Last Night's Viewing: Funny Business, BBC2
Growing Up Poor, BBC3

 

You can have 20 minutes of Ricky Gervais's time for about £25,000, but Michael Mansfield is going to cost you a bit more – up to £40,000, according to Funny Business, Richard Marson's intriguing series about the economics of the comedy boom.

These figures, as Ricky Gervais would probably be quick to point out, should not be taken as a simple measure of comic genius. They represent what corporate clients – very keen on mainstream telly celebrity, less keen on edgy affront – are willing to pay to sugar-coat their sales conference or annual general meeting. And not every comedian thinks it's a good idea to ply for hire in this market: "It's a kind of high-end prostitution without the sex," said Jo Brand, one of those who is actually prepared to whore out her talent for the corporate client.

That's a prejudicial way of putting it, of course, and much of the tension in Funny Business, between comics who do and comics who don't, arose from the ambiguous status of the stand-up comedian, who occupies a position somewhere on a spectrum running from end-of-pier entertainer to priestly social commentator. Some practitioners think that comedy is show business and have no problem going where the big fees are. Others think that it has a duty to show up business, so that to do a corporate gig is selling your soul. To further complicate matters, several contributors suggested that the abasement involved in this particular line of work was actually good for their comedy and their soul, though it presumably helps that it's the kind of therapy in which they pay you rather than the other way round.

It's big business anyway, fed by talent-bookers like Jeremy Lee, a big hitter in the field, and Geoff Whiting, who started from a Bath phone-box and does a bit of stand-up himself. Rather poignantly, his account of his career trajectory mostly consisted of recalling the household names who got their very first booking through him and then sailed past to celebrity. Appearing for the refuseniks were comics like Rhod Gilbert (who became visibly distressed as he recalled a traumatic set he'd done for a Professional Footballers' Association junket) and Mark Thomas, neither of whom could be accused of scorning the work only because they were never likely to be offered it in the first place. It was fascinating, though it rather lost focus towards the end as the documentary meandered into the realm of corporate-video production and then concluded in complete enigma. "Wherever you look now money's spoiled it," grumbled John Cleese. After which we got a shot of Monaco harbour. An arch comment? An illustration? A hint of what's to come? I'm still not sure.

On the face of it, the three young men in Growing Up Poor were perfect casting for that Tory ad campaign that set out to whip up public resentment about an undeserving underclass, the skivers rather than the strivers. Craig, Frankie and Wesley had no jobs and not many prospects. Wesley has a young son he can't afford to maintain and Frankie already has a criminal record for breaking someone's jaw during a robbery. Craig, from Rotherham, doesn't, I don't think, but looks as if he might easily get one if he can't learn how to control his temper. But as you watched Dave Foulkes's film it became clear that they were all strivers in their way, boys trying to become men.

Not one of them wanted to stay on benefits and not one of them was without a plan of how to become more independent. What also became clear was that there was a level of mutual assistance and solidarity among the truly skint that shamed the nasty divisiveness of that recent Conservative ad campaign. As Foulkes's narration noted, we're all in it together. But some are in it deeper than others.

twitter.com/tds153

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable