Right Good Laugh

The Daily Mail has a nice line in manufactured outrage, and one of the big mistakes is to take it seriously – though if you’re Caroline Raphael, Commissioning Editor Comedy & Fiction BBC Radio 4 and 4Extra, perhaps you don’t have that luxury.

Ms Raphael found herself on-air justifying Jeremy Hardy’s latest show, described by one listener as a ‘party political broadcast for the Communist Party’, and then the political makeup of the News Quiz panel: finding ‘right wing’ contributors was a ‘struggle’. The Mail have made hay with the transcript, but I don’t think Caroline Raphael should worry too much about a show that’s had Matthew Parris (former MP, Con. Derbyshire East), and Fred ‘accountant’ MacAulay to name but two, as guests.

It’s a myth that comedians are all lefties: comedians are by their nature entrepreneurs in a busy marketplace. We may find comedy gold in being the underdog, but faced with a rowdy audience on a Saturday night, you don’t want a consensus of opinion: you want a dictator (not necessarily benign) to get the audience into line, laughing at the punchlines and shutting up when they’re supposed to. Though I’d stop short of piano wire, persistent hecklers need draconian measures; when you deal with such a person, the sense of relief from an audience is palpable.

Chortle correspondent Tom Glover says that every comedian should run their own club. An excellent call: anyone who does knows that unless it makes a profit, it will be a short-lived enterprise. Profit isn’t a dirty word: it keeps the venue open, the staff paid, and the opportunities alive for acts to hone their craft. The PBH Free Fringe might rather loftily distance itself from the taint of money, but I should think very few of the acts involved are so keen on the philosophy as they are on the free venue; indeed, I heard plenty of voices expressing the opinion that a bit of capitalism would help the PBH Free Fringers achieve their goals much more effectively.

So comedians in theory should be all for private enterprise. I’m not even sure what ‘left’ or ‘right’ mean anyway. Are ‘the right’ and ‘comedy’ mutually exclusive? Of course not: Jimmy Carr is one of the hardest working and most successful stand ups in the country, and his response to the exposure of his tax affairs was exactly what you’d expect from a Surrey stockbroker in the same position: it’s legal, and if you don’t like the rules, Mr Cameron, it is really you who should change them. And quite right too.

One self-confessed right-wing comic (who prefers to remain anonymous) quipped ‘I hate poor people, which is why I’d like to see a lot fewer of them. Why can’t they just eat cake?’ His solution was more to do with making poor people rich than rounding them up and executing them. It is a very neat summation of why the right should appeal to people: if ambition, improvement, aspiration and equality of opportunity are of the ‘right’, which of us wouldn’t want a part of that?

By contrast, I wrote a joke a couple of years back that deployed the word ‘chav’. The more I use it, the less comfortable I feel about it. Ben van der Veld, in a long car journey back from somewhere said he didn’t like it, and I agreed. It was ok when chavs (my autocorrect insists on saying ‘chaps’) were such due to their own personal moral failings. But as we realise more and more that underclasses are made by political will rather than individual foibles, it’s a joke that hits the wrong target. The real culprits are either Labour who created communities dependent on benefits, or the coalition who are doing nothing to offer a way out. From my own perspective, growing up in an environment where aspiration was seen as ‘you think you’re better than us’, the promises of the left (a better-run coal mine) had nothing on the promises of the right (the chance to do whatever I wanted).

Jeremy Hardy is now a sort of cartoon lefty, able to criticise all parties as none of them are anywhere near his politics. If he is making ‘a party political broadcast for the Communist Party’, let him: the Communists aren’t bothering the polls (the electorate’s tastes are for the right: UKIP would be a credible threat). Audiences are bright enough to laugh at something they don’t agree with. And Caroline Raphael is bright enough not to bow to pressure and create the News Quiz Right Wing Special, a nightmare scenario in which the panel is made of Anne Atkins, Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens and Richard Littlejohn. I think even Jimmy Carr would demure from hosting that particular strand of radio poison.

Ian Hawkins is a former News Quiz writer.



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