Monthly Archives: July 2012

Life on Gilligan’s Island (Part 46)

Just because the London Mayoral election ended in May, it doesn’t mean that we here at Nowhere Towers are about to ignore Kennite. He’s still the same hack and as far as we’re concerned, he isn’t going to change anytime soon. Leopards, spots and all that.

The Olympics Opening Ceremony has got many sections of the Right foaming at the mouth. First there was Aidan Burley and his “leftie multicultural crap” tweet, for which we don’t expect him to be censured. Then there was Rick Dewsbury of the Daily Heil with his racist rant, which has been pulled by the paper in the face of a stream of complaints. You can view the offending article here. Both the article and Dewsbury are now the subject of a complaint lodged with the PCC.

The title of Kennite’s blog is “London 2012: how the Olympics suckered the left”. When you read a title like that, you know what to expect.  First he writes,

The London Olympics are the most Right-wing major event in Britain’s modern history. Billions of pounds are taken from poor and middle-income taxpayers and service users to build temples to a corporate and sporting elite. Democratic, grassroots sport is stripped of money to fund the most rarefied sport imaginable. The police and the state are turned into the enforcement arm of Coca-Cola. How did this event suddenly become the toast of the Left?

How is this “the toast of the Left”? He does not say but I think it is fair to suggest that he is referring to the Opening Ceremony and not the games themselves and the criminal enterprise that runs them. But he would be wrong. Furthermore, you can guarantee that when Kennite is talking about the “Left”, he’s referring to Labour and not the rest of the British Left. In the second paragraph, he puts the first boot in.

Corporations who make people fat and sick – or, in one case, actually maimed and killed them – are allowed to launder their images; the London Paralympics, in a detail you simply could not make up, are sponsored by Atos, the firm repeatedly accused of bullying disabled people off benefits. Meanwhile, the main sponsors – the people of Britain – are largely excluded from the event they paid for.

Here he appears to be saying that the Left hasn’t said anything about Atos.  But he would be wrong and if he’d have bothered to do his homework, he’d see that there have been ongoing protests since the government announced that ATOS would be forcing the disabled into work. We are already aware that Atos is sponsoring the Paralympics and we find that distasteful. But to say that the ‘left’ (whoever they are) are doing nothing is little more than left-baiting. Have a look at this article from Nottingham Indymedia. The Socialist Party has also been involved in protests against ATOS. Kennite is talking out of his arse.

Here’s the nub of his hatchet-job,

The Left should be up in arms about the Olympics, as should any democrat. But as it turns out, all it takes is a few nurses dancing round beds, some coloured lights spelling out the words NHS and we all go weak at the knees and collapse into the IOC’s embrace. Worse, actually: any criticism of the opening ceremony was described by one left-wing newspaper today as “extremist!

More dishonesty.  The “left-wing” newspaper to which he refers, one suspects, is The Guardian. The “extremist” in question is Nazi Boy Burley. Thus far, Kennite has been quiet about him but then we don’t really expect him to say anything. He’s more than happy to excuse racists. After all, enough of them form his core readership. To support his ‘case’, he writes,

My favourite line was from the Guardian columnist Richard Williams who wrote: “Cameron and his gang will surely not dare to continue the dismemberment of the NHS after this.” Hmm. If dismemberment is indeed their intention, are they really going to be stopped by a sound and light show? This isn’t a new dawn for Britain. It’s a night’s entertainment.

Is this the only ‘Leftist’ he could find? If so, it’s a pretty poor example.

Here’s what the Socialist Party said about The Olympics in Socialism Today,

IT ALL BEGAN with a lie: that the London Games would cost £2.4 billion. That figure was never credible. Inexplicably, it did not include VAT or security expenditure. With these costs added, the bill would have totalled £3.9 billion – 20% VAT on £2.4 billion equals £480,000, plus the wildly out-of-control spending on security, around £1 billion. So far, however, the elastic Olympics budget has been stretched to £9.3 billion. It all adds up to a massive swindle, a rip-off for working-class and middle-class people who stump up the most in direct and indirect taxes.

