I used to be a ‘Right-wing comic’ — here’s what the BBC doesn’t get
Conservative comedians exist in abundance, but only a few talk about politics
The incoming director-general of the BBC believes that the BBC’s comedy output has a Left-wing bias, and has vowed to provide more balance. An article in this morning’s Guardian said that this would lead to a decline in quality, as, according to “a BBC comedy insider”, most Right-wing comics “aren’t very good”, and those that are good — like Geoff Norcott or Simon Evans — are on television anyway.
There is a stereotype that comics are Left-wing; and if you ask comics why that should be they will generally say that comedy requires empathy and understanding for other people and all those other things that Tories — being racist, sexist and wanting to kill unemployed people — don’t understand. It is true that the sort of person who becomes a comic on today’s circuit is from a demographic that skews Left. The philosopher Robert Nozick believed that the average “wordsmith intellectual” was a person who did well at school and can’t understand why this success does not correlate into material success in later life, and thus opposes the capitalist system, and that’s certainly a decent character sketch of many comics.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
But it would be more accurate to say that there is a shortage of Right-wing comics who talk about politics. The most important reason for this is that most real Tories find politics boring — according to Lord Hailsham’s Case for Conservatism, it is almost a definition of Toryism to find politics less interesting than family, friends, fun, and all the joys and riches of existence — all of which Right-wing comics would rather make jokes about.
But the other reason for this is audiences. What many commentators don’t understand is that appearing on a BBC panel show is not an entry-level position: to be good enough not to embarrass yourself you have to hone your act on the circuit in front of live audiences. And these tend to be more accepting of Left-wing viewpoints than Right-wing viewpoints.
That’s partly because of the demographic, but in my experience I’ve also found Right-wing audience members to be shyer about their political beliefs. I went to see Geoff Norcott’s show at Edinburgh a couple of years ago, and he asked someone in the front row if he would ever vote Conservative. The punter hesitated and mumbled and finally said that, yes, he could imagine at some point voting Tory. The punter in question — I recognised him from Oxford — was and is one of the senior SpAds in Number Ten. There is peer pressure on comedians, to be sure; but it is much stronger among audiences.
The problem, then, is one of a disconnect between the BBC, which exists to serve the whole country, and the comedy circuit, which is not required to be reflective of the UK and isn’t. The comedy insider quoted in The Guardian is right: there aren’t enough Tory comics to fill the gaps in panel shows; but the solution is surely to produce a more varied selection of programmes, which could play to different comics’ strengths, rather than force comics through the current cursus honorum. Who knows, they might even be funnier.
Not familiar with Mr Watts’ oeuvre, but will search him out. Interesting thing is that before Ben Elton and ‘alternative’ comedy kicked in, it was often quite difficult to discern what many comedians’ politics were. Even quite ‘political’ ones like Peter Cooke or (at the middlebrow end) Mike Yarwood. I suspect that many were on the left, but nobody minded much as long as they were funny. Its not the leftiness that’s off-putting, but the tiresome preaching, virtue signalling and general unfunniness.
It’s when comedians became personalities rather than entertainers that the trouble started.
Yes, and the revisionist but often interesting revelations regarding people we knew mainly for their end results has given us a world of ‘ Love his paintings but can’t stand the man.’ Soon to become the PC. ‘ I can’t stand anything about him.’
Nuance has died. Subtly is not recognised. Experimentation is far too risky at any point in a career path.
It is hard to have comedy when a Monty Python sketch is easily mistaken for a News report these days.
He’s not the new trade envoy, he’s a very naughty boy!
Monty Python sketches generally make more sense than much of what’s actually happening; you really could not make up some of what is happening at the moment
‘An article in this morning’s Guardian said that this would lead to a decline in quality, as, according to “a BBC comedy insider”, most Right-wing comics “aren’t very good”,’
Has there ever been a newspaper/website that disseminates more garbage, utter garbage, than the Guardian? How could the quality possibly be any lower than that which is currently served up to us? The defining characteristic of pretty much every comedian one sees or hears these days – certainly in the UK, less so in the US – is that they are not funny. I switched off years ago.
The BBC quotes the Guardian. The Guardian quotes the BBC. Their own private echo chamber.
Well that solves one problem. I’d often wondered who found the BBC’s current stable of comedians funny. Now I know – Guardian journalists (who, BTW, need a ‘comedy insider’ to tell them what’s funny).
Just a thought, why do you still read the Guardian?
Know thine enemy!
That’s why I read the Guardian! So I’m not the only one.
To be honest, the Guardian is not all that extreme, compared to, say, Mein Kampf.
Although my granddad’s copy of the book kept the head of his bed level for decades. The Guardian, sheet by sheet, kept the red Formica table top clean.
I often wonder which one was the most useful.
You have a point. One is broader the other is thicker, internet Jihadis are truly missing out. The Little Red Book is great for that very reason. If you have more than one copy you can raise a table leg to any practical height. And It’s a fetching shade.
I sometimes wish the Guardian was printed on softer paper though.
Although, the paperback edition of Mein Kampf does come in handy sized rip off sheets, if you find it hung on a rusty nail in the toilet.
The problem seems to be more about Wokism than politics.
As a person of a certain age, I have two confessions to make:
– I really like my mother-in-law
– I find Les Dawson really funny
BBC comedy has become strangled by a “literalist” mentality that denies people the ability to escape … and to have fun.
Or am I just a right wing extremist ,,, ?
Les Dawson was a genius.
It was the anti-mother-in-law joke brigade that started the rot.
Of course, being London based elites, they lived no-where near their mothers-in-law so had no idea why the joke was unfunny to them.
It’s amazing how little empathy the left have.
The main problem that they have is that they have internalised the dogmatic, but false, belief that “punching down isn’t funny”. Punching down can be funny; punching up can be funny; punching sideways can be funny; punching yourself can be funny. But the woke puritans have convinced themselves that punching down can never be funny, much as religious puritans convince themselves that punching at religion or god can never be funny. Conservative comedians stand not accused of being unfunny: they stand accused of secular blasphemy.
In addition to which, they have a distinct lack of appreciation of what is up and what is down.
An excellent point.
My elbow is down, I think.
Andrew Watts points out that conservatives tend to find the dynamics of friends, family etc more interesting and funny than politics. But, for example, that old staple of stand up comedy – the mother-in-law joke – is now verboten.
I have wondered if part of the reason for the decline in “mother-in-law” jokes is the catastrophic decline in marriage rates. If all you have are a string of baby-mommas you’ve pumped and dumped, you presumably don’t engage with their mothers enough to make it worth joking about.
You obviously for got the threesomes with the 34 yr old mother in law & her daughter
Yes, there are some consolations.
We ought to be able to punch down if those who are ‘down’ advocate Ideological nonsense. It seems the Left generally think that being down automatically makes one relatively more virtuous.
The point about audiences reacting predictably and having a generally leftward bent is a good one.
One effect of this is to make a number of current comedians, especially on the BBC, lazy.
They know that any reflex remark playing to broad political stereotypes will raise a laugh of some sort so they go with it, in preference to embarking on something more demanding, ( or often cleverer).
Nish Kumar is often guilty of this, and his Mash Report often features little else.
Jeremy Hardy was significantly to the left of even the BBC comedy pool, but, whilst not above the quick, cheap laugh gag, had, at the heart of his act, literate, thoughful, clever, comedy that demanded attention. Even though he and his comedy were, in my view, as wrongheaded as his good friend Jeremy Corbyn, he was often worth listening to.
