An advert's just a step on the career ladder...

Our third extract from Stewart Lee's new book

In the third extract from his new 'EP-style' book about the genesis of his show If You Prefer a Milder Comedian Please Ask For One, Stewart Lee describes how Jeremy Clarkson’s crassness and Mark Watson’s pear cider adverts added to the mix of ideas informing the show. The first extract was here and the second here.

Further opportunities to define myself in opposition to the anti-PC market, and to court a constituency of disgruntled liberals with money to spend, suggested themselves later the same month. The car writer and humorist Jeremy Clarkson had described the prime minister, Gordon Brown, as a cunt during an off-air studio warm-up for Top Gear, perhaps in an attempt to show BBC Two’s new controller, the duly present Janice Hadlow, who really ran things around here.

Hadlow subsequently criticised Clarkson for the comment, whilst praising Top Gear itself. (Top Gear is a huge money-spinner for the BBC and therefore is understandably allowed more leeway in these sorts of matters than less financially significant shows.)

Similarly, earlier in the year, while on a Top Gear jaunt to Australia, the car-liking trouser man had called Gordon Brown ‘a one-eyed Scottish idiot’ on live television. Clarkson’s right to mock a cunt’s blindness was vigorously defended by the usual suspects, and reluctantly accepted by right-thinking folk too, but it seemed to me to be a further outgrowth of the whole ‘outrageous’ comedy debate. (And for the purposes of argument let’s call Clarkson a comedian, even though I accept he also has a lucrative sideline in car books and borderline racist generalisations.)

And finally, throughout the summer of 2009, it was nigh on impossible to escape the pornographically baffled face of the young Welsh comedian Mark Watson, who was now hawking Magners cider in a series of self-consciously quirky TV ads. In Edinburgh in 2004, Watson’s 24 Hour Show had been quietly inspirational to me in its sheer idiotic audacity and the good-natured hysteria it created; watching Watson, the king foole, preside over it had been one of the things that made me glad to be part of a stand-up scene where such things were happening.

Watson also wore T-shirts with cool things on them, like weird slogans and pictures of dead philosophers, like I used to, so I had him pegged as one of those left-field alternative indie-type guys, like I imagined I was when I was young. Consequently I was surprised to see him doing an advert.

In the Eighties, if you were a vaguely alternative band or comedian, dallying with advertising would mean, to cite the oft-quoted Bill Hicks line, that you were ‘off the artistic roll call for ever’. But the values of today’s young alternative artists, for better or worse, are not those of my generation, who may, it is fair to say, have long been up their own backsides anyway, with their values and ideas.

Today, getting an advert is just another step on the career ladder, and I appreciate I may have been alone in being saddened by the young Celt’s good fortune.

(When I saw Mark Watson hanging off some scaffolding in Edinburgh’s New Town in August 2010, orchestrating a promotional happening for one of his books and wearing a yellow hard hat, I ran into The Stand to buy a bottle of Magners to spray over him. The comedians Alun Cochrane and Daniel Kitson were outside and I thought they’d come with me and join in, but they just looked at me as if I were an idiot and seemed to pity me for my pranksome idea. Times have changed.)

Was Watson right to do the advert? I bore him no personal malice – I don’t really know him, and tend to like all Welsh people enormously anyway – but the onstage, condescending, morally upstanding Stewart Lee would be furious with the Welsh Whore. And the whole Magners thing was too good to resist. It seemed like there could be hours of stuff in this.

  • To be concluded tomorrow. Extracted from Stewart Lee! The 'If You Prefer a Milder Comedian Please Ask For One' EP, which is published by Faber & Faber today. Click here to order from Amazon.

Published: 5 Jan 2012

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