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Left-liberal British comedy

In JEB's piece in september 2014 "Meanwhile, back at the BBC", he mentions the left-liberal bias of British 'stand-up' comedians who infest various TV and radio shows:

"The BBC’s reaction to those EU diktats on domestic electrical appliances was to wheel out its “expert”, who laid out a trail of red herrings without addressing the fundamental physical aspects. Roger Harrabin is one of the most determined and ruthless global warming propagandists in the world. He it was who devised the secretive committee to affirm the abandonment by the corporation of any neutrality in the climate debate. This was the so-called Twentyeightgate scandal (and how quickly that was brushed under the carpet!). People wondered at the inclusion of the head of comedy, Jon Plowman, in that group, but comedy is a major repository of the propaganda campaign. One of the proud features of BBC history, now abandoned, is its nursing of talent in comedy writing. Now it relies almost totally on so-called “stand-ups”, who are carefully vetted to conform to the mores of the new corporation rulers. These “comedians” infest populist programmes across the radio and TV network: almost every panel game, quiz or anecdotal programme is populated by permutations of the same group of people. With persistent regularity, the chairman of one will turn up as an ordinary member of the next."

This raises the interesting question of how did these left-liberal comedians turn into the political force, amost like a "fifth estate", that they represent today? Their bias could potentially even have a significant impact on this year's forthcoming UK General Election, as they all tend to be strongly opposed to UKIP.

My theory, which I've had since the 1970s, is that the gradual politicisation of British comedy is mainly to do with university-educated comedians. In the 1970s only a few percent of British comedians were graduates (and at that time they were vitually all from Oxbridge), consisting of people like David Frost, the Private Eye gang, the Monty Python team, the Goodies team, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and this lot did virtually all the political material that you saw in comedy at that time. Another feature of graduate comedians is that they didn't really attempt to represent the full range of political opinion - I can't remember noticing a graduate comedian who was likely to be a grassroots conservative. By contrast the vast majority of comedians in the 1970s were non-graduates who tended not to make jokes with any intentional political content at all, and you could imagine quite a proportion of them being grassroots conservatives.

In the 1980s a new UK public service TV channel started up, Channel 4, and partly to establish its new identity it brought in a new wave of graduate comedians. This new bunch, with Ben Elton at the forefront, became known as the 'alternative comedians' and did stand-up routines based on the more fashionable 'observational comedy' style rather than the traditional joke-telling format, and were even more overtly political than the satire-based graduate comedians of the 1970s.

If I had to guess what proportion of British comedians are graduates in the present day, my guess would be that it could be as high as 50%. However when I tried to find out a more accurate statistic for the current percentage of graduates, I was somewhat shocked by the result - it appears to be more like 80 to 90% of the most influential people in British comedy, with details given on this link:


This comedy website "Such Small Portions" put together a list in 2012 of who they thought were the top 100 most influential people in British comedy - the list actually covers a total of 123 people as some of the 'people' are acts with more than one person in it. Out of the 123, 100 are graduates, 9 are non-graduates and there are 14 of unknown status. Basically British comedy seems to have been gradually turned into a graduate profession, and the BBC will probably have had a lot to do with that. The website figures also blow the persistent myth that most graduate comedians are from Oxbridge, with only 25% of graduate comedians in the present day being from Oxbridge. (25% is still disproportionately high, and is attributed to the influence of Radio 4, but it represents an improvement over the nearly 100% it must have been in the 1970s)

My underestimation of the proportion of graduate comedians in British comedy is probably due to many of them deliberately not trying to behave as though they are particularly educated. This issue is discussed in this blog post from 2012 "Are Britain’s university-educated comedians ready to stop pretending they’re really uneducated proles?"


The statistics on the number of graduates in British comedy suggests to me a solution about what to do with the poltical bias of the TV and radio comedy panel shows. I suspect that these shows have panels consisting almost entirely of graduate comedians. I would suggest limiting the percentage of graduate comedians to maybe 50%, and that might cut the bias down quite a bit. The BBC is supposed to be a public service broadcaster, and it doesn't strike me as being in the spirit of public service broadcasting to have a situation where comedy is dominated by graduates.

Re: Left-liberal British comedy - by JMW - Jan 12, 2015 9:51am
Re: Left-liberal British comedy - by Dave Gardner - Jan 17, 2015 6:10pm
Re: Left-liberal British comedy - by Dave Gardner - Jan 26, 2015 8:22pm