The government (via taxpayers) is paying £6.2 billion of that, the rest coming from the lottery (an indirect tax on the poorest). Despite assurances that the private sector would part-fund the major construction projects on which the Games depend, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, reckoned that less than 2% of the Olympics budget has come from private funding. (Guardian, 17 July 2008)

The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Locog), the body in charge of ‘delivering’ the Games, has raised another £2.1 billion to stage the show. Two-thirds of this has come from sponsorship by big business – whose profits come from exploiting workers and consumers. Locog also gets a contribution from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The rest is from ticket and merchandising sales – again, mainly out of our pockets. Locog is headed by Lord Sebastian Coe, a former gold-medal-winning athlete, former Tory MP, a ‘world ambassador’ for Nike sportswear, and multi-millionaire.

The Olympics have “suckered the Left”? The Socialist Workers Party has also attacked the games as well as organizing protests against missile batteries being sited on top of blocks of flats. This is from June’s Socialist Worker.

London march against corporate takeover

Activists were set to march through east London on Saturday of this week in protest at the corporate Olympics. The march is taking place under the slogan “No Limos, No Logos, No Launchers”

This refers to the controversial Games Lanes, the Olympics’ corporate sponsorship and the missiles stationed on blocks of flats in east London.

It is organised by umbrella group the Counter Olympics Network. After the march there will be speakers from some of the 50 or so campaigns that support the protest, including War on Want, Defend the Right to Protest and several London trades councils.

The local council has tried to ban such “anti-Olympics speeches”. But the protesters were set to launch a legal appeal as Socialist Worker went to press.

Counter Olympics Network supporter Julian Cheyne said, “The Olympics have turned into a corporate festival. To stand by silently would imply we consent to this—and we do not.”

The march assembles at 12 noon on Saturday 28 July at Mile End Park, London E3.

Even the tiny Revolutionary Communist Group has attacked the games.

Gilligoon penned an earlier blog about the Olympics about which he says,

I’ve also had disappointingly few hate emails and tweets after my mixed review yesterday of the great event.

Hate mail is the way he measures his effect on others.  Here’s what he said in the previous blog.

Some of the rest was bitty and disjointed; the sub-mobile-phone advert style of the digital section was particularly weak. It was more political than I expected. Voldemort loomed over the NHS. Tonight marked perhaps its final transformation from a healthcare system into a religion. Dancers made up the CND symbol. The Royal Family looked bored, but the new Right-On Royal Family – Doreen Lawrence and Shami Chakrabarti – got to carry the Olympic flag.

My bold. Why shouldn’t Doreen Lawrence carry the Olympic flag? I’m beginning to suspect that Kennite has some rather questionable views on the subject of Stephen Lawrence’s murder.  But there’s something else: Doreen Lawrence is no fan of Boris Johnson who, as we all know, is Kennite’s other employer. I found this on Iain Dale’s Diary from August 2007.

Andrew Gilligan shares my views on Doreen Lawrence’s disgraceful attack on Boris Johnson. I listened to an appalling half hour’s phone-in on Radio 5 last night, where Simon Woolley from Operation Black Vote demeaned himself and his position by what he said about Boris. Normally Simon is quite sensible and has done a lot to encourage ethnic minorities to take part in the political process, but last night he embarrassed himself. This is what Andrew Gilligan had to say in today’s Evening Standard

Before the 2008 London mayoral election, Lawrence said that Johnson would not be good for London because of his predilection for casual racism. Dale, like Gilligoon, is quite prepared to look past Johnson’s evident issues with the Other. Dale also links to the dodgy Donal Blaney, he of the YBF. Unfortunately the link seems to be dead. However it is safe to say that Blaney has form when it comes to race. In one blog, Blaney says,

Racist. Fascist. Disabled. Abused. Poor.

All seemingly powerful words – but, alas, no longer. Why? Because they are devalued by their overuse and their misapplication, particularly by leftists.

Dishonesty abounds. The simple truth is that racists like Blaney and the others don’t like to be called on their racism. Furthermore the idea that there are disabled and poor people in the country rankles them; they’d rather content themselves with illusions. Dale, Blaney and Gilligan will never know what it’s like to be abused for the colour of their skin. Instead, they try to play the victim and invert the relations of power to suit their victimhood.

