Should the lefties who dominate comedy on television, radio and the Edinburgh Festival be charged under the Trades Description Act? I ask not just because they are seriously unfunny (Kate Smurthwaite, for example), but because their performances are measured not by laughter but by ideological rectitude.
This is not a new phenomenon, comedy having taken a sharp left turn back in the 1980s, but I was struck by an observation by Sun TV critic Ally Ross. Reviewing the comedy series ‘The Last Leg’, Ross complained that the three presenters spent most of the show ridiculing Boris Johnson for his comments on the burqa.
As everyone doesn’t know, Boris had actually made a libertarian case for allowing the burqa, while deriding its absurdity. Although his Telegraph column was considerably more liberal than public opinion on this topic, his ‘letterbox’ jibe was the focus of the Last Leggers. Facing a conflict between an expression of the very Enlightenment values that allow comedians to ply their trade, and a regressive, alienating garment that fundamentalists use to weaponise women against Western egalitarianism, the self-satisfied comedians favoured the latter.
Boris had actually made a libertarian case for allowing the burqa, while deriding its absurdity.
The profound point made by Ross was that the audience, rather than laughing at this politically-correct fare, clapped in appreciation. This is a further development away from the natural act of responding to a joke. In recent times, left-wing comedians have found that any ‘edgy’ quip involving a protected identity group results in a pregnant pause of a second or two, before people feel permitted to chuckle. This is not the pleasurable paroxysm of laughter, but cognitive appraisal of desirable behaviour.
Boris, of course, is a Brexiteer, and so stands on the wrong side of the cultural divide. Since the EU referendum it has been the norm for comedians to poke fun at the stupid people who voted Leave. Satire has become the preserve of the metropolitan elite. Private Eye, edited by the perennially smug Ian Hislop, targets the common folk rather than the privileged figures of the political and cultural establishment who refuse to accept a democratic verdict. Instead of exposing the hypocrisy of the powerful, Private Eye is on their side.
Rory Bremner, in his ‘Edinburgh notebook’ in the Spectator, tells readers that ‘between shows I find myself addressing a rally supporting a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal’. This followed his earlier remark that ‘it’s not enough to make Boris look stupid’ as he does that himself. Well, it takes some stupidity to think that the fully legitimate EU referendum needs a rerun for clarification, and that ‘the people’ should vote this time (was it gerbils the first time, or a straw poll in Wetherspoons?).
Pro-Brexit comedians are like hen’s teeth. Lee Hurst struggles to get top venues because of a spiteful and highly-publicised boycott by Remainers. His crime was not to lampoon EU fanatics, but simply his admission that he’s a Leaver.
In our thirst for comedians who genuinely do comedy, it is possible to free ourselves from the bookings of biased broadcasters and festival organisers. There’s a growing counter-culture on YouTube, as viewers ditch the boring, preachy jesters who still get paid in gold, unaware that they’re nearing the end of the pier.
The game is up – audiences are wising up to the comedy scam and recognising that at the end of the day, left-wing comedians are really stand-up ideologues for fashionable causes. Seriously, they can’t really be very funny. Socialism, after all, is a very bad joke.
(Dr Niall McCrae is a lecturer in mental health, and a writer on social and political affairs. He regularly contributes to The Salisbury Review and Bruges Group website, and has written two books: The Moon and Madness, and Echoes from the Corridors: The Story of Nursing in British Mental Hospitals).