'Cool' comedians leave me cold

Dave Bailey is tired of style over content

For nearly 20 years now I have loved comedy, from my first glimpse of Fist of Fun at the age of 11 which led to me creeping downstairs in the middle of the night and watching Kids In The Hall on the lowest volume level I could, to not wake a sleeping house. But something has changed.

Comedy has now become cool. Something trendy people can aspire to, a way to become rich and famous and, saddest of all, a ‘celebrity’. It’s a gateway to film premieres, book deals and Hollywood.

It’s what I like to call the Russell Brand Effect, not that I blame him, he’s an extremely talented stand-up comedian and comedy performer but his impact on the comedy scene has been seismic.

Television is now awash with comedians who are conventionally good looking, have been put into the latest trendiest clothes by their management team, had their teeth whitened and have a haircut given to them by both Toni and Guy.

They sit there on ITV2 or BBC Three, looking and sounding like comedians and delivering nice and safe comedy that is instantly forgotten the second the viewer turns their telly off. Style over content is the modern way of course; just take a look and the current mess that is the music scene for evidence of that.

A comedian should never been the coolest person in the room, they are a court jester, the fool, the clown and at their very best a social commentator and philosopher. Being a comedian is not something you choose to do; it’s something you have to do, a vocation, created by the events in your past and a feeling of being different to everybody else.

This is what drew me to comedy and where my love for it began. I don’t get that feeling from a lot of the new comedians I see, instead it appears they could just as easily be a lead singer in a band or a professional footballer but have simply chosen to become a comedian because it’s a cool thing to do.

It feels like the only way to be comedian at the moment is to have some kind of saleable ‘brand image’: Who would this act appeal to? What is their demographic? How many DVDs would they sell at Christmas? Can we get them onto ITV2 or will they use a big word and confuse the watching morons? New act competitions feel more and more like T4 presenter auditions, were you’re given a few minutes at most and even told that no jokes are required because the industry experts can tell within in a few seconds if you have 'it' or not.

There is a lot of debate at the moment on whether comedy is in crisis, and I believe this being 'cool' problem is a major factor. The majority of comedy fans aren’t going to go to a dingy cellar bar on a cold wet Tuesday night, the only comedy they know is from the comfort of their sofa or when they go to an arena on the edge of town once a year and buy a T-shirt as they leave.

So what is to be done people? I for one hope something like The Comic Strip comes along again and shakes things up –  or even that people become tired and bored of the identikit comics and start to search and demand for something comedically different.

Published: 19 Nov 2012

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