Why Michael McIntyre needs a nemesis

Jay Cowle fears for comedy's innovators

The star of his own Comedy Roadshow, duke of panel shows, media darling, DVD mogul, and O2 sellout, Michael McIntyre has been the biggest star of comedy in 2009.

Indeed after his O2 gig, I was amazed to hear people proclaiming McIntyre the best comic ever seen in a chorus of praise that reverberated inside the cold dome.

He has drawn considerable criticism from other comics – after all, he’s an easy target with his combination of phenomenal success, mass exposure, and unchallenging observational material. Meanwhile soundbites such as his confession to not understanding Monty Python (surely that’s illegal?) are banded around with the aim of further discrediting his credibility.

But it doesn’t make much difference to his success, and McIntyre, in his defence stated: ‘You need me and you need Jimmy Carr and you need Frankie Boyle.’

Fair enough. McIntyre, it is reasonable to assume, is a great comic, filling venues with punters and laughs, championing stand-up on television and helping fuel its current boom. The problem, though, is a misbalance in comedy.

More intellectual comics like Russell Kane, Sean Lock, and Stewart Lee, despite having established stand-up careers, are closer to the underground then the heights of McIntyre. Yet the list of topselling comedy DVDs suggest a demand for intellectual comedy with Rhod Gilbert, Frankie Boyle, Eddie Izzard and Bill Bailey comprising the rest of Amazon’s top five after the unassailable McIntyre.

Yet despite this popularity for the intellectual it can often feel like one side is winning the battle for exposure. With the return of the titan that is Peter Kay, continued dominance of Lee Evans and new charismatic stars such as Jason Manford in the wings, accessible stand-up has all the big boys, while more intellectual comedy seems increasingly irrelevant.

Such one-sided dominance will shift further the conventions of stand-up towards the safe and accessible. Audiences untouched by the likes of Python, Izzard, or Lee, create more of an uphill battle for new comics who want to be progressive.

McIntyre is such a Godzilla-like force that intellectual comedy now needs a Mothra.

Published: 18 Dec 2009

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