- FROM THE DESK OF Stewart Lee - August Newsletter 2013
- A STATEMENT - PLEASE RETWEET
- Jay Richardson, of the Chortle website, has found on-line footage of an hour long talk I did at an academic conference six months ago on the subject of stand-up as writing, and taken selective sentences out of it at the expense of any mitigating context, inadvertently creating a controversy which will drive traffic through the website. Here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrXVaytvJtQ
- If you watch it in its full massiveness, you will see that my "broadside" against stand-ups using writers is a 90 second section of a 54 minute talk which, in considering stand-ups as writers, obviously had to acknowledge, and differentiate its subject from, stand-ups who use writers, though this was not its stated intent.
- The Twitterverse has accused me of seeking publicity. I didn't. This is a private event from 6 months ago. Jay Richardson prompted a new thrust to the talk by selective editing.
- The Twitterverse has accused me of not appreciating that comedians have always used writers. I do appreciate this and was very specific in the talk about how my generation thinking comics didn't use writers was a romantic and idealised demographic and cultural blip. See the full talk not the edit.
- The Twitterverse has accused me of using writers. I have done. Indeed, about 4 mins of the 900 minutes or so of stand-up (not podcasts and chat) I have performed in the last decade was written by other people, and they are all individually attributed, with an indication of which precise line they provided in the credits, receiving residuals for broadcast wherever possible.
- I never courted or commissioned these lines. They were pre-existing perfect bon-mots that hung over all my attempts to express similar ideas, so in the end I asked to rent them out. But they stuck out anyhow. I wouldn't do it again. And I never made any attempt to conceal their contribution, often going as far as to acknowledge the writers by name on stage.
- Apart from 4 specific lines by Simon Munnery (2), Bridget Christie (1) and Dave Thompson (1), the attributions to other writers clearly detailed by subject material and writer at the end of my DVDs, TV shows and in my books represent acknowledgments of my own adaptations of ideas that came up in casual conversation with non-stand-ups, who had found, in the moment, a way of expressing something perfectly, whilst walking with me along Offa's Dyke or arguing with me via e-mail about the Pope, for example.
- During series 2 of Comedy Vehicle I talked to two circuit acts about using a specific line each of theirs, which would be altered contextually by me performing them, before revealing them as writers of the jokes during the show in an attempt to undermine and alter the audience's previous appreciation of the joke, but these plans never came to fruition.
- I also talked to a Viz writer about using a six word phrase he had used which also expressed an idea I had better than I could, but didn't use it in the end.
- Richard Herring has spoken about how he feels our working relationship in the 90s and our friendship in the 80s influenced my style, tone and vocabulary. In my book How I Escaped My Certain Fate I have gone into great detail trying to identify and acknowledge specific examples of this. There's also a lot of my father and my grand-father in the way I speak, but they are both dead now so I don't know how to begin to compensate them for the vowel sounds and worldviews I have stolen from them.
- The poet and comedian Gina Ryan also suggested an improvement to a line in my open spot set in 1990 that I have performed to this day, so I probably owe her some money. Doubtless there are other examples of the to and fro of pre and post gig information exchange with friends and colleagues and flatmates that have shaped material. I am not talking about this. Obviously. I am talking about the non-acknowledgment of writers on a payroll.
- I don't have a problem with stand-ups using writers. The over-stated objection to it in the talk, comparing them to tour-de-France drug cheats, is a call back to the idea of shifting register from conversational language to precise language, as flagged up earlier in the talk, though Richardson's removal of context compromises this. It is also a metaphor that Frank Skinner has pointed out that he himself used when discussing this same issue to a less controversial response in January, pre-dating my use of it, though I did not remember him being the source of the image and, ironically given the way this non-controversy has been spun, failed to attribute it to him, despite having corresponded with him on the subject. (All other quotes from comedians in the talk - Simon Munnery, Tony Allen, Henny Youngman etc - are attributed.)
- The problem I do have with stand-ups using writers is only in so far as the writers are not being acknowledged or financially compensated in line with the potentially vast box office receipts their work sustains (writers of West End shows, for example, usually receive royalties rather than day writing rates in advance of the show opening); and with the amusing absurdity of an individual writer-performer being judged against someone who is essentially the figurehead for a large writing team, where reviews and awards are concerned.
- It would be hypocritical of me to object to comedians using writers anyway, as I have already contracted the 1980s Canadian stand-up Baconface to be a writer/program-associate on the 3rd series of Comedy Vehicle, as I no longer have the time or the inclination to generate all the material required myself, though so far he has been an unreliable and unpredictable collaborator, spending too much time in Streatham.
- I also appreciate that collaborating on a sit-com is not the same as using a writer for stand-up, that the writer-augmented demands of panel shows are different in the minds of many comedians to the personal purity of their actual acts, though there was no time or reason to discuss this in the talk, and I also appreciate there is a wide variety of opinion of the status of hybridised forms like the disposable weekly cultural comment stand-up segments of Stand Up For The Week.
- The tone of the talk itself is open-minded, non-judgmental, exploratory, discursive and encouraging; I do not 'lambast' or 'blast' anyone; I did not make a 'sideswipe' against Michael Mcintyre, as The Independent says (nor did I make his wife cry at an event I never attended, for the record); I never 'complained to Chortle.'
- I merely stated a fact as relevant to a talk in a room in a university 6 months ago. I do lots of these, in exchange for crisps. I spoke about how the economic demands and opportunities of stand-up in the 21st century have created a different notion of what a stand-up is to that accepted in the 1980s. This was a discussion about writing on a day of talks by writers. This was not a press release I sent out seeking publicity or courting controversy.
- Presumably journalists and web-writers now realise that de-contextualising the nuanced points I make in various media, often far removed from print or on-line journalism, ensures them a degree of web traffic in a collapsing marketplace.
- Readers can be forgiven for thinking I spend all my time finding new ways to criticise TV comedians, as this is the impression given by the judicious filleting by journalists online of any interview or talk I do; and comedians can be forgiven for wondering how my every apparent utterance, even when it was not intended for broadcast or print medium, is weighted with such significance, when the average member of the public does not even know who I am and I have no TV profile beyond 2 x 6 half hours in the last decade.
- Perhaps it's time to stop talking to anyone, ever. But of course, I will be obliged to promote SLCV3 and TACE2. And I am not about to stop doing talks to students, and backstage interviews at benefits. In the web world of the 21st century you have to think 3 steps ahead, of how every single thing you say will be preserved and possibly stripped of context and used to drive traffic. Sad huh?
- That said, I appreciate that, in response to a question from the floor, the choice of Sarah Millican as someone who might do corporate gigs was a poor one, as she doesn't actually do them.
- Peace. I'm outta here. You shoulda killed me last year.
a guest Jul 19th, 2013 9,887 Never
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