Kennite: he always adds a little sugar to his poison.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Internet, Journalism, Media, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Nazi Boy Burley in hot water over dodgy tweets

Aidan Burley. Just when you thought he was keeping his head down, up he pops. You just can’t keep a good Nazi down.  The Olympics Opening Ceremony wasn’t, it seems, to his liking. He tweeted,

Over at Torygraph blogs, James Kirkup was first up to defend Burley. He writes,

Danny Boyle’s take on British history, from the Industrial Revolution to the present day, via the suffrage movement and the Empire Windrush, did not please Mr Burley (or whoever is using his Twitter account). Nor did the focus on insitutions like the NHS.

I think we can safely say that it was Burley’s account because he later tries to appear contrite.

The fingers type the words but the brain isn’t engaged.

I found this tweet from a young ‘nationalist’ follower who offers his support,

Hmmm, great.

ITV News live feed says that senior Tories have distanced themselves from Nazi Boy’s tweets. Fellow Tory MP, Gavin Barwell was quick to slap him down.

Nowhere Towers thinks the opening ceremony for the 1936 Munich Olympics would have been more to Burley’s taste.

UPDATE: 28/7/12 @ 1125

Every time Burley opens his mouth he digs a deeper hole for himself. This is from ITV News.

He think that “it was all rather clichéd about multiculturalism” though he accepts he could have phrased his tweets better.

But in comments that could further annoy, he wondered “why there was the huge, disproportionate focus on rap music when it is a small part of multiculturalism.”

Keep digging, Nazi Boy, we’re loving this. We also hope your French is good because where you’re going, you’re going to be needing it.

UPDATE: 28/7/12 @ 2336

Here’s Burley being interviewed on Sky News.  He refuses to accept responsibility and instead chooses to deflect attention from his odious views.

Leave a comment

Filed under Internet, Media, Television

Romney, Gardiner and the Anglo-Saxon comment

The Normans: they came, they saw, they conquered and later intermarried with the locals.

When it was announced that Mitt Romney was to visit the UK, Israel and Poland, I suspected that Nile Gardiner was involved in drawing up the itinerary for the Presidential hopeful.  It has his dirty fingerprints all over it.  How can I tell? Well, if you Google “Nile Gardiner Poland”, for example, you will see that the top three links are Gardiner’s  Torygraph blogs. Now try Googling “Nile Gardiner Israel” and you will get similar results.  But the visit to Britain has not gone as well as planned and a remark made by Romney about the Olympics sparked off a bout of transatlantic mudslinging.

Yesterday,  one of Romney’s advisors used the phrase “Anglo-Saxon” when speaking to Jon Swaine of the Daily Torygraph.  swain doesn’t name the advisor but I have my suspicions. The remark caused a predictable reaction and this prompted several of the Torygraph bloggers to rally behind Romney and assert their Anglo-Saxon credentials. Some, like the Lyin’ King, have insisted that the compound  “Anglo-Saxon” is equivalent to the word “liberty”. He writes,

And where do these characteristics have their roots? In Anglo-Saxon civilisation. When a Romney aide told this newspaper that the US and Britain shared an ‘Anglo-Saxon heritage’, he or she was stating the obvious. Those Lefties pretending to be upset – the Obama campaign called the remark ‘stunningly offensive’ – know perfectly well that the reference was cultural rather than racial. When the French talk of ‘les anglo-saxons’ or the Spanish of ‘los anglosajones’, they don’t mean Cerdic and Oswine and Æthelstan. They mean people who speak English and believe in small government.

I love how Hannan excuses Romney by saying, ” the reference was cultural rather than racial”. But then, he would say that. He would defend Satan, given half the chance. He also deliberately ignores the way in which the phrase is often used to claim that Obama isn’t “white” and to make the spurious point that he does not understand the mythological ‘ties that bind’ the two English-speaking countries.

The fact of the matter is that this country was invaded by the Normans in 1066. the Anglo-Saxons and the other peoples who inhabited this island were over-run and forced to accept the invaders as their conquerors and overlords. Over time, the Normans intermarried with the locals (after brutalizing them). That makes this country as much Norman as it does Anglo-Saxon.  Of course, the fact that large swathes of this country were  occupied by the Danes (Danelaw) as well as the Romans before them doesn’t seem to matter much to the racists and  crypto-racists that clutter the Internet. They declare themselves to be Anglo-Saxon, even though a simple DNA test would reveal something startlingly different.