For a period after the Second World War comedy especially on the radio was – with apologies for making it sound too grand – about the absurdity of life (including the things people have daily to contend with) and of the human condition (of unworthy people exercising authority, of stupidity, of frustrated ambition). Tony Hancock was one of the greatest masters. The absurdities of people of every rank and type was gently parodied in enormously popular programmes such as the Navy Lark and Round the Horne. Much of it was gentle in that it was based on experience, understanding and a degree of warmth. The new Left-wing “comedy” has no basis of warmth or experience but is based on simplistic sociological and political mantras of rejection and revulsion aimed at those they regard as legitimate targets. Of these targets, those for whom this new humour approaches most closely a cold hatred and contempt are those opponents they fear and – when it dares to appear to reject those mantras (as over Brexit) – that body of people who used to be called the working class.
It’s probably partly due to University culture taking over everything. A lot of the classic comedians from the 70s and 80s came through working mans clubs and pubs, today it’s more or less an annex of the Oxbridge English faculty. Inevitably the content and values became separated from a lot of the public.
The university mob have taken over everything. Along with almost royal dynasties like the Fox’s for example.
When they’ve ruined everything they usurped they’ll establish long dynasties of dustbin men and road sweepers, seeing as they will become the most visible public facing jobs as this country collapses.
Damn it! If only I had the talent so that I too could tread the roads under those bright street lights.
Sorry. I went a bit Tim Brooke Taylor then.
(I posted this the other day, so forgive the repetition here but I thought it apposite)
Geoff Norcott is always wheeled out as the comedian that disproves that all BBC comedy is leftist – but GN, as funny as he is, is essentially playing a character. The audience is invited to laugh at (not with) his observations because he is depicted as an unreconstructed Faragiste, a cartoon Brexit untermensch, a figure of fun because his opinions are SO outrageous (despite them actually being the majority view the last time we asked).
Even a man like Ian Hislop, who made a career out of having a dig at the establishment, has become – since the referendum – the sneering face of on-air remoanerism. (To clarify: I have no problem with Remainers, I might disagree with them but theirs is a perfectly justifiable position. Remoaners, on the other hand, refuse to enter into any serious debate (certainly any good natured debate) with those of their countrymen who happened to think differently to them. All they can do is sneer and throw insults. Ian Hislop is very much one of that cohort.
Once a satirist has picked sides and only attacks the ‘Other’ he ceases to be in any way relevant. It has made HIGNFY unwatchable and Private Eye unreadable. And that is the biggest problem with the current state of British satire and comedy – it has taken sides.
Pick any comedy panel show – be it HIGNFY, Mock the Week, The Now Show, Last Leg, any terrestrial channel comedy panel show, and try and find any that goes against the ‘liberal’ orthodoxy. There isn’t a single one.
One or two comedians dare to kick against the traces – but only in stand-up and only once they’ve made an unassailable name for themselves, because they know it comes at the cost of a lucrative TV career. You can only establish a successful stand-up career at the moment by building your name up on such comedy panel programmes.
If any booker actually had the b***s to book a comedian who came out with a whole anti-EU schtick, or made fun of the infantile XR carnival of no-marks, or possibly mocked any aspect of identity politics or the current accommodations towards “woke” culture wars – they would guarantee firstly that that the comedian never got booked again for that show and secondly that the booker would be hauled in front of the commissioning editor the next morning for an interview without coffee.
Neither the booker, nor the guest – if they value their careers – dares to step outside the liberal consensus. To do so would be to get a flavour of what it would be like to be accused of heresy.
Another strange thing is that we all still refer to this as the “liberal consensus”. It is, surely, the very antithesis of “liberal” thought. What could possibly be more authoritarian than promoting a narrow worldview and punishing and shaming anyone who dares to think outside it? One of the favourite insults when castigating the right is “Orwellian”, do they honestly not see that the tag could be far better applied to this insistence we all adhere to the orthodoxy or face the consequences?
The satirists of the 1960s, 70s and 80s would hang their heads at the neo-puritanism, the homogeneity of today’s crop of comics. Actually none of those people would even get the gig nowadays. The head of BBC comedy commissioning proudly stated that the Python crew would never be hired today, because who wants more Oxbridge educated white men? Right on! Who cares if they’re funny, just don’t let them be well educated and white!
