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July 24, 2024, 05:13:48 PM

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Is Stand-Up in the English-Speaking World Increasingly Conservative?

Started by tribalfusion, September 18, 2023, 07:03:48 PM

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tribalfusion

This idea, which would have seemed odd not all that long ago, has gained more currency in recent years in the United States, in particular, but also more than one might imagine in the rest of the English-speaking world. 

There are many ways to interpret 'conservative' certainly, so feel free to discuss that. In any case, it's a question that I find intriguing and disturbing as well. 

Some of you may recall a thread I started a while back about left-wing comedians as well. It was noteworthy that virtually all the suggestions for left-wing comedians were of veterans that had been around for quite some time. Almost no one mentioned any avowedly left-wing comedians who had emerged in the past 5 or even 10 years.

Among other things, in the UK, I think the tepid political characteristics (I'm being generous) of the comedy scene, were highlighted by the various responses (and lack thereof in many cases) to the Corbyn slander campaign, with very few noteworthy exceptions like Alexei Sayle and Josie Long. Even CAB favorite James Acaster said some rather obtuse things politically during that period of time, to say nothing of some of the other liberal stalwarts.

More generally, people like Russell Brand, Louis CK and Dave Chappelle have become various shades of putrid, and they are not alone of course.

Of course, many comedians are 'socially liberal', as the saying goes, however that's very thin gruel and I wonder about some general tendencies in the stand-up world moving forward.








 

Pink Gregory

I think the assumption that comedians are by and large left wing is a hangover from alternative comedy that hasn't represented reality for a long time.  As always people are motivated by their material conditions and as success in comedy becomes more and more of a competition it probably engenders a certain type of individualism, but then it always has.

Also I guess because social media is so entwined with promotion we know a lot more about performer's personal politics in sincerity, compared to how they present their on stage persona.  This ties in to the Hicks/Carlin axis of 'comedian as fearless truth teller' that is hopefully on the way out.

Sebastian Cobb

Quote from: Pink Gregory on September 18, 2023, 07:15:59 PMI think the assumption that comedians are by and large left wing is a hangover from alternative comedy that hasn't represented reality for a long time.  As always people are motivated by their material conditions and as success in comedy becomes more and more of a competition it probably engenders a certain type of individualism, but then it always has.

Also I guess because social media is so entwined with promotion we know a lot more about performer's personal politics in sincerity, compared to how they present their on stage persona.  This ties in to the Hicks/Carlin axis of 'comedian as fearless truth teller' that is hopefully on the way out.


There's this on the comedian side but also the way comedy is made has changed a bit, and been shored up by a handful of production/management teams who mostly make panel content.

Pink Gregory

I can't speak to circuit standup or Fringe standup but I don't think people are that concerned about their personal politics other than as talking points.  Not many people hitching their wagon to *ndrew D*yl* without having a personal axe to grind either.

30 years of a consensus that you've never known the alternative to, as a generational trend.

tribalfusion

Quote from: Pink Gregory on September 18, 2023, 07:15:59 PMI think the assumption that comedians are by and large left wing is a hangover from alternative comedy that hasn't represented reality for a long time.  As always people are motivated by their material conditions and as success in comedy becomes more and more of a competition it probably engenders a certain type of individualism, but then it always has.

Also I guess because social media is so entwined with promotion we know a lot more about performer's personal politics in sincerity, compared to how they present their on stage persona.  This ties in to the Hicks/Carlin axis of 'comedian as fearless truth teller' that is hopefully on the way out.



I think there is something to the mythologizing of the 'truth teller' in comedy who is often simply reflexively contrarian in the service of his own shtick but to be fair to both Hicks and Carlin, they took openly left positions with some regularity in a time when there were fewer openings for them to do so in professional terms and Hicks in particular suffered consequences for that.

As for material conditions being the driver, that would have been true for them or people like Alexei Sayle and Mark Thomas as well. There is some room for play where the ideological autonomy of creatives or intellectuals is concerned, otherwise we'd only get rather predictable direct reproductions of ruling class ideology.

To be fair, we do get a lot of that as well and always did but the development of the intellectual-ish liberal Corbyn bashing comic for example and the 'cancelled' multi-millionaire comic seems a bit different.



tribalfusion

Quote from: Sebastian Cobb on September 18, 2023, 07:21:38 PMThere's this on the comedian side but also the way comedy is made has changed a bit, and been shored up by a handful of production/management teams who mostly make panel content.


I think the more general point would be that the 'professionalization' of comedy has conservative political implications as well, as it does in almost any arena.




 

tribalfusion

Quote from: Pink Gregory on September 18, 2023, 07:25:18 PM30 years of a consensus that you've never known the alternative to, as a generational trend.

