Reviewing the reviewer | Andy Shaw isn't happy about a write-up his political show received

Reviewing the reviewer

Andy Shaw isn't happy about a write-up his political show received

On the eve of the general election I arranged a benefit gig for Invoke Democracy Now at the Backyard, and deliberately invited four comedians from across the political spectrum.

Dominic Frisby, who describes himself ‘neither left nor right, just anti-state’; Andrew Doyle, who co-writes Jonathan Pie, and is very much of the left; Miriam Elia, who invented the Ladybird spoof books, and Will Franken who leans towards the right.

One of my aims was to challenge groupthink in comedy. I wanted to make people think about their preconceptions, as well as make them laugh, and to test certain unspoken codes. Why is it fine, say, to poke fun at Christianity, but not other religions? Or mock Brexit voters but not Remain voters?

As a promoter I drew great pleasure watching compere Dominic Frisby discover to his surprise a comedy audience in London that wasn’t 99 per cent Remain-voting left. Instead it was 50:50. Or even 52:48.

Brian Logan, the Guardian comedy critic, turned up, but without an open mind. One comic remarked after the gig: ‘Have you read his reviews? He’s pusillanimous and he can’t see beyond his own politics. He’ll slate it.’

The advice was spot on. Logan panned the gig in this review. But, in my view, the grounds by which he did were telling.

‘The election barely registered,’ Logan claimed. Frisby, who was host, opened with a 15-minute routine about the election – who he was voting for (‘none of the above’) and who the room was voting for (about a third Tory, a third Labour and a third ‘other’).

Doyle followed with a 25-minute opening set lambasting the Tory election campaign and celebrating Corbyn’s. The election was more than done by the first interval!  

Logan said the gig expressed ‘the worldview that looks at Corbyn-style empathy and basic decency and calls them treachery.’ How can a gig with Andrew Doyle be that? That is the very opposite of Andrew Doyle. Indeed, Logan didn’t even mention Doyle in his review. It’s as though he had a pre-written narrative and spent the gig selecting pieces to add colour to his prejudices.

Elia, who was doing her first gig in five years, performed a set describing her convoluted experiences growing up as the daughter of Syrian refugee and being a conceptual artist. She joked about how people avoid talking about important things for fear of causing offence. Ironic, as Logan chose to take offence at a viewpoint he didn’t agree with.

Closing the gig was the uncompromising Franken, who took us on several mind-twisting journeys in a style similar to Chris Morris of Brass Eye.

 In one sketch, a BBC reporter interviewed a drunk about Brexit ‘So, what do you think about Brexit?’ ‘I suppose it about sovereignty, democracy 'n' stuff.’ Desperate for the man to start talking about immigration, the BBC journalist bought him more cider and prompted him repeatedly. ‘Could it be something to do with the "I" word?’

 ‘That’s racist,’ an outraged – white – heckler shouted and he and his girlfriend wouldn’t back down. The irony was not lost on the audience when couple were told to ‘shut up or leave’ by a black man in the audience… the hecklers’ identity politics hit confusion levels. Thankfully they left to find the next issue to be triggered about.

Logan missed that as well saying merely that: ‘Franken, spat four-letter words back at them.’ What was Franken supposed to do – roll over and accept the heckle in the middle of a sketch? And how impressive was the way he recovered from it?

‘The Backyard gig, in essence, offered the Daily Mail in stand-up form,’ wrote Logan. To hold up the Daily Mail as a proxy for backwardness is infantile and then to tar something that doesn’t conform to your worldview with the Daily Mail is facile.

A comedy critic with no sense of humour. Who’d’ve thought it?

• Andy Shaw is the producer of Comedy Unleashed.

Published: 27 Jun 2017

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