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PATRICK O'FLYNN

Why must comedians like Nish Kumar and Jo Brand be anti-Tory and anti-Brexit to get ‘approved’ by BBC?

WHEN I was interviewed a long time ago for admission to one of our ancient universities, a don used the phrase “the maintained sector” to describe my educational background.

He meant I was a state-school lad and I suppose his implication was that independent schools were somehow more free-thinking and more reliable bastions of excellence.

 BBC-approved comedian Nish Kumar was booed off stage when he tried his anti-Brexit material in a non BBC-approved audience
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BBC-approved comedian Nish Kumar was booed off stage when he tried his anti-Brexit material in a non BBC-approved audienceCredit: handout

At the time, I could only see the other side of that particular argument.

But the phrase has come to mind again in a different context.

The disastrous reception given to comedian Nish Kumar at the Lord’s Taverners festive lunch on Tuesday is a sign the maintained sector of British comedy has fallen victim to lazy groupthink and general mediocrity.

Kumar, who was booed offstage by his mainly provincial, “small c” conservative audience — albeit at a swanky London venue — made the mistake of rolling out the usual anti-Brexit, anti-Tory observations lapped up by the live audiences of his BBC show The Mash Report.

He got a bread roll thrown at his head for his trouble.

I am sure Kumar is not entirely without talent. Clearly it takes courage to stand before an audience charged with being funny enough to quieten the clink of cutlery.

But let’s be frank. He is simply another BBC comedian with acceptable views.

BBC-approved comedians dominate the maintained sector of British comedy.

APPROVING TITTERS

Auntie is the superpower of sponsored satire, scattering munificence in the direction of any up-and-coming talent with a neat line in attacking approved targets: The patriarchy, Brexit, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Tories, country-sports enthusiasts, royalists and Priti Patel. You get the picture.

Of course, not all comedians rely on such sketches. But those that don’t often pay the price.

 Nish Kumar even got whacked in the head with a bread roll at the Lord’s Taverners festive lunch
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Nish Kumar even got whacked in the head with a bread roll at the Lord’s Taverners festive lunchCredit: Twitter / JonCAustin
 Clearly it takes courage to stand before an audience charged with being funny enough to quieten the clink of cutlery
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Clearly it takes courage to stand before an audience charged with being funny enough to quieten the clink of cutleryCredit: WARNING: Use of this image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture

Take talented young comedian Alistair Williams, who shot to prominence off the back of a sketch in which he likened Brexit to being stuck in a Burger King you have voted to leave. His video soon went viral.

But as he noted on Twitter the next day: “Because I am a comedian that supports Brexit, you can no longer find me on the comedy club circuit.”

There are exceptions. Pro-Brexit comedian Geoff Norcott is gradually finding his way on to a few BBC shows.

Simon Evans is a successful comic who parodies his own upper-middle class, right-of-centre viewpoint, while occasionally getting in an anti-leftist dig along the way.

But compare that to the roll call of liberal-left comics who pop up on the BBC: Ed Byrne, Dara O Briain, Marcus Brigstocke, Jolyon Rubinstein, Sandi Toksvig, Mitchell and Webb, Mark Steel, Mark Thomas, Jo Brand, Andy Parsons, Russell Howard and Stewart Lee.

These and others form a rolling castlist for the BBC’s many radio and TV panel and sketch shows, trotting out the same takes to approving titters from audiences apparently bussed in en-masse from North London.

A few weeks ago, after enduring a standard Have I Got News For You anti-Brexit fest, I turned over to watch Mock The Week on BBC2 to see host Dara O Briain tell a panellist of Malaysian heritage he wouldn’t be welcome in the Brexit Party (Brexiteers being racists, you see).

I vented about it on Twitter because whatever you think of the Brexit Party, it has been notably diverse since its inception. O Briain’s lazy smear made no sense.

It quickly transpired the one Malaysian-born person to achieve senior elected office in the UK is Christina Jordan, who is the Brexit Party’s MEP for Gibraltar and the South West.

Soon she was giving O Briain an ear-bashing.

His retort was that he got a laugh from the studio audience because that was what they thought of the Brexit Party.

No wonder, eh?

Even some of those on the BBC’s roster have clocked that their uniformity of outlook might be a problem.

Brigstocke spoke in 2017 of the shock of seeing audience members walk out of his show during his anti-Brexit segment when he took it on tour round the country.

But comedy as a whole shows few signs of coming to terms with the case for more diverse thinking.

Most of us not on the Left do not close our minds to the possibility of those we disagree with still being funny.

SALVATION IS AT HAND

The late Jeremy Hardy’s Tory takedowns on Radio 4’s The News Quiz were brilliant.

But most comics don’t work hard enough to offer such original material.

Jo Brand’s joke about battery acid being thrown over politicians is a case in point.

We get she probably doesn’t really wish that on anyone. It is another way for her to say she doesn’t like particular politicians.

We knew that.

Thankfully, salvation is at hand.

An independent sector is sprouting up, taking advantage of social media and hosting free-thinking comedy nights.

Lee Hurst, a veteran whose broadcast career was curtailed for not being reliably left-wing, is a patron of the scene.

In performers such as Williams, Norcott, Evans and Titania McGrath satirist Andrew Doyle — plus free-wheeling left-wingers such as Francesca Martinez and American Rob Delaney — we see the makings of a new alternative-comedy scene.

Seek them out, ditch the BBC and have a laugh.

  • Patrick O’Flynn is a former MEP with Ukip and the Social Democratic Party. This article appears on spectator.co.uk
 BBC comedian Jo Brand joked about battery acid being thrown over politicians
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BBC comedian Jo Brand joked about battery acid being thrown over politiciansCredit: Channel 4
 Mock The Week host Dara O Briain told a panellist of Malaysian heritage he wouldn’t be welcome in the Brexit Party
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Mock The Week host Dara O Briain told a panellist of Malaysian heritage he wouldn’t be welcome in the Brexit PartyCredit: Getty Images - Getty
 Sandi Toksvig is on the roll call of liberal-left comics who pop up on the BBC
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Sandi Toksvig is on the roll call of liberal-left comics who pop up on the BBC
 Russell Howard is among the BBC-approved comedians who dominate the maintained sector of British comedy
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Russell Howard is among the BBC-approved comedians who dominate the maintained sector of British comedyCredit: Vicki Couchman - The Sunday Times
Chaos at Lord's Taverners' Christmas charity lunch as comedian Nish Kumar is booed off and hit with a BREAD ROLL

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