Anyone for right-wing comedy? Not for me, thanks.

Jim Davidson: the archetypal right-wing comedian.

Anyone who was listening to Radio 4’s Feedback on Sunday will have heard some listeners complaining about Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation. One listener complained that the show was a “party political broadcast for the Labour Party”. Another listener bemoaned the fact that there aren’t any right-wing comedians on Radio 4. Right wing comedians? Really? Do I really want to hear right-wing comedy on Radio 4 or anywhere else? Needless to say, the complaints weren’t so much about the show rather than an apparent left-wing bias in the station’s comedy content.

Readers, I have read complaints like these before on Telegraph blogs and on The Freedom Association’s (TFA) website. The issue isn’t so much comedy itself, but with what the Right perceives to be the BBC’s “cultural bias” and, in the absence of any salient examples,  they will often cite the employment of what it sees as “left-wing” comedians at the “licence payers expense”.

We have seen complaints such as these from the Right since the 1970s. The political fringe theatre companies that were funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain, for example, came under attack from Tories like Teddy Taylor, who singled out CAST for special treatment. CAST, it seems, upset him more than most. He said,

“It is an outrageous waste of money. I’d like all grants withdrawn from this theatre company and intend to make representations to the authorities”.

Taylor had an ally in fellow Tory, Norman Tebbit, who complained bitterly of left-wing radicals practising their subversive arts on the taxpayers’ farthing. Thanks to their efforts, the Thatcher government appointed William Rees-Mogg (father of Jacob) as Chairman of the Arts Council in 1983. Under his command, funding was withdrawn from CAST and many other left-wing theatre companies. Consequently, the majority of fringe theatre companies were forced to either fold or change. Ever resourceful, CAST revived the variety form first on their New Variety circuit and then a couple of years later at the Hackney Empire. But funding cuts to local government and the abolition of the Greater London Council would continue to threaten CAST’s and the Hackney Empire’s existence until the mid-1990s.

So what is right-wing comedy? If you have a knowledge of right-wing political ideologies, then you will more or less understand the themes and the butts of its humour. In the 1970s, we had  Granada Television’s The Comedians. Jim Davidson, unless I am very much mistaken, is a right-wing comedian and a supporter of the Conservative Party. Davidson used to work for the BBC fronting such programmes as Big Break and The Generation Game. To the best of my knowledge, he has never graced the Radio 4 studios. Just as well, really.

Commissioning editor, Caroline Raphael defended Jeremy Hardy and reminded the complainants that satire can only work if it attacks those in power. This is axiomatic of political satire, but in the mind of the Right such self-evidence is met with derision. Why would anyone want to challenge the powerful? Aren’t they superior because of their social position and circumstances of birth? Although, they may not speak these words aloud, the underlying social Darwinian sentiment is there.

If left-wing comedy (well, political satire) attacks those in power, then right-wing comedy attacks those without power. It regards ethnic minorities, women, gays, lesbians, trans people, the homeless, the working class, drug addicts and others as objects of ridicule. It does not speak to power because it is power. In the master-slave relationship, it is the master. It presents life as a series of banal and insulting representations. It denies history because it seeks to create mythologies in its place. It is a sad day, indeed, when comedians like Jimmy Carr are described as “left-wing” by right-wing commentators.

The truth of the matter is that there are right-wing comedians, but their politics may not be evident in their comedy. Those who sit on the political Right are more likely to come across as ‘apolitical’ and play for the troops in the Falklands or Afghanistan. Judge them not by their words, but by their actions.

One of the complainants opined that “the BBC is a non-political organisation and yet it is paying for broadcasting what appeared to be a party political broadcast for the Communist Party”.  First of all, the BBC is not a “non-political organisation” and this is evident in it news coverage, which displays a right-wing bias. Secondly, those who complain that Hardy’s show was a “political broadcast for the Communist Party” ignore two things: 1) the Communist Party does not and has never made political broadcasts for the BBC and 2) Hardy is not a member of the Communist Party. But then, this is how the Right regards anything that doesn’t conform to their views. Even the Labour Party is “Communist” in their eyes.