Here’s the offending remark that was made by the ‘unnamed advisor’,

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr. Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”

Ah, the shared history and the transatlantic bruderschaft. This is odd because from the American War of Independence in 1776 to the period immediately after WWII, Britain was on the US’s shit-list. In fact the US and Britain came close to going to war with one another in 1895 over a small strip of land between Venezuela and British Guyana. The US even planned to have a war with Britain as recently as 1930.

So who produced this extraordinary piece of ahistorical tosh? Like me, Gideon Rachmann of the FT has his suspicions,

Suspicion swiftly fell on Nile Gardiner, a Brit who works at the Heritage Foundation and has been named as one of Romney’s foreign-policy advisory team. Gardiner blogs for the Telegraph and has admitted speaking to the Telegraph journalist who wrote the story – but, despite strong circumstantial evidence, denied being the source of the quote.

As we know, Gardiner isn’t shy when it comes to making comments that can be construed as racist. He has plenty of previous. On this occasion he denies it but then, he would.

Rachmann also highlights a blog written by the Moonie in which he lists Barack Obama’s “Top 10 insults against Britain”.

This article from TMP is rather interesting, especially for the last paragraph.

My other reason for being interested in this is something my friend Mike Lind always had a good way of capturing — which is the way that on the American right, Brits, particularly conservative Brits, amount to something like Americans by proxy. Sure, they don’t carry US citizenship. But by possessing the ur-Anglo-Saxon-ness and the heritage thing and the stiff upper lip and some Great Books rearing they’re practically more American than we are. Sort of like the yeast that makes the bread. So a Brit like Nile Gardiner is sort of more one of us — at least in some Platonic ideal form — than the Mexican-American son of immigrants in San Diego or Los Angeles. And certainly he might get the centrality of our Anglo-Saxon heritage more than someone like Barack Obama who’s the son of a Kenyan and born in Hawaii and even spent time as a kid living in Indonesia.

But all that aside, is Nile Gardiner an American citizen?

My bold. No he isn’t but that doesn’t mean that he’s particularly au fait with what’s happening in the UK either, as I point out in this blog.

Interestingly,the American Conservative dismisses any suggestion that the US is 100%  Anglo-Saxon,

But it’s misleading to describe the folkways and political traditions that Americans inherited from Britain as “Anglo-Saxon”. For the most part, they date back no further than the 16th century, when British life was redefined by the Reformation and the beginnings of capitalism.

The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, were Germanic tribes who lived in Britain after about the 5th century. Although not eliminated, their language (Old English) and political institutions were transformed by the Norman conquest in 1066. Calling the early modern traditions that connected the United States and Britain in the colonial period “Anglo-Saxon” is a little like calling the calling the Pope the pontifex maximus. There’s a sense in which it’s true, but too much history separates the two eras for the comparison to be useful.

Quite.

What we have here is a very sly way of playing the race card. The suggestion is that Obama is not “Anglo-Saxon” is another way of saying he  isn’t white and therefore doesn’t understand the ‘Special Relationship’. This, of course,  isn’t true and as we all know, Obama is mixed race. But Gardiner and his chums on the Torygraph favour the One-Drop Rule. If you have a one black parent, grandparent or great-grandparent, then you are black; an Other.

Furthermore, Moonie Gardiner has been involved in an anti-Obama smear campaign since the President took office. Not a week passes by when he hasn’t written a blog that complains of Obama’s insensitivity towards this and that. The fact that Gardiner denies making the comment means nothing. It’s his modus operandi. Those are his words.

Leave a comment

Filed under United States, US Presidential Election 2012

Cyclists: check your road position at junctions!

A Briton may have won the Tour de France for the first time but here in the UK, cyclists continue to risk life and limb on the roads. And for all the support that sport cycling has attracted, the more prosaic matter of ensuring cyclists are safe while riding on the busy streets of our cities continues to be sidelined. It simply isn’t glamorous and while many councils offer free or subsidized cycle training, many don’t promote it very well and some (like Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham) have even cut funding.

So when I read about the serious injury of yet another cyclist on the streets of this borough, I was disgusted but not surprised. The incident took place in Eel Brook Common at the junction of Wandsworth Bridge Road and New Kings Road in Fulham. It seems that the woman’s injury is “life-changing” according to Adam Courtney’s tweet.  I suspect that the phrase “life-changing” is a police euphemism for “she’s had an amputation”.

