Puns not points

In the last few years stand-up comedy has seen something of a resurgence, particularly on television. Not since The Comedians, the likes of which would give today’s left-wing brigade collective aneurisms, have comedians been showcased quite so prominently and prolifically.

There are three basic breeds of comedian: the middle-aged. middle-of-the-road, middle-of-the-Saturday-evening-BBC One-schedules set (Michael McIntyre, John Bishop) with perfectly polished teeth and performances to match. They’re more Marks and Spencer than Marks and Gran – quality assured but all a bit beige. Mind you, if that’s your thing you’re guaranteed a entertaining evening, made all the better with an enormous glass of pink milk (two straws) and a pack of Blue Ribands.

Then there’s the jeans and T-shirt laddish messy hair type (Russell Howard, Chris Ramsey). The career paths for these are often very similar: start off with a spot at the local comedy club, followed nowadays by a podcast (usually with someone they became friends with at University only to ditch them when they have served their useful purpose), then a plethora of panel shows providing an easy earner (the £500-a-pop hopefuls sat at the end of the 8 Out Of 10 Cats or Mock The Week desk, with the regulars barely breaking into a smirk at the newcomers’ “witty observations” as Des O’Connor awkwardly used to call them) without burning up too much material before moving onto larger theatres and the obligatory Christmas DVD or download. Following that there’d be their own stand up or sitcom on BBC Three, repeated ad infinitum between Top Gear repeats and episodes of How To Masturbate With Reggie Yates (apparently the first episode is called “Knowing When To Pause”).

You see these comedians on the telly and you know exactly what you’re going to get: they’re likeable and charming in their own way and will unfailingly deliver an hour and a bit of “hilarious things that happened to my brother” – the sort of stuff you’d hear on the local radio phone-in after the “wacky” breakfast show but with added masturbation gags that’s more rooted in the ribald rather than reality – smothered with lashings of mildly amusing bonhomie. Nothing laugh out loud, nothing world-changing, they’re not out to make a point, they’re just there to make you happy. Fine.

And then there’s the left-wing comedians. For convenience (and descriptive accuracy) let’s call them “Leftards”. They really do make me want to vomit. In the 1980s and 1990s you had Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle and Jeremy Hardy, not laughingly self-styled “alternative” “comedians” who inflicted their unsophisticated bile via Saturday Live upon impressionable kids who lapped it all up with the gratitude and ignorance of a dog drinking from a toilet.

In the Noughties and now we have Marks Steel, Thomas and Usbrigstocke, and Jeremy Hardy. Little has changed. Leftards always think they’re right – whether in comedy and politics – and everybody else are wrong, nasty, evil people. But, as with those on the Left in politics, Leftards aren’t as popular as they’d have you believe or wish to be. That’s why they usually occupy the sixth-form socialism at six-thirty slot on Radio 4, or write for common room communist rags like The Guardian. They’re never happier than when making a point, and their latest fetish is the anti-austerity “movement”. I, too, have just had a “movement” and couldn’t tell the difference.

The thing is, when making their points, they’re usually not borne out by much in the way of facts. Plus, their fans/supporters are usually so intellectually bereft the Leftards have to resort to the absurd or distasteful to get that much needed attention and to ram home their message.

Here’s Mark Steel writing about how wages are starting to rise, and with the deftness you’d expect, manages to be both absurd and distasteful in the same piece:

“it would be greedy to expect that after only four years of austerity and cuts, we can swan about in the carefree 24-hour party lifestyles enjoyed by our lucky grandparents in the Great Depression, but it doesn’t hurt to dream.

“Presumably, as we’ve all been in this together, this good fortune will be shared out equally. For example, the people who now rely on food banks could be said to have endured their share of austerity.

“So maybe next week their food bank will give them an extra pickled onion each, or a Cheesy Wotsit to share, providing more compelling evidence that George Osborne’s methods have worked.

“There’s even more good news, because it was also announced that the amount lost to corporate tax ­avoidance last year was down £2.5billion. That’s down £2.5billion to £18.8billion.

“It’s like if Oscar Pistorius said in his trial: ‘In my defence I shot three people the year before, so to get it down to one last year is a change that should be welcomed, m’lady.'”

Now aside from the absurd references to pickled onions and a maize-based cheese flavoured snack there are a couple of gems here, the stand-out one for me being the flippant use of the horrific murder of his wife by a South African paraplegic athlete shooting her four times in cold blood as a metaphor to measure the reduction in corporate tax avoidance. Had, say, Johnny Speight written about a disabled South African man who murdered his wife, whatever the context, for comic effect he’d have been vilified by every Leftard in the land. But maybe we live in enlightened times, and the audience should be credited for knowing what’s right and what’s wrong, a concept left-wingers, and particularly left-wing political parties have always failed to get hold of.