I'm curious to know more about what you have in mind here, if you don't mind fleshing it out a bit.

Pink Gregory

Quote from: tribalfusion on September 18, 2023, 07:32:06 PMI'm curious to know more about what you have in mind here, if you don't mind fleshing it out a bit.

Well I would say the majority of working comedians now don't remember a time before Thatcherite/Neoliberal economic consensus, if nothing ever changes there from the day you become aware of the world, you might be inclined to accept that that's simply how the world works and you start looking elsewhere.

Sebastian Cobb

Quote from: tribalfusion on September 18, 2023, 07:30:01 PMI think the more general point would be that the 'professionalization' of comedy has conservative political implications as well, as it does in almost any arena.


It's probably a chicken/egg thing, but you've got to ask yourselves who comedians are professionalising for.

From the last discussions about Channel 4 being flogged off:
QuoteDiscovery's controlling shareholder, John Malone, via Liberty Global owns the largest stake in ITV, half of Virgin Media as well as Discovery being one of the investors in GB News. Sky is owned by NBC Universal & Channel 5 by Viacom.
Do any of these companies look like they have any interest in doing anything that would be biting to the establishment?

tribalfusion

Quote from: Pink Gregory on September 18, 2023, 07:41:12 PMWell I would say the majority of working comedians now don't remember a time before Thatcherite/Neoliberal economic consensus, if nothing ever changes there from the day you become aware of the world, you might be inclined to accept that that's simply how the world works and you start looking elsewhere.



Right. Do you suppose though that this would be more the case in 2017 after Occupy, Sanders, Corbyn and Momentum, a revitalized DSA in the US etc. than it was in 1995 when there were mostly tiny left groups known mostly to very specialized academics and activists?

Or do you think that those older comedians simply had more contact with some sort of more thoroughgoing left critique or movement from before the dead zone, and it carried over in their own heads?

Milo

I don't know enough about newer comedians to really say but I can see there being a bit of a chilling effect among younger and less established comedians caused by the mass pile-on you can get if you talk about certain things. I can imagine the terror involved in, say, The Daily Mail noticing you in the wrong way.

tribalfusion

Quote from: Sebastian Cobb on September 18, 2023, 07:41:26 PMFrom the last discussions about Channel 4 being flogged off:Do any of these companies look like they have any interest in doing anything that would be biting to the establishment?

We both agree that the parent companies generally have no interest in what we're discussing, but we could say similar sorts of things about this and the work that various left-wing filmmakers have done in spite everything when they cared enough to push for it (Elio Petri, Costa Gavras, Ken Loach, John Sayles among others) and even some comics here and there throughout history as well.


What is under discussion here though is, is there a different kind of shift at work in comedy in recent years (I think there is) and what factors are causing it?

Professionalization certainly doesn't seem like it would help, but I'm not convinced it explains the extent of the wasteland.




Pink Gregory

Quote from: tribalfusion on September 18, 2023, 07:48:05 PMOr do you think that those older comedians simply had more contact with some sort of more thoroughgoing left critique or movement from before the dead zone, and it carried over in their own heads?

Maybe, but I think they maybe would have been getting that from e.g. Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton being influential and breaking out into TV.

Then again far more people then who went on to be successful performers had dabblings in early student radicalism and left societies/orgs.

Steve Faeces

I've seen Tom Mayhew a couple of times and both times been struck that he's probably the only newish comedian I've really seen consistently talk about and be funny about class. I suppose in some way reflective of the background of a lot of standups that more don't.

Sebastian Cobb

Quote from: tribalfusion on September 18, 2023, 08:00:18 PMWe both agree that the parent companies generally have no interest in what we're discussing, but we could say similar sorts of things about this and the work that various left-wing filmmakers have done in spite everything when they cared enough to push for it (Elio Petri, Costa Gavras, Ken Loach, John Sayles among others) and even some comics here and there throughout history as well.


I think you'd find a lot of those people might struggle today, Loach is going but he does own Sixteen Films himself, but then he got blacklisted for about a decade for making several unbroadcast films about unions colluding with business owners.

But cinema is mostly homogenised and unchallening as well now, it was a lot easier to make films in Sayles' day for instance, there's some big names who have been considered reliable who struggle for backing now and they're not even subversive.

tribalfusion

Quote from: Pink Gregory on September 18, 2023, 08:00:20 PMMaybe, but I think they maybe would have been getting that from e.g. Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton being influential and breaking out into TV.

Then again far more people then who went on to be successful performers had dabblings in early student radicalism and left societies/orgs.


Well, Stewart Lee has suggested that a good deal of increased social stratification in the arts in the UK comes down to the rising cost of living, particularly in London, and less government financial support available to those not of independent means and so on.