The current panel show regulars who infest our screens may tick all the right boxes, might fulfil all the right quotas, might make fun of all the approved targets and avoid making fun of all the ‘protected victim groups’, but some of these ‘comedians’ (to stretch the definition almost to breaking point) fail in one rather important area – THEY ARE NOT FUNNY. (Has anyone, honestly, ever actually belly-laughed at anything Nish Kumar or Holly Walsh have ever said? Or a hatful of – evidently forgettable – others)
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty who are talented, plenty who are funny, but for all their supposed “edginess” there isn’t one who’d dare admit to an unapproved political viewpoint.
Good post. I admired Hislop until the run up to the referendum when, along with many others, his contempt for anyone not sharing his views, and his characterisation of those wishing to leave as racist, xenophobic, bigoted ignoramuses (sadlynot ignorami) on HIGNFY was responsible, in part for my actually looking into the EU and changing my (unthinking) ‘stay’ vote into ‘leave’.
Was unsure about Geoff N, but your analysis makes sense of why he gets a platform – a sort of modern Alf Garnett.
I find it particularly strange that a series like Famalam appears to produce the same stereotypical views of communities that would get them taken off the air if they were the product of a white team. Have not seen the new Sky series, (will not pay for Sky) but the trailers appear to project a similar format. The awful Citizen Khan baffles me.
(Just watched some more of Geoff N on youtube – I think his basic left-leaning becomes more noticeable the more you watch; definitely not what he first appears to be)
My grandsons and their friends love the Goon Show from the fifties. I asked them why and the general opinion is that they are all idiots doing really stupid things . The shows have no politics at all. Just daft stories and funny voices. As always Bluebottle is the favourite.
The Goon Show gags are individually pretty weak, but as a torrent of mind bending humour they’re overwhelmingly funny. They start with a ridiculous premise and by the end of the show it looks sane by comparison with what’s been going on.
Some of the gags are universal. Many need the listener to have 30s 40s 50s experience or know the history to put them into context.
“Here, take my hand.” Followed quickly by, “Why? Are you a stranger in paradise?.”
Is not at all funny if you don’t know the lyrics to that song for example. And in response to Dave Smith. My son loves them too and I only heard them 10 years after their heyday.
Oh, come on, there are some really funny jokes.
“That sun’s hot!”
“Well don’t touch it then.’
And the unforgettable;
“Are you responsible for the berths on this ship?” (Think about it)
They did poke fun at authority, the HofC, the HofL, officialdom generally, and, of course, the BBC – the hand that fed them, but it was generalised, not related to any party or personality.
My nephews loved them when they became teenagers, along with Flanders and Swan. Always meant to introduce them to Tom Lehrer (Flanders and |Swan for adults) if you’ve not come across him, have a listen. And Victor Borge, the list goes on; Eric Sykes and Hatty Jakes as ‘identical twins’ (recently found “The Plank” on youtube and others). Oh God, please bring them back. The overt, personality politics drains any humour out of the present bunch.
The trick with political comedy is for it to be genuinely funny; especially by attacking hypocrisy and behaviour rather than people.
As a South African I think the prime example must be Pieter-Dirk Uys who poked fun at every segment of (white) society, and even though his shows were often on the verge of being banned he was so funny that he had government minsters as fans.
I have absolutely no idea what the politics of Frank Muir and Dennis Norden were. They were funny.
And don’t forget Graham Garden.
I really shouldn’t comment, mainly because I no longer watch TV or listen to anything but news on radio. The lack of funny comedians reflects the decline in general of humour over many years. We can still have a good laugh with friends but entertainers – Bah! The last entertainer I paid to see was Ken Dodd. Early twenties. Bring sandwiches said the booking clerk. A bit odd but hay ho! Nearly one in the morning we were still howling with laughter, Even the police who were only there to see everyone out safely couldn’t stop crying. We were exhausted. Magic. I hired Roy Castle for a dinner in the 80’s and he was still cracking ’em and playing various instrument 2 am. Fabulous.
