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Broadcasters are becoming bothered by a question that ought to have worried them years ago: why should Daily Mail readers pay the licence fee? If principled people ran the BBC, they would not need to ask it. They would declare that they did not want the tainted money of their enemies. They would say, "We deplore the sexist and racist assumptions of right-wing Conservative and UKIP voters, and want to be free as free to criticise them as anyone else."

Unfortunately for its reputation for probity, the BBC has been playing the hypocrite for years. On the one hand, it justifies taking a flat-rate tax from every household in the land by pretending that it is fair and balanced. On the other, whenever there is a political slant on drama and comedy it leans to the left (Jeremy Clarkson — the broadcasters' equivalent of the token black — being the exception to the rule).

In the past few months, the double standards have become too much for the BBC, or perhaps its audience, to bear. Its commissioning editors admit that they have not tried hard enough to find contrary voices. Even Radio 4, whose notion of fairness in comedy once meant balancing the soft Left with the hard Left, is inviting moderate conservatives from the Murdoch press on to The News Quiz.

Both the BBC and its conservative critics miss the point, however, when they fall into the language of left and right. True, broadcasters patronise (in every sense of the word) Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy, who are genuine far-left comedians, even if they are a little too keen on becoming national treasures for my taste. But they ration the appearances of Stewart Lee, the best left-wing comedian. To their evident disapproval, Lee can be genuinely unsettling, and has never shown a desire to be any kind of treasure. Dara Ó Briain, Tim Minchin, Dave Gorman and Robin Ince are allowed on air. Once you might have called their willingness to satirise religion left-wing. But the post-modern Left treats religion with nervous deference — with the exception of Christianity, of course, the token black of white liberal outrage. It devotes its energies to denouncing "militant atheists", who never kill anyone, rather than religious militants, who murder with abandon.

These exceptions aside, the bulk of comics who appear on Have I Got News for You, Mock the Week or Radio 4's satirical shows are not left-wing in any recognisable sense. They are happy with wealth, particularly their own wealth, and so sexist they veer towards misogyny. Crucially, they have no instinctive sympathy with the working class, which was once the main object of left-wing concern. The reverse side of the coin that sees them damn Mail readers as provincial bigots is the strong dislike of the urban poor — most evident in David Walliams and Matt Lucas's Little Britain. Today's political comedy is the laughter of the privileged scoffing at those beneath them. Racism and homophobia are their only forbidden topics. Anyone who can remember the comedy of the 1970s should be grateful for these small advances. But come on, how can a comedy circuit that finds a place for Jimmy Carr, a tax-dodging hypocrite worthy of the pen of a Dickens or a Molière, be described as left-wing or even centrist?

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Hegel`s Advocate
October 26th, 2013
11:10 PM
Zizek has a sense of humour . Perhaps there should be a comedians gulag (un)reality-tv show? Anyone in art-tv land interested?

boyinthebubble
July 24th, 2013
11:07 AM
The idea that there once was a 'genuine' Left is the greatest and most damaging myth of our era. Being 'left wing' is not and never has been about a genuine desire for equality with one's fellow man. It has always been primarily a middle-class intelligentsia mind game by which people tell themselves a pretty story about how caring and sharing they are whilst at the same time giving licence to their envious, bilious rage against their middle class peers in the world of business and commerce.

grimm
July 17th, 2013
2:07 AM
Oh dear! 'Anonymous' commenting on July 13 sounds like a caricature of one of those tedious academics pontificating the nature and significance of comedy. These are the rather po-faced satire-loving bores who try to browbeat us into the belief that all 'true comedy' must be subversive and challenging. But perhaps I am mistaken. Anonymous may just be an obsessive hobbyist keen to set his/her mind at ease by correctly locating Cohen's observations in the appropriate place on the political spectrum (herein).

Anonymous
July 13th, 2013
3:07 AM
The underlying understanding of political theory, necessary to make sense of such issues, seems absent from this article; are the observations discussed correctly located on the political spectrum in the manner suggested herein?

Dave Nattriss
July 11th, 2013
6:07 PM
Mock The Week is sexist?! Do you have any examples of the content on it that you think is sexist, explaining why you think it is? Usually it's sexists themselves that are the butts of the jokes.

djames
July 5th, 2013
2:07 AM
Comedians like Steven Fry, Jimmy Carr, Brooker, Mitchell, Matt Lucas, Tim Minchin and the Daily Mail-friendly Michael McIntyre etc etc... tend to be liberals on the centre of the political spectrum not the left. Socialists comedians such as Rob Newman, Mark Thomas and the less overtly political Stewart Lee and Sean Hughes seem to have as hard a time getting on the TV as the right-wingers...

Nick Booth
July 1st, 2013
12:07 PM
Magnificent. It was a good start, but could have gone a lot further. I like this Nick Cohen lad. He could be quite funny.

Anonymous
June 28th, 2013
12:06 PM
You say Thatcher lost the moral argument. Quite the reverse. She won it. The conceit that people like you think she lost it is worse than the hypocrisy of stand-up comics. You're simply in denial. And why is Carr a hypocrite? He's the hardest working comic on the circuit. Perhaps the moral argument here is the one that asks why someone like Carr should hand over such a huge proportion of his income to be wasted by the State?

csrster
June 28th, 2013
11:06 AM
Not sure whether he counts as real-left-wing or hypocritical-pseudo-left-wing but John Finnemore's defense of Legal Aid on The Now Show was brilliantly executed - biting but still extremely funny. Part of it is still available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01b45ml .

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