Working class Pt. 2 The Arts.

There’s been much written in recent times about it being harder for working class artists to break through in their field. From problems with a lack of much needed money to gain access to education, to a general feeling that many of the fields are now being dominated by the privileged. I.e. those with money (or their parents money) to spare.

It’s not new the prejudices against the working classes in the arts. Over centuries it has been debated that Shakespeare didn’t write his own work because he was of too lowly a standing. To me the idea it was written by someone of nobility is ridiculous. Why would a noble in all their comforts have to strive to produce the best they could? They can just fall back on being…err…noble.

I think it’s certainly worth noting that just recently we lost two working class giants of their craft in David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Bowie himself left school with little qualification but did attend one of the many now eradicated 60s art schools. Rickman received sponsorship and a scholarship to get him started. All great supportive avenues for us ordinary folks to gain access to arts, now all gone.

On a personal level as a comedian I’ve certainly seen a hell of a lot of class bias in my own industry. Sometimes it’s prominent critics who hear a northern or working class voice and immediately dismiss whatever is being said as “club comedy” A now derisory term invented by a London based, self anointed comedy policeman. It’s a weird term as much comedy comes from and is created in clubs. Sure I understand that comedy designed to please those on a night out isn’t perhaps best suited to a festival going punter. But if that comedy does turn out to actually rock a festival crowd with laughter then surely it’s of some merit somewhere along the line? According to many critics absolutely not. And who is it we find most adept at this type of comedy? That’s right, working class comics. Because it was a working class crowd the comedy was created in front of. Yeah…but what are the working classes doing at an arts festival? This seems to be the notion behind such thinking.

In an attempt to not be judged as just a “club comic” I personally now write social and political comedy or satire as it can be known. How many working class voices have you heard over decades on telly or radio tackling that stuff? No, it would seem some forms of comedy are only to be uttered by those folks in the middle. What would a working class person know about the real issues? I was actually told once by the head of BBC comedy North, and I quote, “Look there’s a lot of good stuff here but you’ve got a wall of Oxbridge school tie to get over before anybody will look at it.” Do we hear a lot of working class voices on BBC Radio 4? Well I suppose sometimes we do, but usually they’re not being spoken by working class artists.  All this does beg the question what would someone from Oxbridge know about the vulnerability of life at the bottom. Or as we would call it, “the real issues.”

It used to be different.  The working classes were celebrated on TV and radio in the 70s and 80s. But for every Boys From the Black Stuff there’s now a Shameless. For every Alf Garnet there’s now Mrs Brown. We’ve been moved sideways in our portrayals from pathos to panto and nobody seems to have noticed it happening.

But it’s not all a negative picture we have here. My dad and many others were always ready to offer the advice for anybody wanting to study the arts, “You need a trade to fall back on.” Bizarrely as I head off to do a degree in Drama and Script this year I do have a trade to fall back on…the performing arts.

The problem with such thinking is those with something to fall back on will invariably fall back on it. If those coming from a more comfortable background can always opt out and go home, then home is where they will go. Working class kids can’t just up tools and go home. That’s actually their greatest asset. Once they enter the arts with nothing to fall back on…they are home.

Once you do find that home I would pay little attention to those outside performance or writing or music or busking who try to justify their existence by intellectualising the game. Art doesn’t come from the brain, it’s from the heart. That’s exactly what your audience will pay for. It’s an expression of joy and awe. Speak up, stand up…shout at the teacher.

 

This weeks Milk The Cow Podcast.

Here’s the latest Milk The Cow Podcast. I’m not on this but that matters not one jot. This is one of the best things on the net. AGAIN SITTING AT NUMBER 1 in their category on I-TUNES. have a listen. You’re sure to enjoy.

http://www.milkthecowpodcast.com/podcast/2015/11/6/044milk-the-cow-podcastpope-flag-dag-the-brave-discordianism-httpfestival23orgukthe-apple-core-the-principia-discordia-rosie-mason-eye-witness-report-from-the-calais-jungle

Comedy Outlaws no. 6. Bill Hicks.

“Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration—that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.” BILL HICKS

I hope by now anyone reading these short biographies of my favourite comedians will now realise the numbers are not in order of merit. If they were the William Melvin “Bill” Hicks would obviously be number one…by quite a jump. By happy accident I’ve assigned him the Devils number. He’d probably appreciate that. Hell, he actually started out his career as a teenage stand up being part of a troupe of American comedians known as the Texas Outlaw Comics at The Comedy Workshop in Houston. About 95% of us that are Bill Hicks fans sadly became aware of him after his death of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the tragically young age of 32. Had he lived modern stand-up comedy may have ended up vastly different to the toothless and anodyne fare the corporate shills spoon feed us now. However if he didn’t get cancer I’m sure the powers that be would have to have found some other way to silence him…Am I implying he was killed by his own government? Well if I am it’s purely in the spirit and memory of him.

“Isn’t humanity neat?’ bullshit. We’re a virus with shoes, okay? That’s all we are.” BILL HICKS.

If you’re not familiar with his work, and many people aren’t now would be a good time to become familiar. The subject matters of he tackled covered a wide range of social issues including religion, politics, and philosophy all daubed with a jet black comedy style and voice.

He criticized consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity, and banality within the media and popular culture, which he characterized as oppressive tools of the ruling class that keep people “stupid and apathetic.”

I was in Nashville, Tennessee last year. After the show I went to a Waffle House. I’m not proud of it, I was hungry. And I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me: ‘Hey, whatcha readin’ for?’ Isn’t that the weirdest fuckin’ question you’ve ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading FOR? Well, goddamnit, ya stumped me! Why do I read? Well . . . hmmm…I dunno…I guess I read for a lot of reasons and the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress.” BILL HICKS.

I remember exactly where I was the first time I saw him. It was 1994 and late at night. Channel 4 were doing a retrospective special on him a short documentary featuring friends and other comics was shown and then they showed the concert film Revelations which was filmed here in the UK. Prior to viewing I had no idea who he was or that stand up could tackle the world in quite the unique (at the time) way that he did. I remember by the end feeling shocked, at times my sensibilities were offended but with an overall feeling of exhilaration. Plus the downer of a realisation, “Fuck…this guy is dead?”

“Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye.” BILL HICKS

Bill began his comedy career young. As a teenager he would sneak out of his home at night with his friend Dwight Slade and travel to a nearby comedy club to try routines. Immediately the older comics were impressed by his ability. I’ve seen footage of him performing aged 17 it professionally annoying how good he is. Much of his early material would mock his Southern Baptist religious beliefs. “We were Yuppie Baptists,” he joked to the Houston Post in 1987. “We worried about things like, ‘If you scratch your neighbour’s Subaru, should you leave a note?’ “

A typical argument with his father has been documented as going along these lines…

The elder Hicks would say, “I believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.” And Bill would counter, “No it’s not, Dad.” “Well, I believe that it is.” “Well,” Bill replied, “you know, some people believe that they’re Napoleon. That’s fine. Beliefs are neat. Cherish them, but don’t share them like they’re the truth.”

There’s a bit of a lazy myth I used to hear when I first started going around the British stand up circuit that he was never a success in America and only found fame here in the UK. Well, he had his own HBO special in 1990, had a very successful and televised run at Montreal’s Just for Laughs and appeared 12 times on David Letterman’s chat show. sadly the last appearance he made was dropped from the broadcast.

Hicks said, because Letterman’s producers believed the material, which included jokes involving religion and the anti-abortion movement, was unsuitable for broadcast. Producer Robert Morton initially blamed CBS, which denied responsibility; Morton later conceded it was his decision. Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again.

Letterman finally aired the censored routine in its entirety on January 30, 2009. Hicks’s mother, Mary, was present in the studio and appeared on-camera as a guest. Letterman took responsibility for the original decision to remove Hicks’s set from the 1993 show. “It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill,” he said, after the set aired, “because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.” Amen to that.

“The worst kind of non-smokers are the ones that come up to you and cough. That’s pretty fucking cruel isn’t it? Do you go up to cripples and dance too?” BILL HICKS.

I work in the comedy industry full time as a comic. When I started in 1999 and worked alongside a certain Frankie Boyle at the Stand Comedy club. A club with a reputation for promoting edgier or more alternative comedy. I remember thinking that stand up was going to all become like Bill Hicks. That his legacy would be enormous. A thousand comedic voices of righteous indignation. Now I look back and sadly realise he was an anomaly. It was a miracle any of his stuff got through at all.

I’ve immersed myself in more socio political comedy in recent years. When people ask why I say, “Nothing original. I’m just trying to be like Bill Hicks.”