How would Dave Allen go down now? I bet all of us around before the 1990’s could go on for ever. At least some of the best are on You Tube and we have memories of just how funny many comedians were. Gone now and I fear never to return. Sad really.
“An article in this morning’s Guardian said that…according to “a BBC comedy insider”, most Right-wing comics “aren’t very good”.
Translation: one leftwinger’s leftwing mate told him right wing comics aren’t funny.
‘That was the Week That Was’, November, 1962.
Yes, he certainly did, and even made a success of in the USA.
He was always polite, affable, and firm. Hence he got spectacular results which remain unequaled to this day.
The era of rudeness and aggression started with that BBC ‘legend’, Robin Day.
Yes his early years were his best. Once fame and fortune came,he certainly became more “establishment”, but he did have three boys at Eton and was eventually married to the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk.
However we could certainly do with him today to gently roast Boris and eviscerate Mr Cummings, don’t you think?
Yes indeed, I was expecting Mr Cummings to sort out the Quango Queens and the Civil Service in general. Patience is a virtue I am told
One the causes of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire is thought to have been the massive increase in “idle mouths”, officials, priests and the like.
As a result of the reforms of Diocletian in the early fourth century, the Province of Britannia seems to have been sub divided into four, perhaps even five ‘new’ Provinces. Same number of tax payers just five times as many officials to support! A case of deja vu?
No. I hadn’t read it.
Many thanks indeed!
An excellent essay by Mr Fear, and as you say, so very apposite, considering the trials and tribulations of today!
Off course, even a Neoplatonist like Synesius, was forced to conform by becoming a Christian Bishop. Christianity had become the State, and thus only religion, during his youth. Sadly only he and a few others recognised the dangers ahead.
Boris, given his Classical education has no excuse, but seems paralysed by the same inertia that Synesius complained of, sixteen hundreds years ago. Let’s hope for better final outcome!
The ‘ Lack of Moral Fibre” (LMF) among the political class is absolutely staggering, as well as being completely baffling.
Even those from the ultimate ‘privileged’ background, such as Boris, display appalling outbursts of LMF, as do the rest of the Cabinet.
I was always taught ” not to mock the afflicted “, but this total lack of funk is so serious that I must make an.exception. C-19 has brutally exposed the British political edifice for the ‘worm eaten facade’ it really is. It will require a miracle to save it.
I think the most important thing if you want to be a comic is that you are funny – people might forget that!
One of the unfortunate changes in radio comedy is that it has gone from satire to making fun of your political opponents. They are not the same. The former is not afraid to point out the absurdities in all who wield power. The second is an exercise in confirming your existing prejudices. The News Quiz and the Now Show had a terrible problem with Corbyn and also Brexit. They were not able to take advantage of the own goals that presented themselves from time to time because their audience and comics had so obviously nailed their colours to the Leftist/ Remain mast. It has eased off a bit now but not much.
Bring back Tommy cooper & jimmy Cricket they never effed & blinded even in private club venues even cheesy foul mouth when of public stage Bob Monk house had a place . But for goodness sake leave the foulmouthed political squawkers off the public stage . Had the unfortunate experience of being next to the foul mouthed Willie Thorburn and a few months later next to David Mellor when both were on the after dinner speaker circuit .
Judging by the hilarious laughter and number of happy sparkling people Mellor won hands down . Thorburn’s performance was for the most an embarrassed obligatory cough & two ha ha’s save for the six or seven 3 parts J golfers in the 200 plus audience . People got up and walked out on Thorburn they didn’t when Mellor was there having people virtually eating out of his hand for the whole 2 hrs he was performing … Reason his act was original full of new amusing jokes and not a political jibe or snidey remark all night .
Oh yes ..I’ll even admit to being on of the fools who voted Tony Blair into office …. Then one day I became a dad , got a mortgage & grew up . Never to waste my life ever again on such a weak urine’d group of Onanists .
