Comedy's bigoted against the working class

It's a university-educated closed shop, claims Chris McGlade

When I was growing up, working class comedians with broad appeal ruled. People like Les Dawson, Tommy Cooper, Morecambe and Wise and Benny Hill were always on TV. The comedy wasn't highbrow, there were no long words, you didn't have to think about it to 'get it', it was just funny and funny is funny whatever your social background.

But since the rise of the facism known as political correctness, which is choking free speech and expression – and since the rise of alternative comedy in the 80s – working class comedians have been forced out by middle class and university educated performers.

The British public are force-fed middle-class comedy which, in a lot of instances, simply isn't funny, by TV producers, agents and bookers who are middle-lass and university-educated themselves. They only promote the style of comedy and comedians that appeal to them, rather than those with a far broader appeal, creating a closed shop. In almost all cases, if you aren't a middle class comedian, it is virtually impossible to get a break, get on TV or be accepted on the comedy club circuit.

This comedy elitism, which can only be described as bigotry really, is displayed nowhere more than at the Edinburgh Festival. It's unfair and it simply has to stop.

The old ‘inverted snobbery’ argument is used to shoot down anyone who even dares to suggest that Britcom 'has become dominated by the middle classes, but the fact is that it has’.

Have you ever considered what it must be like for an uneducated, naturally gifted comedian/comic actor to catch a break these days? I can tell you, virtually impossible.

I have been a professional comedian for 20 years and played to all types of audiences in all types of venues. I have successfully played the comedy circuit in Hollywood, played alongside US comedy superstar, Dane Cook, was offered a 50-date tour of the States by TV comedian Bobby Lee and yet in my own country, I am ignored and shut out on the comedy club circuit. In the main, I have only been offered unpaid, open mic spots or unpaid spots on gong shows.

It's almost like you have to try and be like, and speak like, a middle-class comedian to get on because the powers that be deem working-class comedy as beneath them, because to them, it's not intellectually challenging enough.

I have found that you have to talk about things that appeal to the middle classes, in a style that appeals to them, in order to be accepted.

A recent study showed that while middle class comedians would not directly mention comedians such as Bernard Manning, Chubby Brown or Jim Davidson as working class, they often made strong negative judgments about their fans as ‘bigoted’ or ‘thick’.

I have experienced this first hand too. But although I haven't been to university I am far from 'thick', or uneducated. I took on a six-year fight against a multi-million pound local authority and the biggest housing developer in the country in a six-year battle and won a landmark ruling to preserve open spaces. You don’t do that if you're thick or uneducated do you?

I'm neither ignorant or racist either, which you also get branded as if you as so much as bring race into your act. I think middle-class comedians like Peter Cook and Eddie Izzard are very funny yet I find these working-class comedians, in particular the late Bernard Manning, very funny too. People say that Manning and Chubby Brown are racist or offensive, but they were doing the same type of humour as Jim Jeffries or Frankie Boyle only 30 years before them!

Why is it then that working-class comedians like Manning or Brown are classed as bigoted or racist and are ostracised, yet middle-class comedians like Jeffries or Boyle, who do the same type of material, are classed as daring or ironic and are applauded and accepted? The hypocrisy is staggering.

It's about time that this comedy elitism and the mainstream/alternative categorization of comedy stopped. This small minded and ridiculous way of thinking is creating a comedy apartheid.

Comedy has become so narrow with comedians becoming clones of each other. In the main they all sound the same, have the same kind of accents, same kind of delivery, have very similar styles, talk about similar things.

Because they all seem to be shooting from the same direction, working class comedians have now become the alternative. Middle-class comedy has its place but it shouldn't be the only comedy that is foisted on the huge number, dare I say majority, of people in this country, who haven’t been to university or aren't middle-class.

I aim to go to Edinburgh as a working-class comedian who is proud to be so. I hope that people come to see me not to judge me or seek some kind of highbrow comedy lesson that flies over the heads of the majority, but just to let themselves go and have a laugh without having to think too much.

  • Chris McGlade: The Bad Lad Lands will be on at the Laughing Horse Free Festival at Edinburgh FC from August 5 to 17 (not 13) at 7.15pm.

Published: 6 Jul 2010

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