The accident occurred when a skip lorry turned left and ran over the cyclist. Unfortunately this kind of accident is all too common on London’s streets and is caused largely by bad positioning on the part of the cyclist. Indeed this is how most cyclists die on the road. Even before I became a cycling instructor, I could see that it was dangerous to position myself to the left of a larger vehicle at a junction. In fact, while I’m out riding I often see people trying to squeeze in the narrow gap (often as small as 8 inches) between a lorry and the kerb – usually because there happens to be a cycle lane in the gutter (I may have to write a blog about how bad cycle lanes are). I sometimes shout to them, “Don’t do it! It’s dangerous”! What I usually get, by way of reply, is an inane grin before they scoot off. Yes, these people don’t know how to set their pedals.

If you look carefully, you can see a woman cycling on the left. She doesn’t know it but she’s putting herself in danger.

This latest accident has brought into sharp relief the lack of provision for cyclists in this country. I’m okay; I know how to conduct myself on the road. I behave exactly like a driver would and this is another problem: too many cyclists think of themselves as being separate from the traffic and many don’t think that the Highway Code applies to them. If you cycle on the road, then YOU ARE PART OF THE TRAFFIC! Behaving as though you don’t belong on the road will get you no respect from other road users. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me that “they try not to get in people’s way” while out cycling. This kind of timidity leads to danger. Hiding from other road users is the quickest route to hospital or the grave.

Much of what we teach people is counter-intuitive. For instance, if you want to make a right turn from a major to a minor road, you will have to position yourself in the middle of the road and not to the left hand side. For some people that suggestion seems foolhardy, even dangerous. But the fact of the matter is that motorists don’t set out with the intention of killing cyclists. Motorists and motorcyclists position themselves in the middle of the road for a left turn and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you!

Remember if you get to the stop line before the rest of the traffic, you have every right to take the lane. That is to say, position yourself in the middle of the lane and not to the left. If someone beeps their horn at you, it means they’ve seen you. Don’t panic!

Here is a useful site that tells you where to ride on the road.

Here is another. Safe cycling!

UPDATE: 25/7/12 @ 1458

The full story is here in the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle.

1 Comment

Filed under Cycling, Hammersmith & Fulham, London

Top blog on Mark Serwotka and the PCS from The Mambo. I’ve got a lot of time for Serwotka. Unlike Dave Prentis and the other workplace pimps, Serwotka actually does a good job for his members and he gets up the nose of the Tories. If he rattles them and the Labour leadership, you know he must be doing a good job.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The dairy farmers protests and the government’s double standards

Does anyone else find it ironic that the dairy farmers, who have been blockading milk processing plants, haven’t been painted as the “enemy within”? Not a single government minister has labelled them as “Trots” or “militants”. The Tory press has also been noticeably quiet, save for the outpouring of sympathy for the farmers. There isn’t a single Telegraph blogger that’s put his or her head above the parapet and accused the dairy farmers of “holding the country to ransom”. Yet when workers take industrial action for better pay and conditions they are attacked by the government and their allies in the media. The reason for this is simple: most farmers are supporters of the Conservative Party.

Instead, the right-wing press continues to lay into the unions. This article from The Daily Mail is typical,

The public would clearly welcome a law to prevent the country being brought to its knees by a few hundred union die-hards.

A backbench Tory MP, Dominic Raab, proposed a law which would have set minimum turnouts for strike ballots, but it died in Parliament for want of ministerial backing.

During last year’s strikes, Francis Maude did a lot of tough talking, accusing the unions of playing with fire and making veiled threats.

Now it’s time to back up those strong words and take some serious action.

First, the hack who wrote this offers us a generalization instead of hard facts: he claims that “the public” wants to see tougher union laws. That isn’t true.  Second, Dominic Raab should make better use of his time instead of trying to relive the life he didn’t have in the 1980s. He was clearly too young when Thatcher and her goons smashed the unions. Raab loves to talk and write about freedom but he’s more than happy to deny trade unionists their freedoms.  As I keep reminding readers, most local authorities are elected on a 21 to 25% turnout. Boris Johnson was re-elected as London Mayor on a turnout of 32%.

