Well that was a first. I like comedy. I like Andy Parsons. And I am definitely a fan of the new improved Broadway with added theatre.
But until last week I had been ever so slightly reluctant to watch a comedian of the status of Andy Parsons at the Broadway. Call me old-fashioned (just don’t ask which milestone birthday I am going to be ever so quietly ignoring later this month): but I tend to associate comedy with the spit and sawdust venues of Edinburgh and the alternative circuit.
If the audience is greater than four guys and a dog, it is probably Michael McIntyre and not worth the ticket. Whereas if the mike is falling apart, the sound system shrieks at you each time you cross the stage, if there actually is a stage, and if half your audience is more interested in the fight at the bar than your act, then its the real thing!
I confess. I love comedy. Offered it up as special subject at Uni: wrote it for a while for the BBCand – shame! - have buried somewhere in my attic credits for jokes used by the one and only Noel Edmonds. More recently, i’ve strutted my stuff at various alternative cabaret venues in London, and occasionally, been asked back.
All of which is my way of underlining how important comedy is to me. As entertainment it is life affirming. As politics, it can crack the petty hypocrisies of our rulers in a wink. And it’s not a bad way to spend a night out with friends, either.
So to my worries. Would Parsons dumb down for Letchworth? Or, more accurately, would he take the edge off what is a fine and cutting wit for fear of frightening the horses? Is Letchworth just too soggily liberal for any sort of radical comedy to take flight.
And honestly? Just a bit. There was some swearing, and definitely politics, and a number twos joke that, I could see out of the corner of my eye, had my teenaged son in stitches. Mostly, though, this was soft political humour of the sort that riffs off the ridiculousness of public figures such as Trump and Farage et al without ever entirely drilling down into the essential contradictions of their beliefs.
No mention of Eric Pickles, probably now a little past his sell-by date as butt of political humour, but nonetheless valuable yardstick when it comes to measuring the satirical content of comic routines. For, as viewers of “topical satire” programmes may have noticed, in the not too distant past, whenever an eating joke or a fat joke was called for, Pickles, rotund in stature and blessed with a name that was itself a comedy gift, was usually called into service.
Ho ho! Point at the fat politician with the funny name! And then ask yourself – for this is the Pickles test – whether what you just did was fair or positive or in any way a serious critique of the society in which you live. Punch up: don’t punch down on those less fortunate than you.
Of course, not all comedy needs to make a point. I love Milton Jones and Tim Vine, both masters, in their different ways, of the short one-liner. Whereas I am increasingly not a fan of the Jimmy Carr approach to same: piercingly funny on its own terms; yet for me increasingly irritating for its bluff double bluff attitude to racism, sexism and pretty much every other ism going. Does Jimmy believe this stuff? Who knows. Yet in a world in which hate is everywhere on the rise, i’d rather our comedians weren’t experimenting with how far they need go to disgust an audience.
So back to Parsons. He made his writing debut on Spitting Image, almost universally regarded as “satirical”, even though it mostly wasn’t: and this performance, too, wasn’t exactly satire. His mix of topical commentary sharp observational wit and soft edginess, particularly his description of his Kafkaesque experience of grappling with the NHS appointment system - worked well with the audience. Letchworth liked him. I liked him. My son quite liked him too. His habit of flitting from hard (ish) political to seriously scatalogical, and back again, provided to his set a routine and a variety that more serious acts sometimes lack.
So I shall be back for more comedy. Griff Rhys Jones next March, perhaps. And in the meantime, I shall be doing my best, behind the scenes, to bring some of that real gritty stuff to Letchworth too. Cause if I don’t, that’s four whole guys (and a dog) left unfulfilled. And that would never do.