The Imaginary Comedy Cabal? Frankie Boyle, Mock the Week’s Russell Howard, Dara O’Briain, Hugh Dennis and Andy Parsons, and Stewart Lee. Photograph: guardian
Last Saturday, I took my children on a tour of the Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden. I explained to them that they were going to visit the magical headquarters of an ancient secret society, to blow their childish minds. Be honest. Don’t you wish I was your dad? Where’s your dad taken you this weekend? The Cumberland Pencil Museum? Barometer World? The Morpeth Bagpipe Centre?
Sadly, the temple and museum were closed that day, as the freemasons were assembled within, deciding the future of the world. But, luckily for my disappointed children, suddenly hundreds of freemasons streamed from the temple into Covent Garden, each dressed in trademark black suit, and carrying a little bag just big enough to hold his apron, his dagger and some Shippam’s fish paste sandwiches from his freemason mum, in case he got hungry while manipulating global events.
One friendly freemason engaged my three-year-old, who was dressed as Dracula, in banter about her outfit, rich coming from a man who moments before was blindfolded in a pair of one-legged trousers, like the singer from Imagination. Nonetheless, I wished I could be a member of a secret society that controlled the destiny of nations. Then I remembered. I already am!
Accused last week by the disappointed standup Andrew Lawrence, star of Radio 4 and all TV standup shows, of being biased in favour of talentless women and “ethnics”, and by Nigel Farage of the Ukips of representing a liberal media elite of Ukips-hating luvvies, British comedy is having its Pastor Niemöller moment. “First they came for the immigrants, but I did not speak out because I was not an immigrant. Then they came for Lenny Henry, but I did not speak out because I was not Lenny Henry. And then they came for the TV panel-show comedians – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
As long ago as the 19 July 2011, Jan Moir of the Daily Mail posited the existence of a shadowy and “deeply unpleasant cabal of foul-mouthed leftwing comics”, so secretive that her stupid article was only able to name two members of it – me, and Frankie Boyle, a man I have met only once – and disappeared from the paper’s website within days due to its actionable idiocy. Besides, I wouldn’t want to belong to any deeply unpleasant cabal that would have me as a member.
Andrew Lawrence. Photograph: Idil Sukan
Last Thursday, in the regular column he has in the Independent as part of the biased liberal media’s attempt to silence him, Nigel Farage similarly asserted that the Ukips were targeted by a liberal elite of relentless bores and opined: “While I’m used to the ire of the PC-brigade, it must be disconcerting for [Andrew Lawrence] to be embroiled in all of this for speaking his mind.”
The truth is that, in our comedy community, everyone I met, including all the black and Asian comics I worked with last week, expressed genuine and sympathetic concern for their colleague Andrew Lawrence’s mental wellbeing. (Could I just point out here that I met three black and Asian people I am friendly with on the live circuit last week just by chance. I wasn’t going around with a quota to firm up my liberal credentials, even though it was, admittedly, next on my “to do” list.)
Jokes about the Ukips are, according to Farage, “low-hanging fruit” for people who misunderstand the Ukips. “Aren’t comedians supposed to be witty and subversive?” he asked, before citing four comedians – Carlin, Pryor, Mayall and Rivers – our generation should learn from. All four are conveniently recently dead, otherwise they would be involved in the same kind of panicked damage-limitation exercises currently performed by any musician David Cameron confesses fondness for.
You don’t need to be part of a liberal media elite controlling the flow of information to find the Ukips funny. They are funny because David Silvester said gay marriage had caused flooding in the Thames basin; because Godfrey Bloom assaulted a reporter with a conference brochure and condemned aid to “bongo bongo land”; because their celebrity Mike Read sang a pro-Ukips calypso in a West Indian accent; because William Henwood said Lenny Henry should emigrate to a “black country”; because Winston McKenzie has the fame-crazed air of a man who would join a Skrewdriver tribute band if he thought it would get him on Channel 5 news; and because the Ukips’ deputy leader, Paul Nuttalls, is so pleased to be the centre of attention he sports the perpetual expression of a baby that has just used a potty for the first time, holding up his arse muck delightedly for his parents to coo over.
(Note: Any deceased liberal 18th-century newspaper cartoonists interested in elaborating upon this idea should take care to label the potty “BRITISH POLITICS”, while the poo itself should have a tiny flag marked “UKIPS” planted in it. The baby himself, of course, should be wearing a Union Jack top hat, holding a pint and smoking a cigar.)
Oddly, despite Farage’s and Lawrence’s criticism of positive discrimination in favour of liberals, talentless women and unfunny “ethnics”, the current trend, made explicit by the departing head of BBC radio comedy, is towards positive discrimination in favour of rightwing comedians, the dearth of talent in the field making it hard to maintain balance. This is an exercise in politically correct social engineering I myself am guilty of when I programme standup bills, tours and cable television showcases. I am as delighted to find a funny rightwinger as I am to find a funny person with a terrible disability or a bewildering sexual orientation, and when I find one I treasure and nurture them.
Even a member of the imaginary liberal comedy cabal would rather watch a funny rightwing standup on a panel than have to listen to the honking of Katie Hopkin again. Sadly Henning Wehn, Simon Evans and Liam Mullone, the only three right-of-centre standups funny enough to fulfil the brief, can’t do all the jobs, so the spaces are filled with non-comedian columnists such as Rod Liddle and Daniel Finkelstein, who reap the benefits of this blatant pro-rightwing tokenism in an act of political correctness gone mad.
The Ukips’ position on comedy is, like so many things, ill-thought out. In March, Paul Nuttalls called for Johnny and the Baptists to be banned from any venue receiving public subsidy – basically everywhere – for doing a funny song about the Ukips, even though the same places host Jim Davidson, Roy Chubby Brown, John Gaunt and Top Gear; the same week Farage defended the booking of an old-school non-PC comic at the Ukips’ conference saying: “Let people tell their jokes! If what they say is inappropriate they won’t earn a living.” But the position that there is no moral dimension to comedy and that the free market should be its only arbiter, while consistent with Nuttalls’ plan to scrap the “uncompetitive” NHS, is at least preferable to the one Farage now occupies, namely that satire should be silenced by his exaggerated victimhood.
Deputy Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, aka Paul Nuttalls. Photograph: Fabio De Paola
There is no liberal comedy cabal. At least there wasn’t a week ago. But maybe Farage has created one. I don’t speak for comedians. They all hate me. And Lawrence and Farage do have unlikely supporters in standup. But last Thursday, on the day Farage’s Independent rant ran, I was doing a homeless benefit with five other acts – an Asian man, a black woman, an Australian woman, a man who was Irish, and a poor bald man with a terrible speech impediment who only gets gigs out of sympathy. I, a white middle-class man, was the only normal person on the bill, and the only one who had got into the show by his own merits. Nonetheless, by sheer coincidence, three of the acts ended up talking about race, prejudice and the Ukips (I myself talked only about urine). That night, threatened as we are now by the rise of a party that wants to see satire silenced, their routines seemed powerful, bold, relevant, vital, alive, dangerous and electrifying.
So. Let this Imaginary Liberal Comedy Cabal will itself into existence. And when our liberal grandchildren ask us: “What did you do in the war, grandperson of indeterminate gender?” we can say: “I said Paul Nuttalls was like a baby doing a poo.” Come at us. For we are slayers, of gigantic melancholy and gigantic mirth, coming hither, killing the rooms, night after night, microphones in hand. And we will crush your constituencies under our sandalled feet. We will see you driven before us like the dust, and scattered to the four winds. And we will hear the mewling of your followers, and we will rejoice in the lamentations of your German women.