While the government is loathe to talk to trade unions – unless it’s to bully them – they are quite prepared to talk to the protesting dairy farmers. This is from The Independent,

The Government is to have talks with dairy farmers following two nights of protests over the prices paid to milk suppliers

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and Farming Minister Jim Paice are to meet farmers, milk processors and supermarkets next week, a spokesman for Defra confirmed.

The ministers will hold talks at the Royal Welsh Show, in Powys, on Monday to try to resolve the crisis in the dairy industry.

The protests are being led by a group calling itself “Farmers For Action” (FFA). The FFA and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) are working together and both organizations support the Tory party.  The NFU is a not a union in the accepted sense of the word. Alan White writing in The New Statesman says,

But the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has historically seemed either unable or unwilling to unionise their members.” And indeed, many have asked whether the NFU can really be called a union at all, such is its close relationship with government.

Just to show you how well the Tories support this action, the MP for Bridgewater, Ian Liddell-Grainger has, in the words of This is the West Country, “applauded” the dairy farmers.

He said farmers who used heavy machinery in a blockade at Robert Wiseman Dairy put on a ‘magnificent’ show of strength which should send a clear message to the processors and retailers.

Can you imagine what he’d have said if this had been a picket blockading a factory or a mine? They’d have sent in the army and there would have been calls in the Tory press to hang, flog or transport the offenders to a remote Crown Dependency.

Back to FFA, it turns out that the leader of this group is none other than  David Handley, who was behind the fuel protests back in 2002.  Nowhere Towers also understands that the same people were also involved in the Countryside Alliance protests in 2004.

Don’t get me wrong, I think dairy farmers are paid badly for their produce but I also think that workers who take industrial action are often paid badly and face severe hardship because of cuts to their pay and pensions. The government is clearly operating double standards here and it’s easy to see why: most trade unionists don’t vote Tory because if you’re a worker who votes Tory, you may as well slit your throat now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics

Is the comedy circuit on its last legs?

Is this the ideal venue for stand-up comedy?

Once upon a time there was something that the media named “alternative comedy”. We, that is to say those of us who played the circuit, called it “alternative cabaret”, which was, coincidentally, the same name used by Tony Allen and Alexei Sayle to describe their loose circuit of pub venues. By 1992, that had all changed, the cabaret circuit became the comedy circuit and barely anyone outside the business noticed the change. Back in 1992, you could hear comedians in the dressing rooms (if you were lucky to get them) talk darkly about how “television was killing comedy” and how Britain was going the way of the US. America, which was 20 years ahead of us, was witnessing a gradual decline in the state of its live comedy scene.  I remember chatting to a few American comedians who had come over to work here, many of them complained of a circuit dominated by hacks and the lazy promoters who booked them. In this climate, acts like Bill Hicks were finding it tough to get work, while the new breed of performers like Andrew Dice Clay (my friend AJ assures me that all that racism, xenophobia and sexism was just an act on Clay’s part) were playing Madison Square Garden. This was a backlash against the so-called ‘truth-tellers’ and it didn’t take long for it to catch on over here as a reaction to ‘political correctness’.

So when I read John Fleming’s interview with Noel Faulkner the other day, I thought, “Bloody hell! It’s taken you all this time to see it”? Faulkner, who owns the Comedy Cafe (soon to be rebranded as The Comedy Cafe Theatre) in Shoreditch, says,

“The game is really played-out,” he told me. “I think ‘arena comedy’ has really done it damage, because 60,000 people at a time can go and see comedy now.

“I’d say the average comedy punter used to go to a club maybe four times a year. But, when they go to these arena shows, it soaks them up and they don’t bother coming to the little places. They go to an arena show and see ‘him off the telly’ and they’re able to boast about it at work on Monday morning: It was amazing. We were right against the big screen! Really up close!”

This seems to support an already widely-held view that not only has television changed the way in which audiences consume comedy, but the stadium shows are also responsible for sucking the life out of the circuit.  Perhaps the biggest complaint about these large-scale concerts is that they are bereft of intimacy; they have no soul.  How can a comedian really connect with an audience in a space that holds 60,000 people? Many of them will only be able to see the comedian on the huge monitors that hang either side of the stage. It is more a spectacle with laughs than it is a comedy show.

