Monday, September 14, 2009

Should comedians do adverts?

This is the debate bubbling away on Chortle and subsequently Twitter, prompted, of course, by Mark Watson's appearances on ads for Magners Pear Cider. Well, I say 'of course', but there was also Ed Byrne on Carphone Warehouse, and literally as I write I am listening to Stephen Fry and Paul Merton voice cartoon phones. And there must be many others.

Anyway, the argument started with a piece from David Jesudason whose main point was that...

The role of the comedian is to highlight the ills of our society and not be scared to say things that other people are afraid of highlighting. This means they have a huge responsibility, a responsibility that must be used to shine a light on how power is used to repress and maintain the status quo.

This, as you've probably guessed, is not really how I see comedy. I want comedians to make me laugh and make me happier for a while than I would be otherwise. That might be by lambasting "the ills of society" but it also might be by singing about something as trivial as sending a text to the person the text was about (David O'Doherty) or reading a poem about dew (Tim Key).

Then Carl Donnelly responded to the overall criticism of comedians "selling-out" on their moral responsibilities, but Mark Watson himself felt that he needed he needed to reply to the attacks on his personal integrity:

I accepted the Magners job because the money has allowed me the freedom to take on unpaid or hardly-paid projects which I might otherwise have had to abandon.

This was followed up by Ivor Dembina who made the rather surprising claim that:

Sorry, when you operate as a comedian your first responsibility isn’t to your family, it’s to your audience.

In my response to the criticisms aimed at Watson specifically, I can be rather more robust than he could (I guess he felt it would look rather immodest to list his more altruistic achievments). That 24-Hour Show - featuring not just Mark but comedians such as Simon Amstell and Stephen K Amos whose solo shows could cost over £20? That cost each audience member £5. He has also dedicated himself to being less Crap At The Environment, to the point of taking courses and now delivering lectures on how we can all do our bit. And the idea that Watson has little regard for his fans just doesn't add up - he consistently goes out of his way to get fans into sold-out shows and events he's involved in.

Does one advertising deal outweigh all of this? Some people think so, I clearly don't. Sure, it's not the best thing he's going to do with his life, and he's understandably taken a great deal of good-hearted stick for it. But to suggest that it is so bad to have irrevocably betrayed his personal integrity, his fans, or the good name of stand-uppery, well that's just a step too far.


Lena said...

My favourite comedies and comedians are those, I suppose, that probably just step over the boundary lines - add a little bit of pathos, too and they've got a fan in me.

Should comedians do adverts? Of course. What's the harm? Mind you, my son was a huge Pear Cider fan before Watson made the advert, but it might just extend his thirst!

Jane Henry said...

Oh ffs. How dare anyone else get so uppity about people's personal choices. Accepting the ad man's coin doesn't mean you have no integrity. It probably means you have a mortgage. And maybe a family to support. Anyone in the arts knows how precarious an existence it can be. No one necessarily has that long in the limelight, and may need to shore up savings for the lean times. Doing ads seems to me to be a sensible thing to do. Or aren't comedians allowed to be sensible? Do we just want them to be madcap fules?
Honestly. Some people clearly have too much time on their hands to get excited about that kind of thing!

Mof Gimmers said...

Presumably, the line of thinking with Chortle is that comics, as artists, shouldn't be shilling their arses out to the highest bidder?

Right. I heard that Bill Hicks skit too.

Fact is, as anyone creative thrives on getting paid (as it enables them to continue being creative or whatever), then these potentially one-off lucrative deals are a godsend. It doesn't stop their live shows being funny... it might just mean tickets might be a bit trickier to get hold of on the next tour.

However, as someone who writes, I'd like to think of myself as something of an 'artist' or 'creative' or whatever... just like the Chortle lot.

And guess what generates the cash for our wages?


Peter Kay, for his sins, said something about his John Smiths' ads once. When asked if he was selling out, he simply replied: "It's not a game this pal. I've got a kid to feed."

As trivial as that seems, I think a lot of pious critics forget that. I know because I'm one of them.

Gabriel said...

To my mind they shouldn't.Imagine only Charlie Chaplin in the add - that's I think awful and it'll brake our memory about him.