The other is the subject of corporate tax avoidance itself. Now, when the Marks and their buddy Owen Jones, 31, are enjoying their game of soggy biscuit at a food bank on the outskirts of Manchester while sharing naked videos of Spain’s Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias (and, just like when any left-wing political party scaremongers its way into power – Labour in the UK or Syriza in Greece – after a brief period of euphoria there’s the inevitable sticky mess for someone else to clean up) they might reflect on the fact that those nasty vicious evil corporate tax avoiding bastards who put their money into subsidiary companies in the Cayman Islands such as, er, thinking off the top of my head, the Guardian Media Group, who are paying Owen Jones, 31, his £30k a year to write about how terrible everything is.  His solution, in an article written for the New Statesman today in his role as it’s Lost Causes Editor, is for a resurgence of Social Democratic parties across Europe, which would be about as welcome as Daesh winning the contract for Channel Tunnel security, funded by selling body parts of anybody who isn’t part of Momentum.  You see?  You’ve got me at it now.

That’s the point about the Left. It’s riddled with hypocrites who’d enjoy nothing more than for everybody to have the same as everybody else. Except themselves.

Maybe the reason the lefties haven’t reached the heights of your McIntyres, Bishops, Howards or Ramseys is that they’ve hit the glass ceiling that socialism seeks to inflict on others. An allergy to aspiration. And it’s the same glass ceiling that sees the Leftards and left-wing political leaders only ever play to those who agree with them. The security of a faithful following with the certainty of never quite making it. For those devotees of The Guardian, The Independent, Radio 4 or Her Majesty’s Opposition, unless you look somewhere else for something better you will forever remain a captive audience.

Google caused my mid-life crisis

A year ago almost to the day I was browsing the Internet, looking for an excuse to explain a life of missed opportunities, when I stumbled upon a very interesting piece about ambition and confidence. My problem is that despite having oodles of the former it has just about always been stifled by a distinct lack of the latter, and that the balance between self-belief and can’t-be-arsedness has been constantly tipped in favour of underachievement. Even more thought-provoking as the article itself was, for me, it’s author. I immediately recognised his quite distinctive name as being the person three positions above me on our school register some 25 years ago. After some toe-dipping we exchanged a series of emails detailing each other’s life choices and career paths. He was and remains tremendously likeable and highly intelligent without a modicum of bombast. In terms of schooling, we started from the same point: both in the top set for maths and English, both got a raft of a-grade GCSEs, but then we diverged spectacularly. He, via sixth form and (Oxford) University, is now an Editor at The Economist whereas I, via IT support and starting an ill-fated small bus company which could be best described by a quote from Denis Norden (“it was a bit like making love in a hammock – an interesting experience but of uncertain duration”), am a bus driver in the Peak District.

My father was a coal miner and was made redundant in 1986. A hefty redundancy lump sum was soon whittled down by his partner who he met a year after my mother died in 1983. This meant that by the time I reached school leaving age in 1990, every penny counted, and so my desire to take the sixth form and university path came a tearful second to the need to go out and pay my way.

As it happens I’ve largely enjoyed the work I’ve done and running a bus company was something I’d wanted to do since having a toy box full of them, but now after hitting 40 and having spent almost a third of that time driving without any intellectual stimulus whatsoever for the same firm on the same routes and seeing the same people I’ve decided that much more of this will tip my current human-to-cabbage genome ratio so far that my veins will take on a distinct hue of chlorophyll and any phallic representation by means of a cucumber/courgette/gherkin (delete as appropriate) would take on a greater reality. It comes to something when one of my primary school teachers, Mrs de Chiro, quite by chance boarded my bus a couple of years ago and said with a look of genuine despair: “It’s such a shame, you were a very bright child, I thought you’d be doing something much better than this.”

Over the last year I’ve been Googling the rest of that school register. Contemporaries who messed around in class and showed little potential have gone on to great things: one is Head of Creativity at an advertising agency in Edinburgh, another is Executive Finance Director at an NHS trust. A football manager, Head of Business Development at a District Council and Engineers various. And here I am, stuck behind a wheel.

So what did they do that I didn’t? They followed that Economist guy down the sixth form and university route. Am I jealous? Definitely. Am I bitter? Slightly. Don’t get me wrong, where I currently earn my corn is a cracking place to work and I’ve had this conversation with my boss several times, but realistically nothing is going to change unless I put more weight on the self-belief side of the scales. I have to do what all my former classmates did and take a different path.

And so this is part of that. Finding a creative outlet, a whimsical whinge, call it what you will. But for the first time and every fortnight I can say these two words with sincerity:

Welcome aboard.