I’m sure there must be some young upstart comic out there who’s brilliant and wont play their corporate game. I hope they break through. We really are well over due another anomaly. The last words here are a final short piece Bill wrote a week before he passed. His is the only biography I’ve ever read where I broke down in tears at the end. The hero dies you see… Christ I’m welling up now. Some funny guy you Mr Hicks.

“I was born William Melvin Hicks on December 16, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia. Ugh. Melvin Hicks from Georgia. Yee Har! I already had gotten off to life on the wrong foot. I was always “awake,” I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamoring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place. All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy. A deep love of literature and books. Thank God for all the artists who’ve helped me. I’d read these words and off I went – dreaming my own imaginative dreams. Exercising them at will, eventually to form bands, comedy, more bands, movies, anything creative. This is the coin of the realm I use in my words – Vision. On June 16, 1993 I was diagnosed with having “liver cancer that had spread from the pancreas.” One of life’s weirdest and worst jokes imaginable. I’d been making such progress recently in my attitude, my career and realizing my dreams that it just stood me on my head for a while. “Why me!?” I would cry out, and “Why now!?” Well, I know now there may never be any answers to those particular questions, but maybe in telling a little about myself, we can find some other answers to other questions. That might help our way down our own particular paths, towards realizing my dream of New Hope and New Happiness. Amen. I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”

Milk The Cow Podcast. (I-Tunes TOP 10)

Here’s Milk The Cow Podcast. I’m on this episode. It’s one of my favourite things to have had the pleasure to be involved in. These guys are in The I- Tunes TOP 10. Never mind me, listen to them. Informed, philosophical and often bloody hilarious.

http://www.milkthecowpodcast.com/podcast/2015/10/6/041milk-the-cow-podcastmr-sandsclass-warluke-cooperbeyond-capitalismjohn-scottsod-the-tories

Sacred to Profane (The little book of not calm whatsoever.)

“I finished a show last night and when I got to the train station I saw a blind man listening to some classical music on his phone. He didn’t have headphones, he was just holding the phone close to his ear. Despite this he was absolutely rapt. The music was obviously moving him deeply. The sight of this was both uplifting and saddening in a single moment.”

 

The above statement is absolutely true. I include it because as a newcomer to the blogosphere I’ve noticed there are many people writing beautifully uplifting pieces of prose. Much as I appreciate this on reading such stuff it reminded me that being a comedian is a bit like being a parrot with two heads. If we’re doing our job well one head tweets little bon mots of life affirming philosophy while the other responds with a few squawks of profanity. So I thought I’d do it with a blog.

 

  1. He who hesitates is lost. CATO…MEANING…..I’ll never play Modern Warfare online ever again.
  1. A desire arises in the mind. It is satisfied immediately until another comes. In the interval which separates two desires a perfect calm reigns in the mind. It is at this moment freed from all thoughts of love or hate. SWAMI SIVUNANDA….MEANING…. This is how everyone feels post masturbation.

 

  1. Leave it to others to be perfect, to be wonderful. Be content with what you are. you’ll be much more relaxed as a result. ANON…MEANING…. Christ, this might as well be on a poster in McDonalds. Keep thinking like this. We need more fat people.

 

4. After a storm comes calm. MATHEW HENRY…. MEANING ….. Bollocks. Try saying that to the victims of hurricane Katrina. Or those folks who’s property is on a flood plane. People who’s only comfort is there are nutters out there blaming such catastrophe on God punishing them because either A. They’re black…or…B. Have gay friends.

 

5. Concentrate on silence. When it comes, dwell on what that sounds like. Then strive to take that quiet with you wherever you go. ANON….MEANING… Or you can just pop in your I-pod ear plugs. Blast some ACDC and give a clear signal to homeless people you want nothing to do with them

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  1. Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end. Then stop. LEWIS CARROLL….MEANING…. Birth, school, work, death. That ‘s it. Enjoy the credit card bills prole

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  1. Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. ANON….MEANING… Crucify Rupert Murdoch.

 

  1. Even a clock that does not work is right twice a day. POLISH PROVERB… MEANING. .. Look just fix my bloody roof. You lot you come over here. I though you were meant to be hard workers.

 

  1. Wherever you go you are there. KEITH CACERTA…MEANING…. You’ve never had your sat nav. go mental because the council have bolloxed up Sheffields one way ring road.

 

  1. If your bowels move, one is happy. If they do not move one is unhappy. That is all there is to it. LIN YUTANG….MEANING…. Err…actually this guy’s got it pretty much bang on.