What’s Happening To Stand-up Comedy In Britain?

Very interesting critique of the current situation in stand-up comedy in Britain by the Cat, who has a long history in theatre and comedy. It certainly gives the lie to the complaint made over the years by the old-style comedians with extremely racist material, like the late Bernard Manning, that comedy now is ‘too politically correct’. You can hear the same specious criticism from tabloids like the Mail, and other comedians of a certain vintage like Mike Yarwood. When Yarwood appeared on Have I Got News For You a few years ago, he made the oft-repeated complaint about ‘left-wing luvvies’, and that they were somehow unfairly criticising the Tories.
My guess is that this is just the latest, terminal phase of a very long process that began in the 1980s with Maggie Thatcher. I remember attending a meeting of the local Fabian Society in Bristol. The speaker, a member of the NUJ, believed that the Tories were deliberately fostering political apathy amongst the young through the development of a media that was saturated with corporate interest and merchandising. This proves that she wasn’t wrong.

I do wonder what has happened in the past few years to make British comedy either anodyne, or reactionary. There are comedians out there, who still can and do make political points from a left-wing perspective. Remember Stand Up For Libraries a few years ago, when stand up comedians did a series of gigs protesting against library closures? The roots of this malaise clearly goes quite deep, and it can’t all be blamed on Michael Mackintyre.

Guy Debord's Cat

I’m one of the judges for the New Acts of The Year and we’re about half way through the contest. One thing that I and other judges have noticed is the general lack of political and philosophical engagement with the world among novice comedians. There are also a worrying number of acts who either have no material or have nothing interesting to say. Some have even ventured into misogyny, homophobia and casual racism in a feeble attempt to get laughs. What we also tend to find is that, rather than present a quirky view of the world, some of these novice comedians are giving us a spoken version of their CV. Is this what people are being taught to do at the many stand-up comedy courses that have proliferated since the early 1990s? I think it is. Whatever the case, British stand-up comedy is on its sick bed.

For the…

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