Stewart Lee's bringing rap feuds to stand-up

Geoff ‘G-Dizzle’ Norcott on how comedy's going hip-hop

I’ve just got to the Fringe for a week of my show, and enjoying the benefits of this low commitment approach – including the advantage of knowing a bit about how things have been going at the festival before even getting on the train.

One thing that has struck me is that comedy has now moved into its mid-Nineties hip-hop era.

In that time, rappers started to get big on a global scale, playing massive venues all by themselves. They also started bitching about each other. Dr Dre’s rise to the pinnacle of his game was accompanied by a string of ‘haters’, who found that by ‘dissing’ him in public, they could climb up the coat-tails of his PR.

Comedians ‘beefing’ is becoming a staple part of the landscape. As in so many things, Stewart Lee was ahead of the curve and has been ‘bitching out’ his contemporaries for some time now. I’m sure Mr Lee may think he shares little ideological ground with the likes of Tupac Shakur and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but his regular accusations of ‘selling out’ to the likes of Michael McIntyre and Frankie Boyle dove- tail perfectly with the model laid down during the notorious East/West coast war of words.

If anything, Lee has been more daring than gangster rappers ever were, not even bothering to disguise his disdain in rhyming couplets on cassettes circulating Long Beach, Compton – he’s gone straight for editorials in The Guardian. Luckily for him, his chances of being gunned down in Bristo Square are fairly slim. Comedic ‘beefing’ would probably be settled differently anyway. Imagine if you will Stewart Lee making his way to the ‘Dave Edinburgh party’. A limo pulls up and the window is wound down. Frankie Boyle delivers a withering one-liner. Lee lies on the floor, gasping for self esteem. Comedy’s first ‘drive-by put-down’ victim.

Lee himself has been regularly assailed this year on Richard Herring’s excellent Edinburgh Fringe Podcast. This is a classically hip-hop; two former ‘homies’ now publicly beefing. When did stand-up become so macho? I personally would never invoke the name of a more successful comic than me just to get some coverage...

But it’s not just the turf wars. Rap was always elegantly post-modern; they spent more time talking about rapping than actually rapping - using simile and metaphor to explain what they were doing while they were doing it. Comedy is also looking in on itself this year, with a number of shows talking about the either the art-form or the industry itself. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it can still be incredibly funny (see Barry Castagnola and Dan Nightingale for two successful examples). Popular music could never manage a similar feat. Natasha Bedingfield and Gary Barlow aside, writing songs about writing songs is a form of creative suicide. It’s like chefs talking about cooking while they’re cooking. N -one would watch that.

If stand up continues to follow this clear hip-hop route, the next step will be duets. In the same way Method Man, Eminem & Jay Z repeatedly duetted with female soloists to boost the street cred of the likes of Dido and Christina Aguilera, so stand-ups will start working alongside unfunny people to make them seem hilarious. Simon Munnery will be pursued by Bill Turnbull and Ed Byrne will certainly get courted by the Tories.

The last stage will be name changes. Rappers continually re-invent themselves to ensure their ‘brand’ is strong and continually on people’s minds. Puff Daddy became known as ‘Puffy’ then ‘P-diddy’ and finally ‘P - Rick’. Comedians will be no different. Having worked so hard to reach the lofty heights ‘brothers have to maintain’. Rhod Gilbert will soon demand to be known as the portmanteau mononym ‘Rilbert’ and Chris Addison will inexplicably call himself ‘Right Angle’.

There is much unfair disparaging talk of ‘arena’ comics at the moment. However, just like rappers, there is a lot of shit that goes with being at the top of your game. There are a million other young hustlers who’d love to take what you have – and critics from the Independent. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Luckily, I’m not so big to have these worries. I’m one of those brothers like many others, rapping on street corners - just trying to make my house warmer.

I am ‘keeping my shit real’. Sometimes ‘keeping it real’ just means you haven’t been hugely successful yet. Maybe one day my shit will become very unreal indeed and I will need to change my name to ‘G-Dizzle’. Being a big dawg must be awesome, but I’d imagine it’s also very tiring.

  • Geoff Norcott Avoids A Double Dip is on at The Shack, at 17:00 from today until the 25th

Published: 19 Aug 2012

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