James Rampton on comedy

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The Independent Online
Mark Steel's new book of stories from the comedy circuit goes by the curious title of It's Not a Runner Bean. The author (below) explains: "It was 1987 and I was doing a dreadful corporate gig. It was a fortnight after the Tories had won the election, and everyone there was 25 years old. They were all wearing bow-ties and drunk. They were celebrating getting a contract, but I didn't know what for. Huge piles of food on tables were being tipped over and chocolate mousse was being poured down girls' bras - absolute decadence. I went on and tried to maintain my dignity, but it went dreadfully. Then one bloke came up and threw a runner bean at me. I lost it a bit and said to him, 'That's why people like you are hugely rich and nurses are paid nothing, because you enjoy throwing runner beans at people'. He replied, 'It's not a runner bean, it's a mange tout.' I later found out that they'd won a contract to design a crisp packet - you'd be hard-pushed to find anything more worthless. That was one of the things that gave me the idea for this book. I thought it was a brilliant way of seeing what state the country's in. The comedy circuit is a marvellous microscope on the way things are."

Ever self-deprecating, the creator of Radio 4's Mark Steel Solution has sub-titled the book: Dispatches of a Slightly Successful Comedian. "If there is an aim," muses one of Britain's last surviving radicals, "it's an attempt to restore the balance towards the idea that comedy can be part of the opposition to injustices that go on, rather than this modern trend which suggests that everything's a laugh and nothing matters."

'It's Not a Runner Bean' is published by Do Not Press today