But if right-wing comedy is like anything else that they’ve produced (think of nationalist poetry), then it’s bound to be pretty poor. I think it was Hemingway, who when asked if he preferred right-wing poetry to left-wing poetry, replied by saying right-wing poetry was “boring”. Right-wing comedy is bound to be, not only boring, but abusive as well.

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11 Comments

Filed under allegations of bias, BBC, Media, Tory press

11 responses to “Anyone for right-wing comedy? Not for me, thanks.

  1. Well said, ma man!!

    Great wee piece

  2. “The truth of the matter is that there are right-wing comedians, but their politics may not be evident in their comedy. Those who sit on the political Right are more likely to come across as ‘apolitical’ and play for the troops in the Falklands or Afghanistan. Judge them not by their words, but by their actions.”

    Now that is asking for debate, I reckon!!

    I know many who go and entertain the troops, and yet would still consider themselves “to the left” … as would their bank managers – LMAO

    • Sure. I wasn’t feeling particularly charitable. Personally, I wouldn’t entertain the troop because I oppose war. That’s my personal position. When I think of comedians playing for the troops I’m reminded of Bob Hope and his work for the USO. I also think of the USO scene in ‘Apocalypse Now’. Funny that.

  3. Right wing comedy doesn’t have to attack those without power. It can come from a deep faith in the power and potential of the individual, therefore it could manifest in a routine showing suspicions about learning conditions as labels which hinder rather than help children in the long run.
    You’ve shown a very narrow view. You’ve also presumed all the comics on ‘The Comedians’ were right wing. Given their predominantly working class and often northern roots, i’d be surprised if this were the case politically speaking.
    I did a show last year about why I’m voting conservative and why I support certain military intervention. I didn’t abuse anyone.

    • Being working class and Northern doesn’t necessarily equate with being left-wing. Manning was deeply conservative, so were Stan Boardman and Charlie Williams.

      You’ve alluded to a particular kind of individualism: one that presupposes any kind of collectivism is inherently evil, destructive or ‘left-wing’. But what do you mean by being supportive of “certain military action”? Support for military adventurism is right-wing as is glorification of the military.

      The Right wants things to either stay as they are or return to an imagined past. The comics on The Comedians refused, by and large, to recognise that getting laughs from negative ethnic and cultural stereotypes was old hat.In that sense, they were both conservative and reactionary.

      • Why are you painting with such broad brush strokes?
        Why are you taking so many of your examples from a long defunct TV programme?
        I didn’t say collectivism was inherently evil at all. Just that it ‘can’ be misguided. I’m sure always with good motives.
        I didn’t say I glorify the military either, just that I’m not instinctively opposed to all military intervention.
        The right wants thing to stay as they are? I guess that’s why large parts of the Tory cabinet supported gay marriage.
        Are you honestly saying the left aren’t motivated by a misty eyed view of the past too?
        I’m just saying there are shades and nuances everywhere. You appear unwilling to acknowledge any whatsoever.
        Maybe the comedians with right leanings who aren’t obviously evil fly under your radar because it’s not what you’re looking for to validate your view.
        Have a listen to Simon Evans, Liam Mullone, Sean Collins etc and tell me if you think they are kicking down on minorities.
        Dismissive views of minorities is one strand of a certain kind of right wing thinker. That’s all.

      • Hilarious. I have a sense of history. How about you? You’re taking this all rather personally, don’t you think?

        I didn’t say collectivism was inherently evil at all. Just that it ‘can’ be misguided. I’m sure always with good motives.

        “Misguided”? Don’t you think our society (the one that Thatcher denied existed) is atomised enough? Again, you’re taking this too personally. I know you see yourself as an individualist, but this isn’t all about you.

        I didn’t say I glorify the military either, just that I’m not instinctively opposed to all military intervention.

