In February, having shared my political views in my comedy a few times before, I decided to do a full show about how a council-estate kid like me could end up voting blue. I decided on the title “Conswervative’. If I’d have known everything that would happen between then and now, there is a chance I’d have gone for a slightly less provocative title to a liberal arts crowd. Like “I love shooting lions in the face” or “Maybe we should raise VAT on tampons”.
I’ve been regularly asked if being openly pro-Conservative means I get ostracised by other comics. It would be convenient to portray myself as a dressing-room pariah. A lonely Michael Gove in a Café Rouge, defiantly eating cheese and pickle sandwiches while the bohemians dined on olives and batons. But the truth is that numerous comics have been extremely supportive and even helpful in getting me press opportunities. Stand-ups are one group of lefties who make good on the whole open-minded thing (take note, Corbynistas).
I’ve also been asked if the urban metropolitan elite is deliberately stifling right-wing voices in comedy. “Elite” is an odd word for it. Most people working in TV and radio dream of being able to afford to live in an urban area, let alone maintain an all-powerful cultural Illuminati.
However, it must seem weird to the public sometimes – particularly in the case of something like the EU referendum, in which I voted for Brexit. The vote was basically 50/50, but on panel shows voting Remain seemed like orthodoxy. It’s like the phrase “It’s a bit Marmite” suddenly meaning everybody loves Marmite and people who don’t are fools who simply didn’t do enough research on the benefits of yeast extracts.
It’s a shame, because there was plenty of low-hanging comedic fruit when it came to the hysterical response of some Remainers. Like the people who called Leave voters “thick”, then went on a march after the vote – like slamming on the brakes but only once you’ve already been flashed by a speed camera.
So if you’re a producer doing decent numbers with a steady diet of left-wing comics, is there enough incentive to risk an adverse reaction from your core audience?
Having done some small TV and radio appearances in promoting my current show, I already know such people exist. I had a steady stream of online virtue-signalling keyboard warriors willing to write off the idea that right-wing comedy could possibly be funny. One bloke presumed my comedy must entail mocking disabled people (despite my show covering the fact both my parents were disabled).
Another tweeted me: “David beating Goliath = Funny. Goliath beating David = not funny”. I’m not so sure; it would all depend on how it was handled. The humour could come from David’s quiet confidence as he presumed virtue would result in victory, a bit like left-wingers on election nights.
At one of my previews, a woman in the audience presumed I must be a character act. She was laughing regularly throughout, though evidently for the wrong reasons. Her assumption says something about the extent to which stand-up is seen as the preserve of liberal arts types. She must have thought it was a hilarious jape and was looking forward to meeting me in the courtyard where I’d ditch the preposterous south London accent, reveal my name was Tobias and we’d laugh about it at a juice bar.
However, these reductive binary exchanges remind me why I’m doing the show in the first place. Many of the most vocal people – on the left and the right – are arranging each other into pantomime caricatures, easy to hate or mute. It can only lead to stunted political discourse. No one wins.
The good news is that my audiences – like Britain itself – seem to be composed of decent people willing to listen to views that don’t always square with their own.
I’m respectful about the fact that a lot of my crowd at the Fringe are likely to hold different views from me. Consequently I’ve built a “heckle amnesty” into the show where they can ask questions, make a point or even shout personal insults. It’s a good forum for lefties to have their say, because – let’s be honest – if there’s one thing the Edinburgh Fringe needs more of, it’s lefties having their say.
Geoff Norcott's Edinburgh Fringe show, Conswervative, is at the Underbelly Med Quad, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG until 28 August, 7.10pm every night except 15th
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