That seems plausible enough as a factor as well in the UK case to me.

I want to make sure I'm following your point about left orgs in the past in the UK. Wouldn't the Corbyn years have been the first time in a long time that mass numbers of people in the UK would have had relatively easy access to a worldview connected to something other than business as usual?

I would expect that to produce some comedic results as well, wouldn't you? Even in the US, comics who rode to some extent the Occupy, DSA and Bernie wave come to mind in spite of everything and some of them are a good deal more radical than the older comics, even the leftmost among them.





Pink Gregory

Quote from: Steve Faeces on September 18, 2023, 08:03:35 PMI've seen Tom Mayhew a couple of times and both times been struck that he's probably the only newish comedian I've really seen consistently talk about and be funny about class. I suppose in some way reflective of the background of a lot of standups that more don't.

A lot of material about class is class-as-identity, mined for jokes, I think.

tribalfusion

Quote from: Sebastian Cobb on September 18, 2023, 08:06:38 PMI think you'd find a lot of those people might struggle today, Loach is going but he does own Sixteen Films himself, but then he got blacklisted for about a decade for making several unbroadcast films about unions colluding with business owners.

But cinema is mostly homogenised and unchallening as well now, it was a lot easier to make films in Sayles' day for instance, there's some big names who have been considered reliable who struggle for backing now and they're not even subversive.


I would agree it's more difficult today in many ways, but I can still come up with younger names as well in film, even in the US. For example, Ramin Bahrani, Kelly Reichardt, Shaka King and Boots Riley have all made challenging films with political implications and statements.

I do think it's actually harder to come up with a similar list for the UK after the 2 titans of Loach and Lee. I suppose I'd mention Clio Barnard and Andrea Arnold to some extent if pressed for younger names.

But again, film is notoriously difficult to finance and is a somewhat industrial activity as compared to stand-up.

The fact that I can come up with more radical film, even in recent years, than I can stand up, in spite of the more difficult financial arrangements for cinema, makes me wonder about stand up. 

tribalfusion

Quote from: Steve Faeces on September 18, 2023, 08:03:35 PMI've seen Tom Mayhew a couple of times and both times been struck that he's probably the only newish comedian I've really seen consistently talk about and be funny about class. I suppose in some way reflective of the background of a lot of standups that more don't.


I think Mayhew deserves a mention as one of the younger UK comics who is different in this regard, even if the bits I have seen seem a bit less politically biting than they are poignant personal reflections, though obviously the 2 things are related.

I would think he doesn't come across as being all that overtly left-wing, for example, in the way that Mark Thomas or Sayle did.

Trying to keep it to people 40ish and under, there's also Josie Long whom I mentioned already, and I think Chris Tavner, Don Biswas and Matthew Alford deserve some attention in this context as well.






13 schoolyards

In recent decades the opportunities for people from less well-off backgrounds to get involved with the arts have decreased fairly severely. if you don't already have money or come from money, you're probably going to have to get a real job and focus on that to pay the bills, rather than being able to spend years honing your stand up skills at open mic gigs and other badly paid venues.

If the only people who can afford to get into a low-paying and precarious industry like professional comedy are those who are coming from a background where the system has worked pretty well, you're probably less likely to get stand-ups asking questions about whether the system actually does work

sevendaughters

I can't really think of any actual left wing comedians of the recent crop. Many right-on ACAB end prisons sex positive liberal comedians, sure, but ones talking about reorganising the state or making Sayles-esque references to Palmiro Togliatti are thin on the ground. Most are 'apolitical', some are centre-right.

dissolute ocelot

I'm not sure how genuinely left-wing even 80s alternative comedy was, except in underlying assumptions (the thing about not being racist or sexist). The current underlying assumptions are generally still liberal.

There definitely is a focus on stuff about everyday life, what could loosely be called observational stuff, about dating and work and family and similar topics, in younger comics. And a few whose main focus is well-crafted gags and endless callbacks, almost regardless of topic. I've been to a few queer comedy/cabaret nights lately, and it's pretty standard to see e.g. a queer Asian woman comic do a set and not really mention politics, focusing on stuff about dating and relationships. And that's a kind of political message too. But I guess if you're queer and exploring your identity, you want to talk about that rather than Liz Truss.

On the other hand, I am hearing a lot of jokes about landlords. So that's kind of progressive?

MoreauVasz

I remember Lee saying about 10 years ago that there was a divide in stand-up: You had the outsiders who worked to develop their own sensibilities, put out personal material and did gigs at art centres.

Then you had the people who put on suits, did gigs at Jongleurs, met the public where they were, and worked every angle until they got a chance to become TV presenters at which point they binned thd stand-up completely.

So much of TV comedy can be understood in terms of that first set of comics never getting a look in and only the Jongleurs people getting a shot at TV.