Continuing the interview, Fleming asks,

“So why are you going back to stand up?”

Faulkner replies,

“One of the reasons […] is that, in the last four or five years, I’ve seen so many bad, hack, middle class comics trying to break through and some of them have made it all the way to telly. Twenty minutes of talking on stage doesn’t mean you have a comedy set. Talking, in itself, is not comedy.”

Well, the bad news is that even the cabaret circuit in the late 1980s was full of middle class types and I can literally count the working class acts on one hand… well, one and a bit, if I’m lucky. But to be honest, some of those cabaret acts had come from working class backgrounds but had gone to university or polytechnic. This route was effectively  blocked by the Thatcher government in 1989 and the policy of economic exclusion for the working class was continued by the Blair government, when it introduced tuition fees in 1998. By the time I left the circuit it was almost all white, middle class and male. Some of these people had substantial sums of money behind them to make stand-up comedy their full-time career.  It also turns out that Faulkner is himself from a middle-class background, “My father was a bank manager in Ireland. But I’ve fucking lived a life”.

Bennet Arron, writing for Chortle, echoes the sentiments that I outlined above when he says,

Stand-up comedy on television is also having an effect on the audiences which do attend clubs; their attention span is much shorter. (Again, I thought this was just me but thankfully it’s not). I assume this is because when you watch stand-up programmes on television, you see a comedian perform for five to ten minutes, before being replaced by another one. Some audiences seem to expect this at live gigs and seem bemused and somewhat cheated when the same comedian is still on stage after 15 minutes.

This is something that I’d noticed in 1998. I was doing a gig at a long-running club in North London, when I noticed 3 people in the front row casually chatting away, so I leant over and said, “You don’t have a remote control. This is real. This is actually happening right now”! By the way, this didn’t happen in the middle of my set, it happened at the beginning as I was introducing myself. Being the sort of person who can be a little on the confrontational side, I felt compelled to challenge these people. They were at a live event and not sitting at home in front of the telly. There are conventions.

Dark murmurings about stand-up comedy’s imminent demise aren’t new. This article from The Daily Telegraph in 2002 says,

To have to cancel one gig may be regarded as a misfortune; to have to scrap an entire summer season looks catastrophic. But that’s exactly what Nigel Klarfeld has been forced to do with his 200-seater club, Bound and Gagged, in Palmer’s Green, northLondon. “Normally we’d keep running through the summer, but attendances have been dropping so much that there was no point going on,” he explains. “I’m not alone. A lot of clubs are suffering, with numbers down across the board by between 30 and 40 per cent.”

And

Don Ward, who runs the Comedy Store, says: “Stand-up comedy has peaked. It’s all going to go very quiet. A lot of clubs will shut.”For someone of Ward’s status to be openly worrying about stand-up’s demise is almost unthinkable. What he helped to bring over from the States with co-founder Peter Rosengard – a cheap, egalitarian form of entertainment that required only a stage, a microphone and an individual with the guts to try and make people laugh – has looked like a growth industry for so long, the idea that it could ever fall from grace sounds preposterous.

That was 10 years ago. Little, it seems, has changed. Clubs have come and gone but then, they’ve always come and gone. There are plenty of hacks cluttering up the bills but then, there have always been hacks on the circuit. So why the anxiety? Well, the live scene is regarded by many punters as an adjunct of television. “Is he on telly”? some will ask, while the promoters, looking to put bums on seats, may only book those acts who have been on television and have some DVDs to flog after the show. It’s all about profile. And yes, television has played its part in transforming stand-up comedy, in particular, into another commodity form to be sold alongside package holidays and insurance policies.

We can trace much of this back to the mid-1980s and the popularity of Saturday Live. I can remember posters advertizing gigs, with a strap reading, “As seen on TV” beneath the name of the headline act. It was a way of getting bums on seats. But I also remember the circuit suddenly being flooded with stand-up comedians, all of them observational and all of them with little or nothing to say for themselves. These comedians displaced the speciality or spesh acts. I mean, when was the last time you saw a juggler at a comedy club?  You haven’t because comedy clubs never feature jugglers or poets… or fire-eaters, or … you see what I mean.