Harry Enfield in his Wayne and Waynetta sketches and Little Britain in the Lou and Andy sketches mocked the abuse of the welfare state. This is right-wing comedy. Because they mocked other people, though, the comedians were not right-wing. It’s more interesting to ask why the left-wing chatterati didn’t object to these sketches. Probably because their contempt for the white working-class meant that they agreed with the sentiments.
The inability of the BBC to understand comedy is because the BBC sees itself as a band of rebels, when in fact the organisation is part of the Establishment. Executives at the corporation are left baffled and bemused at why overpaid quangocrats should be a cause for humour.
‘The philosopher Robert Nozick believed that the average “wordsmith intellectual” was a person who did well at school and can’t understand why this success does not correlate into material success in later life, and thus opposes the capitalist system’.
Speaking for myself at least, I’d say rather that if you did well at academic subjects at school, it’s because you realise that there are many more interesting things in the world than the drudgery that might lead to ‘material success later in life’, so you actively avoid the latter and seek out the former. I’ve no problem at all with the capitalist system, so long as all the less ‘intellectual’ people do the tedious work of keeping it going.
‘ … the average “wordsmith intellectual” was a person who did well at school and can’t understand why this success does not correlate into material success in later life …’ The breeding ground for fascists and terrorists.
I used to think Bob Monkhouse wasn’t funny. But he did say.. ‘When I was young and I told people I wanted to be a comedian, they all laughed at me. They’re not laughing now.’ Genius.
Thought we needed some levity after that.
Television has a way of sucking the humour out of funny people. Normally by making them hosts of gameshows. Where comedy goes to die.
when left wing “comedians” found the could get embarrassed laughter by shouting out “tories” the thought the had found the golden goose. i think they are now becoming embarrassed themselves.they all repeat the same mantras.
It has become increasingly evident that most of the comedy is provided by those on the Left.
Pity it’s so unfunny.
Most of the great comedy once produced by the BBC from the Goon Show and Hancock through Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and Reggie Perrin to, more recently, The League of Gentlemen and The Fast Show were not political (or, indeed, politically correct by today’s insane standards). They were just very, very funny. Impossible to envisage their being produced today but at least much of it can still be seen on YouTube.
Even when sending up a specific individual comedians used to have some affection (?) for the person in question (Mike Yarwood with Harold and Heath) but still managed to nail them. The present bunch have nothing but hatred and contempt for anybody who does not conform to their ideals.
Never thought of any comedian having any political leanings until, say, the start of Ben Elton. Satire, initially, was very even handed (TW3 etc)
Difficult to say when I started thinking of individual comics as ‘left wing’. Looking back, there were ‘left-wing’ sentiments expressed in, say, Steptoe (Harold) and, of course, Till Death, but they lacked the viciousness of today’s bunch whilst still making a point.
Have never thought of any comic as ‘right wing’; even Geoff Norcott just sounds though he is speaking truth to the powerful i.e. the left wing extremists in charge of ‘comedy’ at the moment.
“the average ‘wordsmith intellectual’ was a person who did well at school
and can’t understand why this success does not correlate into material
success in later life, and thus opposes the capitalist system”
That sounds like an excellent description of Karl Marx too. There he was scribbling away in the reading room at the British Museum bitching about the bourgeoisie while his wife worried about how they were going to pay this month’s rent.
‘… this would lead to a decline in quality…’
Is there any quality to decline?
There are hundreds of right wing comedians – they work as clickbait commentators delivering snark and vitriol against left wing targets – the pieties, (alleged) hypocrisies and around patheticness of the snowflake Corbynista Greta T supporting ‘woke’. Easy enough to take the act away from their columns and onto the stage – and just do a reverse image of, say, Frankie Boyle. Long, vicious pen portraits of what makes the ‘woke’ tick. I am guessing though they would miss the sanctuary of their “ciick and send’ echo chambers. But no question their schtick would translate, wouldn’t it?
I’m not sure you understand what comedy is. It is not snarky click bait. It is supposed to make people laugh. I think that is why people have a problem with BBC “comedy” because it is not funny.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe