Off the artistic roll call

David Jesudason on the comics who take money for ads and voiceovers

Money for old rope. That’s the defence used by comedians, actors and performers who use their skills for voiceovers and adverts. Why shouldn’t they as Robert Webb put it – he was justifying his narration of BBC Three’s Young, Dumb And Living Off Mum –do it for the money?

As Mark Watson annoyingly states in the Magners ad – give it to me straight – I will: you lose all of your credibility. I will never take a comedian seriously if he is willing to allow his talent to be exploited by multinationals and marketing men.

The role of the comedian is to highlight the ills of our society and not be scared to say things that other people are afraid of highlighting. This means they have a huge responsibility, a responsibility that must be used to shine a light on how power is used to repress and maintain the status quo. I don’t want a world where every comedian is a Bill Hicks-style clone. But I do expect them to not be at ease with the mainstream and shun people who are willing to throw money at them for non-artistic motives.

In a strange way this is what really irked me about the news tsunami that surrounded the Ross/Brand/Sachs controversy – it had absolutely no point to it. If Brand had left messages on Robert Mugabe’s answerphone – ‘Mr Mugabe I’ve shagged your granddaughter, tied her up and Tsvangirai was watching and everything’ – than I would have chained myself up at Parliament Square to implore the BBC not to sack him. It seems that few people seem to care about making a difference in this way. Or at least following through with what they seek to expose on stage in their act.

Take that Magners ad, you can imagine the ‘creative process’ behind it: let’s get an up-and-coming young comedian, get him to rage about modern life’s ills (without context) add a few good-looking drinking partners and insert product synonymous with teenage binge-drinking.

Instead of getting his face well known for the right reasons Watson has (ironically) instead given his drunken hecklers a ready-made comeback, his potential audience have a reason to look the other way and he has unintentionally stuck two fingers up to his loyal fans who would have expected more from a man of his talents.

Watson should have known better – does he not remember Bob Hoskins in the BT advert? Maybe he thought he had the charisma to overcome such objections and followed the lead of Peter Kay’s sojourn into the world of gassy, tastleless bitters. Only the lowest of the low are impressed by adverts and I’m convinced this group of people are probably invented by marketing men in any case.

I don’t think anyone will now accept any gags that Watson wants to peddle that centre around the excesses of multinationals. Webb faces the same problem after him and his comedy partner David Mitchell were much maligned for grabbing the Apple Mac pound.

I guess none of these comedians care as much as I do about the real ills of our society. And if they do they really don’t have a leg to stand on now. It is money for old rope. Old rope to hang yourself with.

Published: 9 Sep 2009

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