Michael McIntrye, the biggest joke around

Bobby Carroll on why comics have turned on one of their own

The Michael McIntyre backlash was inevitable. His name is above the title of a primetime show, successful enough to get recommissioned by those contrary BBC execs. He deals in a very specific brand of comedy, which is the antithesis of what your struggling counter-cultural stand-up does. And he has the audacity to make money out of it. Get him!

And like the passing of the seasons, the circle of life, hakuna matata, the backlash ot the McIntyre backlash begins. This weekend has seen two articles published by Bruce Dessau in The Guardian and on London Is Funny celebrating his merits, previous graft, positive effects and chiding the naysayers. Especially those fellow stand-ups slagging off Michael from their smaller stages.  What else did you expect from such an egotistical, vain and bitter bunch?  Fresh grapes? But while the griping is motivated in part by jealousy or resentment, the critics and columnists have overlooked another reason why they spent this August listening to every other act reference Michael in their set…  

First, a digression. A couple of year back I had a routine about going to see the movie Transformers that I tried a few times while compering To make it chatty, you know MC-esque, I asked the different rooms to cheer if they’d seen the film. The question was met with silence each and every time. Which was strange to me: it was the most successful blockbuster of its year, had been out on DVD and on Sky by that point.

I came to the realisation we now live in a society where culture is so diverse, so fractured, and available from so many different streams that even something considered a mega -success might only been experienced by a handful of regular people. If ten years ago I asked the same question about Jurassic Park or Titanic the response would’ve been very different. We don’t have such a universally shared hegemony (Taste the B of my media A-level!)

To wit, I’ve seen quite a few acts struggle with routines about the surreally awful dating show Take Me Out. Most of them spend two or three minutes of dead air explaining the concept before hitting their routines. Whereas Blind Date, a decade or so before, became an institution watched by a large share of the public, the four million people who watch a primetime Saturday night show like Take Me Out in this day and age are exactly the type of people who don’t go out to comedy clubs.

I’ll tar them with the same brush: shut-ins or non-working stand-ups wanting to see PaddyMcGuinness’ career disintegrate. The Deal or No Deal’s of this world, The X Factors, the shows that everyone in the country has watched and recognises instantly is very rare in these days of DVDs and on-demand TV. People don’t just sit in and watch as a nation anymore. Such ideas don’t filter into the national subconscious as often. So when roughly one a year does, Come Dine With Me say, it is no surprise that loads of acts embrace it like manna from heaven and make it almost instantaneously hack.

You only have to give yourself a test, how many No 1 singles from the last year can you name? Not many, I’m guessing. An audience with no united cultural touchstone makes a comedian’s job harder. A modern cultural institution that we can easily mock without handing out footnotes is a rarity.

And the same comes to entertainers. I’d argue the last three years has only produced two cultural icons that the majority of the UK public can instantly recognise; Lady Gaga and Michael McIntyre. We live in time where Noel Edmonds and Adrian Chiles can be considered ‘personalities’, for fuck’s sake.  The reason we haven’t seen a hundred routines about Gaga is she is so self aware about how ridiculous she is that she defies mockery or lampooning. A stand-up taking the piss out of Lady Gaga reminds me of the Scary Movie franchise, a spoof of the Scream films which were knowingly cleverer spoofs. But the McIntyre Skip™, Nod™, and Pitch™… everyone knows that. My mates down the pub impersonate him, the people in the office do him. Michael McIntyre is shorthand because he’s recognisable.

And such a beast deserves roasting, mimicking or rants from his lesser peers. He is that manna hacks devour. Even my Mum, who does not watch stand-up, knows McIntyre by sight and by name.

And its not hacks’ doing. Acts as diverse as Stewart Lee, Ed Azcel, Stuart Black and Joseph Wilson have developed differing takes on the ‘icon’. All funny. They didn’t collude or rip each other off. No one did. He’s just that in the public eye and on comedians’ radar, so it was inevitable.

And at Edinburgh where suddenly the comedy fraternity find themselves all in close proximity, with those pesky critics watching, it comes out that comedians get laughs out of referencing the alpha male of their pack. What a shock? Those jesters! Should they stop doing it? The motivation behind the routine may be bitterness or self –deprecation,, but the reason the bits have stayed in is that brand McIntyre is recognised by the audience.

This is bad for Michael. Comedians don’t lend themselves to that level of fame: look at Newman and Baddiel at Wembley or Steve Martin doing the stadium circuit. The audiences chanted rather than laughed. When I went to a screening of the Bill Hicks movie American the producer was taking a Q&A. I asked: ‘The documentary contends that Bill never found success in his own country, but you show him having 16 appearances on Letterman and a cover of Rolling Stones. Something most jobbing comedians would consider a pinnacle of their career?’ It brought an awkward response, mumbling… well… he didn’t sell out concert halls or make movies. But would the Bill Hicks style fitted Eddie Murphy action comedies or Adam Sandler family films? McIntyre’s skipping observations might, though.

I did another gig recently in front of a large room of tourists. It went well, people were laughing, but midway through an Irish lad shouted ‘Do McIntyre!’ It is what he wanted, it is what he associated stand-up as.

‘I’m not McIntyre,’ I responded ‘I’m not going to skip for you.’ It got a big laugh. I finished my routine with a tag. ‘…And there’s this thing called a man drawer…’ Another big laugh. There’s another reason funny people are mentioning McIntyre onstage. We have to acknowledge to audience members coming into live comedy for the first time expecting the Apollo, that we aren’t Michael McIntyre. Now sit down and enjoy something different.

Published: 21 Sep 2010

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