Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2207

Socialist comics interviewed: exposing the emperor’s nakedness

This article is over 12 years, 1 months old
Next week’s Marxism 2010 festival will feature a gig by left wing comedians. Two of them, Steve Parry and Joe Wells, spoke to Siân Ruddick
Issue 2207
Steve Parry
Steve Parry

Steve Parry is a comedian, actor and writer. He is a stand up comedian and writes for the Frank Skinner Show.

He has written for Man Stroke Woman, Dead Ringers and The Morning After Show. He works regularly for the legendary Basil Brush

‘When you look at the world it can feel like you have two choices – either to laugh or cry.

The job of comedians is to make people laugh. But it can be done while provoking people to engage or challenge the things that they see, rather than giving in to them.

That’s the faultline I find myself on. For me it’s about talking about why I see things the way I do – not preaching. You have to engage the audience by humanising the situation.

The recession can be funny when it is human. When the crisis broke I was listening to the radio and an interviewer asked, “Is David Bowie to blame for the credit crunch?”

From this you can talk about the crisis, about the possibility of nationalising David Bowie. So you can use the concept of nationalisation and take it somewhere else.

I like to use stand up to present socialists as human beings with their own foibles and characters, not this angry “other” that is on the outside.

It’s good to have a sense of humour about ourselves.

You know, we talk about barricades and revolution, but our every day tools are trestle tables, leaflets and petitions.

Those fold up tables are like our Molotov cocktails – we are aware of where we are.

Comedy is also useful for raising politics. As the banks collapsed you could walk on stage and say “bankers are wankers” and get a big cheer.

Or, “are there any bankers in the house?” and get a boo going through the audience.

During the election, it was clear to me that people were not excited about any of the big three parties, and certainly weren’t sucked in by Nick Clegg like the media was claiming. He was seen as much of a laughing stock, if not more so, than the others.

Apart from political meetings, comedy nights are really the only other place where people go to listen and talk about ideas in the broadest sense.

A comedian like Shazia Mirza – whose stuff is based around being a Muslim woman – is compelling. It helps us to see life not through the usual channels of the right wing media.

The fact that you’re stood up in front of these people means that you can talk about anything. You are in a position to challenge the politicians and media presentation of their interpretation of “the facts” – and you can point out that the emperor has no clothes.

If you are politically active then naturally you will open the papers and see the inconsistencies – but you have to find a comedy angle. George Bush filled me with fury and anger and hatred, but what lots of people thought about was his foolishness.

People often say that the wrong in the world is down to the foolishness – the actions of idiots. But we know that the world is more complicated. It’s harder to do those more nuanced socialist positions and get a laugh.

There are increasingly political shows around. I wish I could say there is a huge breakthrough but it’s not quite there yet. But there is a thirst for overtly political comedy.’

Joe Wells is also an award winning stand up comic. He has written a book, Touch and Go Joe, about his experience of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

‘Mainstream comedy – like the stuff in Jongleurs comedy clubs or huge shows – does not challenge the audience but seeks to find common ground with them. That’s a problem for socialist comics.

There’s rarely anything progressive because they don’t want to challenge the crowd. Alternative comedy is different, it allows the comedian more scope to push political ideas while keeping the audience on board.

I think good comedy points out the absurdities in the world – like racism or capitalism for example – while making people laugh.

There’s humour in these things if we do them properly.

Comedy can help progressive ideas get out there and reach a far wider audience for left wing ideas.

If you can win a crowd to trust you on something like fascism, then you can talk to them about anything.’

Steve and Joe are performing alongside Kate Smurthwaite, Pete Walsh, Tiernan Douieb and Wil Hodgson at a one off gig on Friday 2 July, 9pm. Go to »

Joe Wells
Joe Wells

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance