Class and Comedy
By Elizabeth Swan on
My mum did our family tree a few years ago but gave up depressed and lost in the 1700’s. She was looking for exciting ancestors but all she found was generation upon generation of our family working in the pot banks of stoke. A dirty, dangerous job that gave the worker lead poisoning and potter’s rot. There are a lot of families like mine in Stoke. I didn’t meet a middle class person (apart from my high school teachers who were not interested in teaching a bunch of working class kids) until I went to drama school. Then I was surrounded by the buggers. God they were patronising. “You are definitely NOT working class!” they would gush one moment then laugh at me for being proud of my H&M purchase the next.
I got very used to people wanting to educate me. Don’t get me wrong, I want to learn, but I wasn’t asking my new friends to teach me. They just felt like they needed to. From their flats that their parents had bought them they told me that class was irrelevant. I didn’t have time to question this as I was running late for my glass collecting job at the time. Drama school was 10 until 6 Monday through Friday. Three nights a week I worked my glass collecting job in a lap dancing club. Weekends I worked in a cafe. And the rest of the time I was on Ebay or Amazon selling my stuff. Even my drama school principal didn’t understand my need for money. She asked me once “why do you sell all of your possessions?” Twit.
People who have always had money don’t have a clue. But they also aren’t interested, preferring to ‘blabla’ with their hands over their ears. “Talking about money is so vulgar darling!”
Never dreaming of putting themselves in a ‘common’ person’s shoes or asking them what they want, what pisses them off etc. Always patronising and never listening. Then surprised at the results in the last election and the referendum. Boris Johnson and his woeful government have done everything possible to scupper themself for the next election. Why on earth he didn’t sit his people down at the start of lockdown and say “hey guys, we need to lead by example. That means no travelling to second homes, no driving to test your eyesight…” But just when you think that the right has done everything they possibly can to jeopardize themselves, the left come along and manage to piss the masses off more.
Statues of slave owners being taken down is fair enough and when some right wingers started bleating about the erosion of our history I thought jog on. But then it continued. The people love Winston Churchill. And Fawlty Towers. The British comedies created in the 70’s were brilliant. Rising Damp, Reginald Perrin, Porridge, Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em, Dad’s Army. And I bet as I am writing this some arse is going through each episode trying to find something offensive. And they won’t have to look very hard. Yes we can change our attitudes now and our words. We should recognise that it is not okay to go into any building in the city and find mainly black cleaners. Or be on a night bus with mainly POC because it is the cheapest form of transport. We should learn the terms that people prefer to be known as and which words are never okay to use. But we shouldn’t judge the writers of yesteryear with the same modern eyes. If we do we will find everything wanting.
Going further, as a writer I want to create characters that I choose to. Currently I am writing a short play that features a white man who is in his fifties who grew up in a rural area. He is pretty repugnant and therefore I like creating him. Rooting around inside a character to see how a person becomes what they become is interesting to me. And everybody is not all good or all bad. We all have flaws. Superman does not exist.
Ask any actor and they will tell you that playing a person completely removed from themself is more fun than playing themself. Now my character would say ‘coloured’ rather than ‘black’ but I felt the need to check with a director that I know whether I could use that word. After all, if a whole episode of Fawlty Towers was pulled because of one line of dialogue spoken by a racist then have all writers got to start only writing ‘nice’ characters who only say ‘nice’ things? God, how ridiculously boring. I hate the word ‘prostitute’ as it causes sex workers to be sidelined, ignored and when we are killed; dismissed. But I would use the word in a play. My bigoted character would definitely not say ‘look at those disgusting sex workers on the street’.
Theatre used to be for everyone. But now because of the price of the tickets and what the theatres choose to put on many working classes think it is pompous, self serving twaddle written by yoghurt eating, sandal wearing Guardian readers. So not for them. If comedy on TV gets streamlined to fit with a virtue signalling agenda then what entertainment is left for the working classes? I think James Corden and Little Britain are as funny as syphilis but if people want to watch them they should be allowed.
The biggest cause of inequality in this country is poverty.
We should battle to increase education so that cleaners and factory workers children have a chance at a better life. The only reason I am not working in a factory myself is because of sex work. Being sexy and waggling my pussy propelled me out of poverty. Long term we should look at eroding class. But in the short term we should not be attacking the few pleasures that the working class have. If we do. And if we continue to not give the people a Labour party that they can believe in… they will vote Tory again.