Don't take comedy too seriously!

Carl Donnelly responds to critics of comics who do adverts

David Jesudason’s Correspondents piece about comics who take money for ads and voiceovers annoyed me enough to write this brief response.

His main viewpoint is that comedians are the voice of the people and if/when they take large sums of money for appearing in adverts they are sell-outs and can never be taken seriously as a comedian again.

I’d like to disagree with a few of his points, starting with the very definition of the comedian’s role. David says: “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”

No it is not, David, that is the role of political activists. The role of a comedian is to make people laugh. How the comedian goes about making people laugh is where the variables come in to play. Some comics will choose to do material that highlights the ills of our society but that is simply a ‘type’ of comedy not the accepted norm. If you look at someone like Steve Martin, widely accepted as one of the finest stand-ups of all time, I would challenge you to find a moment in any of his routines that highlighted society’s ills.

Unless a comedian has been an open critic of advertising or the particular product being advertised, then their appearance in a commercial has no reflection on their stand-up. To ‘sell out’, a comic would have to be advertising a product they had vociferously criticised in the past. Otherwise there is surely no conflict of interest.

I agree with the notion that appearing in adverts can negatively impact on a stand-up’s live career if it becomes a tool for hecklers to use against them, but this is a decision for the comic to make, and does not reflect on their reputation.

David Jesudason’s piece puts far too much importance on what comedians do. We have enough pressure on us already to make people laugh that it is unfair to then heap the weight of the world on our shoulders, insisting we should be some sort of revolutionary, spreading the word to the masses. Bill Hicks didn’t change anything (except for 15-year-olds who thought he was some sort of prophet) so stop thinking that it is up to comics to vocalise your problems with the world!

Yesterday’s article stated: ‘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’

I think Mark Watson and Robert Webb care about the ills of our society just as much as you, David, and if you discussed this with them in a pub you would probably have similar opinions on the world’s problems. Just don’t expect them to voice all of your concerns when they are at work, if you want to spread the word, you become a comic or an activist and do it yourself.

I have never appeared in an advert and probably never will, but my reasons are my own and not because I’d be worried about some comedy fan boy thinking I’d sold out.

Published: 10 Sep 2009

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