even though plenty of comedians do that every time they walk on stage.
So, maybe I’ll just go back to the old days and tell mother-in-law jokes. But that would be to admit defeat and it would definitely be a waste of all that smug. Maybe I’ll wait a while and decide a little bit later. Maybe I’ll find my niche by chance.
So what else do I need to be a comedian? Of course, I need to be Left-wing. This is a given. You can’t be a comedian and have any political doctrine other than left-leaning. I think there might actually be a law against it. To demonstrate my Left Wing credentials I would walk on stage and make disparaging remarks about the Daily Mail at every opportunity.
I never could work out why comedians do that unless they were simply obeying the law. I mean to say, they’re giving the newspaper free publicity. I know that everyone in the audience laughs, but that is because they don’t want to look stupid or uncool, or they don’t want other people to think that they might read the Daily Mail, but it doesn’t mean that everyone in the audience agrees with what the comedian says.
If so, it could actually mean that some audience members go straight out and buy a copy of the Daily Mail. After all, if the comedian thinks it’s a bad newspaper then maybe it’s doing something right. Maybe it’s saying something that they might agree with. I don’t know, but somehow I get the feeling that every time a comedian slags off the Daily Mail their circulation figures actually go up.
Maybe the Daily Mail knows this is what will happen and they’re actually paying the comedians to tell anti-Daily Mail jokes. After all, it’s cheaper than regular advertising. It’s the only plausible explanation. After all, the comedians don’t tell nearly so many jokes about the Sun, the Daily Star or the Daily Express, and they are just as obnoxious on a wide range of topics. They also never tell jokes about The Guardian or the Daily Mirror but the reason for that is self-evident. Maybe the Guardian and the Daily Mirror are missing a trick here. Editors note: Brown envelopes can be delivered to the stage door.
Which brings me back to where I started with my qualifications. I have a university level education, I’m willing to pretend to be left wing, which means that outwardly I’m qualified to tell everyone how the politicians have got it all wrong and they can’t run the country for toffees. By inference therefore I could run the country, but I don’t want to because my life as a comedian is so much more fulfilling. After all, being in the place where the laws are made and changed, from where the economy is controlled, from where decisions are made about taxation and benefits, is just so lacking in fulfilment compared to being on stage and cracking a few gags.
Mind you, that would mean standing for election which would expose me to the sort of ridicule that I heap on other politicians. That's a bit risky isn't it. Better to stand on my stage where I have control and don't have to expose myself to the sort of jibes and taunts that are my stock in trade. How brave I feel.
And of course if I were to stand for election I might not win and what would that do to my poor, fragile little ego?
Now to Russell Brand. He’s a left wing comedian who really does care. He must care because he never ceases telling us how much he cares. He was seen a lot on TV recently, sometimes in the TV studios and sometimes making a nuisance of himself in the street along with a bunch of people who had nothing better to do. This was no coincidence. He had a book to promote and some free TV coverage wouldn’t do any harm, would it? I mean to say, with only £10 million in the bank he’s nearly destitute. He needs that money from book sales.
But he also had a film crew following him around. Why was that? Well, he was making a film, obviously. Now, I wonder if that film was being funded through a film investment fund?
What is a film investment fund? I hear you ask.
Film investment funds are very popular amongst wealthy media types as a way of avoiding tax. To be legal they have to involve the making of a film (some schemes have fallen foul of the law because they didn’t). However, the film doesn’t have to make any money. The money that is repaid to investors in the form of a dividend can come from income received from the bulk of the money being used for more profitable investments. As it is share dividen it is taxed at 20% and isn't liable to National Insurance. Quite a bit iof saving to be made there, quite clealry. Think about that the next time you hear some wealthy socialist castigating the Tories for "giving tax cuts to their rich freinds".
So, one low rent comedian cum activist, one low budget documentary that never even has to be released and you can do the sums for yourself.
But of course that would be capitalism as only capitalists avoid tax and Mr Brand is vociferously anti-capitalist, as he never ceases telling us. Mr Brand is so anti-capitalist that he lives in a house rented from a tax avoiding offshore registered company. I can’t help wondering who the owner of that company might be. But we can be sure it won’t be Mr Brand because he is anti-capitalist.
But there is something even more sinister about the way comedy has changed in recent years.
The BBC is required to be impartial when it comes to political broadcasting. This is a good thing. If Newsnight interviews a Government Minister it is obliged to afford a "right to reply" to an opposition spokesperson, to provide “balance”. And of course it also applies the other way round. However, when it comes to comedy there are no such rules.
Comedy is classed as “light entertainment” and therefore the rules for factual or current affairs broadcasting don’t apply. That means that while Newsnight is being very balanced you can broadcast as many editions of unbalanced shows such as Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You, Russell Howards’ Good News, Live At The Apollo (and its many variations) etc, etc as you want, packing them with as many left wing comedians as you wish.
Where is the balance? Where are the shows that feature right of centre comedians. Oh, sorry, I forgot. There are laws that say you can’t have a right of centre comedian any more.
Now, forgive me for making this observation, but if you keep telling enough people that the sky is green then some of them are going to start believing this, even if the evidence is to the contrary. Cult religions demonstrate this. And that is what happens when you swamp your light entertainment schedules with people who are openly expressing a particular point of view and you exclude those that don’t share that view. The popular view is that "they must be right otherwsie why are so many of them saying the same thing?"
For some reason the word “indoctrination” springs to mind.
Now, is that sinister or not?
I have nothing at all against comedians making money. If you have the talent and the know-how to exploit it then fair play to you. But please don’t try to tell me how much you “care”. People who really care don’t spend their time standing on a stage or in front of a TV camera telling us all how much they care.
People who really care are out working on the streets or in Parliament or working for charities, trying to make a difference. Standing on stage telling jokes is only ever going to make a minor difference, perhaps by making people think a little more, but education does that far more efficiently. Standing on stage telling jokes is never going to achieve what real caring people achieve and for which they receive far less reward.
And please don’t mention Comic Relief. There is nothing wrong with the telethon itself. It raises a lot of money for worthwhile projects, but if most of those that appear didn’t have a film, TV series, DVD, tour or book to promote you wouldn’t see them for dust. That is clearly demonstrated by those who don't take part. Make your own list; I have.
Come to think of it I think I’ll just stick to writing. If I want a real career change I’ll probably go and work in a sewer. At least in sewer I’ll only be standing in it instead of having it poured into my ears.
Apologies in advance if there is no blog next week. I’m taking a short break so the presence or lack of a blog is dependent on me being able to finish reading a book and writing a review before Tuesday evening. If not then normal service will be resumed on 14th March.
Go Boldly Leonard.