Of course, this is 10 years ago and things have moved on... The blokes in suits doing edgelord one-liners are no longer blokes in suits but also Asian women doing jokes about overbearing parents because the landscape is more diverse but you can only be diverse in a certain number of Ways.

Terry Torpid

I've never been entirely convinced by the the myth that comedians as a whole are outsiders, underdogs, renegades tweaking the nose of their betters etc. I reckon a lot of the big names, far from being lovable losers on the bottom rung like they want us to believe, were probably more likely the popular show-offs and bullies at school, and it's mostly about punching down.

Politically, they're probably superficially on the left like most entertainment figures, in a social way, not an economic way. They'd jump at the chance to do corporate gigs for bankers or arms manufacturers if the price is right.

tribalfusion

Quote from: 13 schoolyards on September 19, 2023, 08:28:50 AMIn recent decades the opportunities for people from less well-off backgrounds to get involved with the arts have decreased fairly severely. if you don't already have money or come from money, you're probably going to have to get a real job and focus on that to pay the bills, rather than being able to spend years honing your stand up skills at open mic gigs and other badly paid venues.

If the only people who can afford to get into a low-paying and precarious industry like professional comedy are those who are coming from a background where the system has worked pretty well, you're probably less likely to get stand-ups asking questions about whether the system actually does work


This is a fair point and one I mentioned above (Stewart Lee has discussed this explicitly as well).

It seems to me that perhaps there's something more than this going on, however.

Stand-up comedy is still one of the arts with the lowest barriers to entry as compared to cinema, for example.

tribalfusion

Quote from: Terry Torpid on September 19, 2023, 12:07:58 PMI've never been entirely convinced by the the myth that comedians as a whole are outsiders, underdogs, renegades tweaking the nose of their betters etc. I reckon a lot of the big names, far from being lovable losers on the bottom rung like they want us to believe, were probably more likely the popular show-offs and bullies at school, and it's mostly about punching down.

Politically, they're probably superficially on the left like most entertainment figures, in a social way, not an economic way. They'd jump at the chance to do corporate gigs for bankers or arms manufacturers if the price is right.


I don't buy that myth either, for what it's worth, but there's still something to an art form with very low barriers to entry in the way of materials and training as compared to cinema and many others.

However, there's a pretty big drop off from Carlin to Chappelle, for example, in terms of people widely considered to be leaders of American comedy. I'm not only talking about the commanding heights of the profession, though.

Some of what you reference probably becomes more of an issue the more professionalized and routinized comedy becomes, and is seen as a standard tool in modern public relations.

Perhaps more importantly, there's some difference in terms of the economic nature of the comic as a touring artist in arenas and with even bigger contracts than was the case previously for specials delivered to streaming platforms.



tribalfusion

Quote from: MoreauVasz on September 19, 2023, 10:19:29 AMI remember Lee saying about 10 years ago that there was a divide in stand-up: You had the outsiders who worked to develop their own sensibilities, put out personal material and did gigs at art centres.

Then you had the people who put on suits, did gigs at Jongleurs, met the public where they were, and worked every angle until they got a chance to become TV presenters at which point they binned thd stand-up completely.

So much of TV comedy can be understood in terms of that first set of comics never getting a look in and only the Jongleurs people getting a shot at TV.

Of course, this is 10 years ago and things have moved on... The blokes in suits doing edgelord one-liners are no longer blokes in suits but also Asian women doing jokes about overbearing parents because the landscape is more diverse but you can only be diverse in a certain number of Ways.


Yes, I referenced Lee earlier in the thread, and he has been saying this for even longer than 10 years, actually.

When it comes to diversity, while it's a related topic, there's a very important difference between changing the appearence of those running the show and questioning the very basis for that domination in the first place.

Much of what we reference as diversity is perfectly compatible with the same political economy, just with a face-lift, and that's a lot of what comes through in comedy as well.

I often think of investment banker turned comedian Sindhu Vee in the UK context.

13 schoolyards

I don't know about in the UK, but I've read a few people saying that in the US stand-up is suffering from the "if one nazi sits down at a table with nine people and nobody gets up, it's now a table with ten nazis" syndrome - so many of the big names now (especially with podcasting) are openly right wing to some extent or another that the whole industry now tilts that way because they're the ones offering opportunities to those underneath.

Generally speaking, people want to work with and surround themselves with people who think like them. If the people with the power want to promote and help out people with right-wing views, that's going to exert a fair amount of influence on the direction things go

Pink Gregory

Quote from: tribalfusion on September 19, 2023, 03:18:48 PMI often think of investment banker turned comedian Sindhu Vee in the UK context.


Or indeed Alastair Campbell's daughter.

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