        I never said that you personally glorified the military. Here, you need to critically engage with history. Franco? Pinochet?

        The right wants thing to stay as they are? I guess that’s why large parts of the Tory cabinet supported gay marriage.

        Most Tories voted against equal marriage. Check the voting records.

        Are you honestly saying the left aren’t motivated by a misty eyed view of the past too?

        Personally, I’m not, read my article titled “Culture for the Future”. It is possible to find romantics on the Left but I’m not one of them.

        I’m just saying there are shades and nuances everywhere. You appear unwilling to acknowledge any whatsoever.

        You’re rattled.

        Have a listen to Simon Evans, Liam Mullone, Sean Collins etc and tell me if you think they are kicking down on minorities.

        I have. Evans mocks the Welsh and Mullone rails against ‘Elf and safety’. Mullone is a right libertarian who regards all regulation as bad. The Health and Safety Act was a positive thing that the Tories want to roll back (like human rights legislation). Tell me, do you think it right and proper for people to work in dangerous and unsanitary conditions? As for Collins, I don’t know him.

        Dismissive views of minorities is one strand of a certain kind of right wing thinker. That’s all.

        You should visit one of the few working men’s clubs left in the country. As for “thinking” there isn’t any. It’s knee jerk reaction.

        By the way, the stand-ups on The Comedians were, by and large, from petite bourgeois backgrounds. Now don’t tell me that class doesn’t exist, because it does.

      • I’m not taking it personally, though I do have an ongoing aversion to the pantomimic demonisation of the right as one cohesive view. I think it’s obstructive to genuine debate.
        As for the other points I honestly can’t be arsed to respond to all the reductive way you’ve responded. I specifically referred to the Tory cabinet for a reason. I’m aware of the ‘records’. Doesn’t change the fact the measure was tabled under a Tory Led coalition.
        The moment you said, ‘You’re rattled’ I could see how you are viewing this discussion.
        It’s not like we’re going to end up agreeing on any level is it.
        These kind of online debates are just a vessel for people to trot out their pet viewpoints.
        Me included.
        Let’s leave it there.

      • I’m not taking it personally, though I do have an ongoing aversion to the pantomimic demonisation of the right as one cohesive view. I think it’s obstructive to genuine debate.

        I’d ask you to think reflexively on this but that’s not going to happen. Is it? I do find the phrase “pantomimic demonisation” rather melodramatic though. The subtext of this opening paragraph is “Why won’t you compromise”? It’s not a debate you’re after, you seek to claim that right-wing politics aren’t that bad, even when people have suffered as a consequence of those politics. As for right-wing libertarianism: it’s an oxymoron.

        I’m aware of the ‘records’. Doesn’t change the fact the measure was tabled under a Tory Led coalition.

        Irrelevant. The party’s grassroots were opposed and so too were the majority of the Parliamentary party. Tories have been leaving for UKIP precisely because of Cameron’s socially liberal views – especially so because of equal marriage.

        I’m not taking it personally, though I do have an ongoing aversion to the pantomimic demonisation of the right as one cohesive view. I think it’s obstructive to genuine debate.

        I’m opposed to the Right, why is that so hard for you to understand? I lived under Thatcher. I watched communities being destroyed and civil rights trampled over by her, her ministers and the police. Right-wing libertarianism appeals to the selfish. Have you ever read any books by Ayn Rand or Murray Rothbard? I have… unfortunately.

        The moment you said, ‘You’re rattled’ I could see how you are viewing this discussion.

        That’s right, if you’re finding concepts and ideas difficult, open the escape hatch.

        It’s not like we’re going to end up agreeing on any level is it.

        That’s the first thing you’ve typed that I agree with. Like it or not, our ideologies are opposed and there can be no reconciliation. It would be foolish to pursue this any further.

  4. TomH

    Never understood what all the fuss about wanting to work down a coal mine. There is nothing noble about it – only black lungs and consumption. I’d rather work in one of Thatcher’s call centres

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