Can rightwingers be funny?

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Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015. S. Alexander Gilmour under a Creative Commons Licence

Let’s kill the headline stone dead before we start. The answer is yes. Check out, for example, one of the sell-outs at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ‘Conswervative’, a stand-up comedy show by self-confessed rightwinger Geoff Norcott. Now, I haven’t seen the show (it’s not a boycott, I promise, I just haven’t had the chance), but the write-ups have been good and I can vouch for Geoff, having gigged with him a few times back when I was pursuing my dream of being a lower-division pub comedian. Plus, we’re Facebook friends, which practically makes us family. So, if you want proof that someone can be lovely and funny and wrong all at the same time, Geoff is your man.

However, much of the press for Geoff’s show presents the idea that being a rightwinger in comedy somehow makes you a plucky outsider, a laissez-faire Daniel in the liberal lions’ den of comedy. But it doesn’t. Admittedly, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the epicentre of stereotypical, right-on liberalism: imagine a city taken over by people who think not having lactose-free, organic Eritrean breast milk on your muesli in the mornings makes you some kind of lumpen scum. But the idea that the comedy industry, or even the Edinburgh Festival, is leftwing is about as believable as a Donald Trump election pledge. Like many rightwing commenters, Geoff is, I think, railing against an establishment that isn’t there.

On the surface, comedy – and the Fringe in particular – appears to be the apogee of arty-farty liberalism but, backstage, good old-fashioned capitalism is still pulling the strings. Many performers haemorrhage thousands of pounds every year in deals with one of a handful of promoters offering terms that make it almost impossible to break even, no matter how successful their show. And trust me, a suite of commedia dell’arte one-man mime performances based around Shakespeare’s male pattern baldness doesn’t need any help losing money.

More generally, wages for live comedy have stagnated or declined over the last decade and are often paid late or not at all. And as any medical or comedy professional will tell you, the funny bone is directly connected to the wallet. The worse you treat performers, the worse the art you get.

Discrimination against female comedians is rife, too. Indeed, it would appear that if, as claimed by some, political correctness at the top of the comedy industry has ‘gone mad’, then it has been strapped down and heavily sedated.

Things got so bad last year that a group of stand-ups actually decided to do something about it (aside from take the piss) and founded the UK Comedy Guild. They also gained recognition from the actors’ union for the first time in its 85-year history. This achievement is not to be under-estimated: getting 500-odd self-absorbed professional egomaniacs to act collectively is a tall order.

I’m looking forward to catching Geoff Norcott’s show on tour, and am sure I will laugh a lot and will try my best not to heckle. But if you want an establishment to fight against, don’t waste your time on the woolly, toothless liberals running arts festivals. Go for the real establishment – the scaly, sabre-toothed Conservatives running the world.

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