Where did all the political comedians go?

Nelson David mourns their passing...

I’ve often wondered why many younger generation comedians seem less politically and philosophically engaged with the world around them than their predecessors of 25 years ago, especially as times are so turbulent.

I concluded there are probably two answers to this. One – they’re young and having fun. Two – they have only ever known this corporate iWorld, unlike a previous generation brought up when large parts of the planet were living under the alternative belief system of communism.

Flawed as that system clearly was, it nonetheless held out the possibility of an alternative to life under capitalism. Since then however a generation in Britain has grown up and been steadily conditioned by politicians from Mrs Thatcher to the present day to believe: ‘There is no alternative’.

I was thinking of offering a piece to Chortle on these lines when an idea occurred. Rather than whinge from the sidelines like an old git – perhaps instead I should step back up onto the stage and say my piece from there? For various reasons I’d pretty much given up performing to concentrate on writing so the task would be daunting to say the least.

But in a dispiriting election year I really wanted to put forward some version of that missing ‘alternative’ viewpoint. My hope resides in the idea that maybe there are a few of you out there who also think that if politics is the answer, we’re probably asking the wrong questions. Haven’t we now all had enough – in the words of Bill Hicks – of choosing ‘between the puppet on the left hand or the puppet on the right?’ And how many would disagree with the notion that - to paraphrase Tony Benn – we are no longer regarded as citizens to be represented, merely crowds to be controlled or punters to be managed and sold to.

It does seem that exclusively political comedy has become the preserve of the more mature performer in Britain. Sadly for me their number is few, certainly far less than I’d need to be able to nickname them the Grecian 2000. But Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel, Mark Thomas, Arnold Brown and Rob Newman for example remain inspirational.

In fairness however perhaps this apparent dearth of a youth Resistance isn’t the fault of the young comedians but is because of something Frankie Boyle hinted at when he left Mock the Week. He implied he would have been quite happy to do material on the turmoils of our time – from illegal wars to flatlining economies - but that he was often steered away from such areas by broadcasters who, like the rest of mainstream media, have been dragooned by the celebrity circus.

In fact from what I’ve seen on the circuit of excellent younger performers like Holly Walsh, Jack Whitehall, Andi Osho etc there’s definitely a hint that given the right platform, they too would be more than happy to consider matters of substance.

But of course times change. Once the first port of call for a lot of wannabe comedy types (including me) was a BBC Radio 4 show called Week Ending which ran for 28 years. That show had an open door policy for writers who could – quite literally – walk in off the street and offer up their scripts. It was on most of the year – written over a few days and broadcast every Friday night. It dealt exclusively in the worldwide political events of the week.

Some joked it got its name because every sketch had a ‘Weak Ending’, but a generation of producers, writers and actors (many now household names) cut their teeth on that show. Is it fanciful to suggest that on some level that parameter of ‘writing about world events’ in a less celebrity obsessed time encouraged at least some tendency towards a social and political consciousness? It’s very hard to imagine any sketch show now containing skits about the UN recognition of Bosnia Herzegovina – although for many I’m sure that’s a blessing!

Anyway I’ve decided to have a go. I’ve written a show called Vote For Me – You Idiots! and created a character called Dave Basildon, the former investment banker who plans to be Britain’s first ever successful None Of The Above candidate.

In the show Dave pledges to throw light on the credit crunch and also to prove conclusively that ‘human beings are idiots’. Perhaps you will allow me to give the last words to Dave himself: ‘I have a plan for benefit scroungers who live the life of Riley at taxpayers’ expense. Basically if I can persuade you to vote for me the plan is to join them in Parliament as soon as possible!’

  • Vote for Me – You Idiots! is on at the Hen and Chickens in Islington, North London, on April 8 (preview), 15, 16,22 and 23 at 9.30pm.

Published: 25 Feb 2010

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