Have comedians lost their sense of humour since Brexit?

Andy Shaw asks Andrew Doyle, the co-writer of Jonathan Pie, some searching questions on satire and comedy.

Andy: On the eve of the election, 7th June at the Backyard Comedy Club London, you are joining some of the best satirists around for a comedy gig called ‘Stand Up .. For Democracy’ What sort of night can we expect?

Andrew: It’s an excellent bill, so I’m very much looking forward to it. There’s a range of political views among the comics, which means that it won’t be your typical night of stand-up in which all the performers are coming from identical perspectives.

Andy: Marcus Brigstocke was shocked that people walked out of his shows when he lampooned Brexit voters. He isn’t the only comedian who has felt out of touch with people when touring outside the London comedy circuit. What do you think is going on?

Andrew: There’s a clear consensus among comedians regarding Brexit. Very few have had the guts to admit to voting Leave. I’ve seen for myself on social media the hostility of some comics against Leave voters. On this particular issue, many comics apparently lost their sense of humour. I think it’s partly because most comedians are from London, tend to be middle-class, and surround themselves with like-minded people. So when a majority of voters take a view that doesn’t chime with their own worldview it causes distress. I’ve heard innumerable jokes about Leave voters, and they all tend to be based on the lazy (and inaccurate) assumption that they are all racists. Very few are, which means that the jokes don’t really work. So when a comic performs outside of London, should he or she really be all that surprised that calling his audience a bunch of racists isn’t going to go down particularly well?

Andy: Good comedy can make you laugh at yourself and think about things differently. Why do many of the current comedy shows seem lazy and predictable?

Andrew: As comics, we’re essentially narcissistic creatures. We’re desperate to be liked. So I suppose many of us simply adopt the ideas that we think will go down well with the crowds. With Brexit, that can be a misjudgement, because it’s such a divisive issue. For my part, I get so bored hearing comics just reiterate what I already think. I’d rather be challenged.

Andy: In the bad old days, comedians used to characterise Irish people as stupid and make racist jokes. Nowadays comedians characterise Glaswegians as unhealthy, Scoucers as thieves and Brexit voters as stupid and racist. How did this become acceptable?

Andrew: Well, leaving aside the fact that all Scousers ARE thieves, I’d say it’s got something to do with selective prejudice. The more vocal elements of the liberal-left seemingly get to decide who qualifies as an acceptable target for satire. They have too much clout, in my view. If you’re told that a certain topic is off-limits for humour, it’s probably worth writing a few jokes about it.

Andy: The world is full of people to lampoon and ideas to satirise, but the jokes seem to fit within an echo chamber .. The ‘Daily Mail’ is used as a by-word for small-mindeness and we hear endless jokes about Donald trump. Is humour now used to create a comfort blanket, rather than make you question your assumptions?

Andrew: I understand why people don’t want to have their worldview challenged. In Psychology, it’s called the “cognitive miser theory”. Human beings are naturally lazy thinkers. We are instinctively drawn towards interpretations of reality that accord with our preconceived ideas. It’s just a whole lot easier not to have your ideas tested. That’s why is especially important that we make an effort to hear views that we may not like.

Andy: If Spitting Image was back on screen, which characters would you include?

Andrew: Yanis Varoufakis. I think the idea of a sexy rock n’ roll economist is hilarious.

Andy: Who do you think is the funniest public figure and why?

Andrew: Diane Abbott. I loved her comparison of her afro haircut with IRA sympathies. I think she’s a misunderstood comic genius.

Andy: Tell us a good joke

Andrew: Never on demand.

Come to the comedy gig — it’s Wednesday 7th June at the Backyard Comedy Club, Bethnal Green

The comedians range in political outlook, but they are united in an attempt to re-invent satire and provide comedy for the intellectually curious.

Andrew Doyle 
Co-writer of internet sensation Jonathan Pie, the spoof news reporter created by Tom Walker which toured the UK, culminating in a sell-out performance at the London Palladium. Their online video responding to the US election result has had in excess of 130 million views. Andrew recently appeared at the Soho Theatre, London, in his fifth solo stand-up show Future Tense.

Will Franken 
Described by the Guardian as “The sharp-clawed satirist on US culture and liberal piety, who constantly upends what it is we think we’re watching. He makes for a unique and compelling hour. Franken’s fluidity recalls the Pajama Men, while the darkness of Franken’s imagination is like Chris Morris: this is Blue Jam with a wilder look in its eyes.”

Miriam Elia
Sony nominated surreal comedy writer. Elia punctures modern pretentiousness and unravels unthinking liberal orthodoxy. Her diverse work includes illustrated books such as ‘We go to the gallery’ and ‘The Diary of Edward the Hamster,’ as well as prints, drawings, short films, radio comedy and animations.

Dominic Frisby (compere)
Is well versed in economics, politics and current affairs — as well as being an extremely charming comedian and compere. He is currently the host of the Virgin podcast ‘Live. Life. Better.’, featured in Dave’s TV series ‘The Money Pit’, alongside Jason Manford, in which he appeared as the financial expert. He writes a weekly investment column for Moneyweek, and regularly writes for the Guardian.

This is a Benefit gig for Invoke Democracy Now 
IDN is a non-partisan group who came together to stand up for democracy after the EU Referendum result. IDN believes that, with Brexit, we have a rare and valuable opportunity to breathe new life into politics. It creates a space for democrats across the political spectrum to address the big issues, as we prepare to leave the EU. Money raised will be spent on organising events across the country to bring people together and discuss the future we want for ourselves, our country and our relationship with the wider world.

© Andy Shaw, 3rd June 2017