Monday, June 27, 2011

Josh Thomas on Q&A and PC in the Australian comedy scene

Having done heaps of comedy all over Australia over the last couple of decades (though not in the last few years) I know comedy scene culture very well. And, like the rest of Artsville, it's heavily dominated by left-wing, PC, "thinking".

And that intolerance doesn't come from the audience, by the way. Usually those who watch comedy are youngish and have a range of political views (although there are more lefties than in the wider society for a variety of reasons). They will go with stuff that's not PC occasionally as long as it's funny.

That said, that kind of stuff is still harder to pull off because it stands out from the usual fare like the proverbial canine testicles. Even card carrying Tories will be less likely to laugh openly at a routine with an obviously conservative point of view simply because they're gobsmacked that it's actually coming from the mouth of a standup comic. Comics with conservative sympathies know this, and that's one reason they rarely do such material. 

The main reason for their trepidation, though, is that there's a dominant world view that's enforced from within the comedy collective. And when I say enforced, I don't mean that comics are swiftly "disappeared" by their peers or promoters if they commit an egregious thought crime such as mocking the Great Leader Bob Brown. It's more subtle, but nonetheless pervasive. Knocking the left is just not the done thing. Do that and you'll be marking yourself out as one of those eeevil conservatives and may well be passed over for promotion (or what passes for it in the comedy scene).

So, the attitude that's rewarded is to be drearily, relentlessly PC. Toe that line and you can do very well indeed, even if you're not that funny (although a little comedic skill doesn't go astray). It's enough that you are seen to care about society and are taking up the favourite causes of the cultural left.

You can see this general bias in action by watching comedy live and on TV. Comics are either clearly of the left, or apolitical. (About the only well known Aussie standup comic who isn't like this would be Austen Tayshus. And he's hardly a classic conservative; more of an anarchist-social libertarian.)

Here's a specific example that illustrates this wider phenomenon. Last week on Q and A comedian Josh Thomas was one of the panelists. He came across as pretty daft and credulous - even more so than his fellow leftie Gen Y-ers on the panel. That was disappointing, because you'd like to think that comics had some sort of BS detector in operation, even if it was faulty.

Here are his reasons for voting for the Greens:

JOSH THOMAS: Well, I mean, it's - I voted for the Greens in the last election because they were the only party that I believed, the only party that I felt were talking about something that they actually agreed with. Sorry about my hair. But I think - no, I think the Greens are the right party for young people because they're kind of idealistic and they've lovely and they like big hugs and trees and when you're young you should be filled with hope for the future. We should leave it to old people to worry about all the other stuff, which I think is probably more damning to the Greens than a compliment.

Hard to believe he actually said that. But he did. And he wasn't joking.

He followed it up with something even more depressing:

JOSH THOMAS: But I - can I ask you a question, because I'm not very good at - I don't know lots of things about stuff. I'm not confident on things. Ted Bailey, is he Liberal?

Obviously, he was referring to Ted Baillieu. But either he didn't know how to pronounce his name, and the transcriber was being accurate, or the ABC staff member himself was unsure! Either way it's alarming. And one thing's certain: Thomas was so uninterested in politics that he didn't know which party governs Victoria. 

Later on he was asked about the subject of gay marriage. Of course he was an advocate of it, and argued for it quite passionately. Needless to say his thoughts on it got a round of applause:

JOSH THOMAS: Well, I would say to her they are. I mean the polling shows they are. This is actually not a controversial issue. Sixty-three per cent of people want to see this. Seventy-four per cent of Labor voters want to see this. At the moment in this country you have - if you're gay, you're at a much higher risk of you will experience - you're much more likely to experience self-harm, depression, homelessness, eating disorders, drug abuse. You're five to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide and the biggest contributing factor to that is homophobia and the Marriage Act, as it stands, it empowers homophobia and it needs to change, I think.

Interestingly, the latter part of that contribution was used in the promo for the show this last week.

This just confirms all my worst suspicions about the comedy scene (not to mention the ABC): Being original and having your own ideas is deemed weird and threatening. The last thing you'd want to do is be true to yourself and skeptical of authority, since it will get you nowhere. You just have to strike one of the range of PC political poses on offer from time to time, and you'll be rewarded for it with gigs and exposure.

The joint's a ghost town. There are tumbleweeds blowin' through it!

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