Michael McIntyre, now departed as a judge on Britain's Got Talent, has been variously described as Marmite, shite and merely alright. Kids and some adults lap him up, while others would prefer to have their eyes pulled out by ropes attached to wild stallions than watch his MOR material. But is their anything wrong with treading safe comedic ground?
Comedy has always been inextricably linked with scandal and controversy; Lenny Bruce’s conviction for obscenity in 1964 (for which he was later pardoned); Bill Hicks having his entire set cut from Letterman in 1993; the massive backlash religious groups staged against Monty Python’s The Life of Brian; more recently Russell Brand’s phone call to Andrew Sachs, and Frankie Boyle’s various caustic witticisms. Ironic then, that one of the comedians who divides opinions the most is also the least offensive and most popular- Michael McIntyre.
The debate as to whether McIntyre is any good or not hinges on each individual’s views of comedic essentialism. The ‘for’ camp could argue that the fact that Michael McIntyre is ubiquitous simply because he is so funny and appealing, whereas detractors argue that the reason his comedy is popular is because it is so broad and easy. It is comedy made with marketability in mind, as opposed to wit and artistic integrity.
I personally don’t mind him that much. He’s quite amusing in small doses, but amusing is all he ever is- I’ve never watched a performance of his that left me feeling inspired or enlightened in the way old clips of Woody Allen or Lenny Bruce do, I’m never in awe of his talent like I am when I watch Billy Connolly. I am certainly not the first person to mention this, the backlash against Michael McIntyre is in itself so pervasive that even routines that talk about how shit he is have become passé- so passé in fact that one can’t help wonder why McIntyre is being lambasted for making easy jokes about man-drawers and social faux pas when so many others are just making jokes about his jokes. McIntyre himself has quipped in interviews “I am inoffensive, so inoffensive that it actually offends some people how inoffensive I am”. This might seem paradoxical and slightly ridiculous, you’d be forgiven for blaming the backlash against him on simple jealousy from less-moneyed performers- although you’d need to explain why Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand didn’t experience the same upheaval (well Russell Brand did, but not even close to the same extent).
The alternative comedy from which his act stems was born as an alternative to the awful mainstream comedians of the 70’s and 80’s like Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson
One view is that in artistic terms McIntyre is to comedy what Mcfly is to rock and roll, or punk, or whatever it is they claim to be (although this is a little harsh on McIntyre, I doubt that if his career went south he’d try and relaunch it by getting a six pack and appearing in heat magazine in his pants). The alternative comedy from which his act stems was born as an alternative to the awful mainstream comedians of the 70’s and 80’s like Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson, and many comics working today- thankfully- still pursue alternative comedy as an art form- Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Daniel Kitson and Mark Thomas to name the most obvious examples. The point being that instead of using his inarguable comic abilities to try and create something original or exciting, McIntyre just imitates pre-existing styles and methods, whether this is born of a genuine feeling that observational comedy is the funniest kind of comedy, or simply being too lazy or scared to take a risk, it is disheartening to see prominent practitioners of any art form so seemingly unwilling to experiment.
What is it that separates McIntyre from other observational comedians currently working? It would be cynical to say that McIntyre’s success is based purely on marketing. His material is consistently funny- unlike say Peter Kay, who in 2009 came back with a new tour which failed to blow audiences away in the same way that the Mum wants a BungalowTour did. Also, the nice guy image MM portrays- which is a crucial part of any observational comics act- seems to be backed up by the fact that he is genuinely a nice man. Unlike, for example Jason Manford, whose down-to-earth friendly persona was shattered last year following a pro-footballer style scandal of sending out ‘sexy messages’ over Twitter. That said there’s little to divide McIntyre from comics like Ed Byrne and Micky Flanagan in terms of talent and technical ability, while these two are certainly not overlooked, they don’t enjoy the same level of publicity and adoration McIntyre does for comparable material- this is where the argument of being overly broad and inoffensive comes in.
Whatever your opinion on Michael McIntyre, what’s indisputable is that what he does sells. He sells out arena tours, has a bestselling book, and a popular TV series which helps to launch some great new stand up talent into the mainstream. Plus the crowds he pulls in can only help the wider comedy industry. Mainstream acts are essential for introducing people to comedy, my own love of comedy started with Jimmy Carr and Russell Brand- gradually becoming more esoteric as my appreciation and understanding grew. Even if you hate him, you have to admit that the one person he laughs at the most is himself, which at least puts him above those vacuous idiots on Britain’s Got Talent who’ll snigger at people like Susan Boyle right up until they realise that they can use her to make a shitload of money, at which point they’ll fall over themselves to tell her how they love how ‘eccentric’ she is. Yeah, at least he’s not as bad as one of those guys.
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