The Edinburgh fringe seems – despite its left leaning alternative heritage — to be the epitome of a free market scrum. A massive trade fair with dick-waving posters and comic’s mugs on the side of buses like North Korean dictators. However, no matter the size of their marketing budget, they’re usually left of centre.
Before coming up to the Fringe, I listened with interest to Nish Kumar on Radio 4’s The Now Show evaluating why “no-one wants to hear right-wing comedy.” It was a great piece where he declared “It’s hard to make right-wing comedy funny.” Bang on Nish, it’s difficult to write a hilarious material about low taxation. But the same pitfalls exist on both sides. I’ve yet to hear that killer routine about the beauty of Clause Four: “Don’t you just hate it when big business falls into private hands?”
Not long after, I read Stewart Lee in the Guardian characterising a theoretical right-wing comedy show supporting “child slavery” and “government by intimidation and oppression.” I’m sure he could make that funny, but I’ll pass. For me the appeal of centre-right thinking is less about enslavement and more to do with people taking their share of responsibility for the country we live in. The NHS is currently beset by a lot of things, including 61,000 people a day not showing up for their appointments. I don’t agree with fines for no-shows, but if you miss a couple in a row, maybe your face should be put outside a doctor’s alongside the words “Chlamydia? THIS is what happens when doctors have to guess.”
In any case, what seems like “political comedy” is more commonly a piss-take of personality types and there are rich pickings when it comes to the current British left.
During the run I’ve introduced some Jeremy Corbyn material. He’s ideal because Lefties have got it bad for the old red seadog – but many of them still doubt his electability. So the movement falls into the biggest act of virtue signalling since the crucifixion; trading any chance of power for a really cool badge. I’d like to see how people would react if he became Prime Minister – when inheritance tax sees expensive coffins declared a “bourgeois asset” and seized at funerals to build bunk-beds for under-privileged Cubans.
Geoff Norcott. Photo: Dominic Pascale
One of the problems for right-leaning comedy is the arts are expected to be on message, and the message is usually left. One reviewer, in an otherwise positive response, commented that I shouldn’t tell the audience I voted Conservative because it provoked a “stony silence”. I think he may have misinterpreted the silence. Yes some people were sitting there with a surge of hate for me, but some were fearing they too would be “outed”, thrown in a van and driven to Glasgow to face a kangaroo court of cybernats.
On Twitter a self-confessed Leftie read my review in the Telegraph and presumed a comedian who admitted voting for Cameron “must be a character act”. Mate, on the estate I grew up on you would definitely be referred to as a “character”. And the “estate” wasn’t acres, it was council – something else that might surprise him.
In his show “Uncensored”, Andrew Lawrence hints at a more sinister truth within the comedy game as to why right thinking is stymied: that the industry promotes favoured politics by giving airtime to less talented comedians with the “correct” views. A kind of unconscious censorship by a pashmina wearing left-wing illuminati.
Watch the trailer for “The Look of Moron” here:
I think the truth is way less intriguing: it’s about patience. I only started talking centre-right politics in 2013. To my knowledge, Lawrence has only been doing so for the last year. The emerging left-wing stand ups of the late seventies and early eighties didn’t get thrown into the public gaze immediately. The live audience has to speak for itself before mass media will take a punt. Like so many things in this comedy game, what seems political is usually about ratings and money. Lawrence isn’t being censored. People have views on him sure, certain TV shows aren’t booking him, but he has a platform and – on the night I saw him – a healthy fringe following.
That said, I hope TV and radio do take a risk on some right-leaning comedy soon. The British public are both ready for it and impossible to second guess. As Andrew Lawrence would appear to be a bit further right than me, I went to see his show expecting discomfort and maybe the odd walkout. Nothing. The crowd listened. They laughed heartily at the stuff they thought was funny and were quiet where they felt he crossed the line. In the same way a woman who works for Greenpeace listened respectfully to my moral defence of eating whale meat. Later that night I went to the ballet. There were lots of walkouts. People were still chuntering away as they took the sting out of their disappointment with a large glass of fair trade wine.
It turns out bad ballet is way more offensive to the falafel chomping middle-classes than anything a right-wing comic could dream up.
That’s Edinburgh for you.
Geoff Norcott is performing his show “The Look of Moron” at Edinburgh Festival on 10-29 August, 2.20pm, Just the Tonic at The Tron, Edinburgh. Tickets here: www.edfringe.com. His website is here. He tweets @GeoffNorcott.