Relax, the BBC has a long history of right-wing comedy. I should know, I’ve been on the receiving end of it

High on Tim Davie’s list of shows deemed ‘too left wing’ is Mock The Week. When I was on the show, I was told I must do my ‘Iranian material’ – that didn’t feel left wing to me

Shaparak Khorsandi
Tuesday 01 September 2020 15:41
Steph McGovern wears 'Girly Swot' jumper as she presents Have I Got News For You

Tim Davie, the box-fresh director of the BBC, wants an overhaul of comedy shows which are deemed to have too much left-wing bias. Good news because, dammit, pro-government comedy has been stifled for too long. Where are all the jokes about how annoying it is tripping up over homeless people when you’re on your way to Soho House?

And my goodness I cannot wait for a comedy show which really tells it like it is about refugees paddling over and living in Windsor Castle with the Queen, forcing her and Philip to camp under the gazebo.

What’s that? Such comedians don’t exist? What tosh! We had that nice Jim Davidson with his hilarious Paki jokes, do you remember? Only he got “cancelled” because we all went too far to the left, political correctness went mad and we weren’t allowed to point at LGBTQ+ people and laugh anymore.

Bernard Manning should be given his own prime-time show. The left bang on about “prejudice”, yet for years they banned Manning from having his own show merely because he is dead.

As an immigrant kid, I was on the receiving end of quite a bit of “right-wing” humour, particularly when we went to holiday camps. Mr Punch himself told me I had a “stupid name”. I know Mr Punch isn’t known for his diverse outlook, but when you’re six years old you don’t expect to be laughed at by an adult, even if he is a renowned wife beater and made of wood.

My favourite right-wing comedian was Kenny Everett. He steered clear of politics until he was invited to do a turn at the Young Conservatives conference in 1983. I was only 10 years old and a huge fan of his. I was sad that Kenny was in the Mr Punch camp.

Kenny Everett hated Arthur Scargill and supported Margaret Thatcher. He came on to the stage with two giant foam hands and shouted “Let’s bomb Russia!” and “Let’s kick Michael Foot’s stick away!”, and received gales of laughter, rapturous applause and, by all accounts, regretted the incident for the remainder of his career. “I’m not a full Tory”, he said in subsequent years. It didn’t diminish my love for him because proper fans of comedy aren’t merely there to have their own views reflected. I love The Kenny Everett Show and Not The Nine O’Clock News.

Everything changed when “alternative” comedy became prime-time viewing. Ben Elton, Julian Clary, Alexei Sayle and later the glorious Jo Brand hit our screens and being a “leftie” became cool. They went against the grain, they were the punks of comedy.

Jo Brand responds to backlash over her battery acid joke: 'I'm not employed by the BBC, so how can they sack me'

High on the current list of shows deemed “too left-wing” is Mock The Week. When I was on the show 13 years ago, I was told I must do my “Iranian material”. Hanging someone on a hook like this didn’t feel left wing to me. Radio 4’s The News Quiz too has been criticised for being “too left-wing”. Those on the right should relax. In the 43 years it has existed, it never nurtured a single non-white comedian to be at its helm or become a regular on it until very recently with Nish Kumar and Phil Wang. If I was a right-wing type I’d be heaving a sigh of relief and saying, “two in 43 years is not bad, let’s just thank the lord neither is a woman”. No disrespect to The News Quiz of course, but BBC bashers should chill out.

It seems to me that it’s political comedy people are objecting to and that is always bound to lean towards the left, because most comedians and indeed most artists are left-leaning. We are, after all, the communicators, the dreamers – if we weren’t, we’d be bankers.

Maybe the time for ubiquitous topical panel shows is coming to a natural end for now. The internet means the best topical jokes can be found online anyway, seconds after the event and long before the Mock The Week writers can be summoned. Gone are the days when we excitedly waited to hear what the gang on Have I Got News For You had to say about an event. We can just follow a hashtag on Twitter.

If I was director general of the BBC, I’d have a good hunt around for the sitcoms and sketch shows we used to invest in before we realised how much cheaper panel shows are to make. There is, I’ll bet, gold lying forlornly on producers’ desks, ignored. Phenomenally funny people are shining on social media – get them on the BBC. Nurture the new.

All comedy formats need fresh life blown into them eventually and perhaps it is time for some panel shows to take a breather. To say it’s because they are “too left wing” is a little silly, because bar a handful, political comedians will always lampoon the powerful and that will always be deemed a leftie thing to do.

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