Andy Shaw asks Andrew Doyle, the co-writer of Jonathan Pie, some searching questions on satire and comedy.
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.
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© Andy Shaw, 8th June 2017