In November 1989, Time Out’s Malcolm Hay, noticed how safe the cabaret circuit was becoming. He asked,

 “Where did all the odd acts go? In the early days of alternative comedy, we’re told, the stand ups would rub shoulders with a rag bag army of eccentric acts and assorted crazies. We live in a more professional (that is to say, more tedious) times. Many comedians are so busy being funny that they fail to convey much sense of joy – or any sense of danger. Very few comics allow themselves to be silly”. (1005: 71)

The article also mentions Chris Luby, an eccentric sound impressionist, Randolph the Remarkable, a silly ‘stuntman’ and oddball musical act, The Amazing Mr. Smith.  Luby continued to perform into the 1990s but his appearances on the circuit were often limited to Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel Club and later Up the Creek in Greenwich. The Amazing Mr. Smith still performs and Randolph was last heard performing at Covent Garden.

A month later, Janet Prince of East Dulwich Cabaret said,

“The cabaret circuit has developed into a high professional standard. But it’s now verging on a conveyor belt style of comedy. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was more room for acts to relax and for more experimentation”? (1009/10: 77)

In the same article, Pete Harris of Screaming Blue Murder said, “Audiences have become more demanding and acts have become safer, less experimental” (1009/10: 77).  The dark clouds of commercialism were looming and there was nothing anyone could really do to stop them. But was it possible to resist the forces of commercialism? Well, no, not really. After the success of the Saturday/Friday Night Live, the machinery of the cultural industries began to work overtime to accommodate the new comedy. Once these industries have appropriated something, they will dilute it, repackage and promote it relentlessly.

When Vic Reeves appeared on the circuit in the mid-1980s, it was only a matter of time before television producers snapped him and his Big Night Out up. Reeves and Mortimer were a godsend to television because their style appeared to hark back to a lost era and, in our postmodern age, nostalgia is a highly fetishized commodity form.  The Reeves/ Mortimer schtick was an affectionate pastiche of old variety that had been immersed in the absurdism of The Goon Show (but without the democracy between its participants). It was ideal. It appeared to have no politics. More importantly, it was seen as a rejection of ‘political correctness’.

The watershed moment came when Jo Brand appeared on Question Time in 1998. After that, television ran rampant with stand-up shows. It could be argued that producers had finally understood what stand-up comedy was about and had worked out how to shoot it. It was now presentable;  just cut away to the audience laughing even though they aren’t laughing and it works as good as canned laughter.  The audience at home will never know the difference. Laughter is community-forming after all!

Television and radio aren’t interested in danger or experimentation. The media never leads, it always follows. It can do nothing else. Safety guarantees advertizing revenue and that translates into bonuses for the executives and dividends for the shareholders. The live circuit, in its turn, feeds off the power of the media exposure of its headline acts and in the years since Saturday Live, many promoters have responded by giving the audience something that they think the punters will want.

But all is not lost! There is something happening outside the mainstream. Variety is making a comeback through the likes of Martin and Vivienne Soan’s Pull the Other One Cabaret, for example. I will be opening my own venue at The Tramshed in Woolwich this autumn (fingers crossed). This venture is the offspring of my Cake Shop Cabaret clubs that ran intermittently from 2005 to 2008. The club was the victim of myopic pub managers – but that’s a subject for another blog.

There is also a small but lively independent comedy movement that aims to exist separate to what is now the mainstream.  While the Edinburgh Fringe is dominated by the big agencies: Avalon, Off the Kerb and others , there is a Free Fringe that exists alongside its massive commercial (and, ultimately, safe) cousin.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The alternative cabaret circuit was male, middle class and mainly white. Most of the acts were in their twenties and some had been to Oxbridge. So much for rebellion.

I hate to leave this article on a low note but I understand Michael MacIntyre is doing an unfinished show at the  Edinburgh Playhouse. Tickets are £31 a pop.  It’s supposed to be a fringe festival.  Doesn’t he have enough exposure already? He plays fucking stadia for crying out loud! He’s like…he’s like a ringer playing for a Sunday league football side!

References

Bergson, H. (1999). Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. Los Angeles: Green Integer

Hay, M (1989) Time Out, Issue 1005

Hay, M (1989) Time Out, Issue 1009/10

11 Comments

Filed under Comedy, humour, Society & culture, television