Posts Tagged ‘Les Miserables’

24th January 2013

This is my latest blog for The Independent. I wrote it just after seeing Les Mis, which might explain it’s somewhat radical tone…spot the George Orwell “Animal Farm” reference for extra revolutionary points!

I miss when life was simpler. Comedians were the idealistic losers and business men the bullies in sharp suits. Now, with a financial website  encouraging struggling corporations to learn from the world of stand up and a BBC documentary detailing the huge amounts of money comedians can make in corporate bookings, things aren’t so simple. Increasingly, instead of sticking it to the man, comedy is charging it to him instead.

Who can blame big business for trying to take a leaf from comedies notebook? In a climate of collapsing high street chains and stuttering growth, it’s the one industry that seems to be doing well. It also reflects how companies are trying to rebrand themselves; they don’t just want our money anymore, they want our love.

In our public consciousness, the ultimate alpha: the ruthless businessman has been replaced by well meaning good guys in fleeces. Multinationals seem desperate not to be taken seriously; the cheeky loan ads that encourage borrowing on a whim, the matey messages on chain store sandwich wrappers, the banks offering pictures of your dog on your visa cards, presumably to put a brief smile on your face before it’s declined. They’re all designed to do the same thing, make us relax; convince us everything is fine, that they’re on our side. In Goodfellas Joe Pesci, shot a waiter for suggesting he was funny, today he’d probably hire him as a PR. They may not pay corporation tax and they certainly won’t let you visit their factories in China, but have you seen this funny viral they sponsored?

Who can blame comedians either, after years of struggling, from accepting the bone thrown to them from the top table? Anybody seriously thinking that comedy is a quick way to make a fortune is almost endearing in their naivety. It’s like thinking that being an Olympic athlete is an easy way to money because you can melt down your gold medal afterwards. The only way anybody could cope with the scorching rejection, chilling indifference and aching hearts that accompany most comics journeys to success, is a deep obsessive love for the art form itself. While there may be more people getting into comedy, the people who stick at it long enough to actually succeed have to work just as hard, if not more so. The only difference is the way their hard work and talent is being marketed to the public.

Show business has never been able to escape the latter part of its word. The giddy heights of creativity that comedy is capable of can only be reached because it is supported by a steely hearted pyramid scheme. At the bottom are thousands of hopefuls, running new material for barely the cost of their travel home, all investing money, time, hopes and dreams, crossing their fingers and hoping that if they stick at it long enough, they will be one of the privileged few at the top.

The Edinburgh festival is the jewel in the comedy crown but it is also the American subprime mortgage disaster in miniature. Thousands of unknown acts converge on the city every year, spending money they don’t have and betting on what their stock will definitely probably be worth in five years time. Most consider breaking financially even a sign they have hit the big time.

Despite all this, as a comedian I find this merging of two very different worlds deeply unsettling.  Stand up should be about challenging power not endorsing it. We are the release valve for a society bombarded with unachievable goals. How can we do that if we are the ones in the ads?

The public is being short-changed if the only comedy it gets is shiny and safe because we do not live in shiny and safe times. It has a right to be angry about what is happening to the world and they deserve comedians willing to storm the barricade with them not cling to safety inside. Comedians happy to join the corporate party to share drinks and tax avoidance tips with the great and good might well live to regret it. After all, when the mob finally press their nose against the glass and look from comedian to businessman and businessman to comedian, they might not being able to tell the difference.

18th January 2013

The strangest thing happened to be me on the way home last night. I sat beside a middle-aged blonde woman who looked suspiciously like The Home Secretary! It was only when she grabbed her chips and got off the night bus I realised she had left her House of Common’s notebook behind. Opening (only to confirm her identity) I came across this review for a recent Hollywood smash she had written. Had she been sober enough to give me her permission herself, I’m sure she’d be thrilled that I’m sharing her tentative foray into cultural journalism with you, the public:

 There is a lot of fuss about Oscar favourite musical “Les Miserables” at the moment. I frankly found it confusing, farfetched and hard to follow- working class white people from deprived back grounds represented in a sympathetic manner?! If I wanted to watch “Chav’s the Musical” I would have turned on BBC3 thanks! That’s a joke of course.  Everybody knows BBC are far too busy covering up child abuse to even consider such innovative broadcasting.

Why on earth should I feel sorry for a load of flag-waving, free loading 19th century French rioters?  I’m sure the hardworking, everyday Parisians, who ignored the protests, kept their head down and got on with it, would be pretty miffed that we are glorifying these looters.  Where’s their musical?  It comes as no surprise that even then it was, of course, students behind it.  The fact that history has proved them to have completely over reacted will be a relief to Nick Clegg at least!

As for being a modern day class- I found the characters unrealistic, unlikeable or downright frustrating. Anne Hathaway plays a single mother dumped by her boyfriend, sacked from her factory job and forced into prostitution to pay for the spiralling costs of her childcare. Well I’m sorry Fantine, but maybe you should have considered your life options before getting yourself knocked up? The whole thing was like Little Britain sketch only rubbish. She never even offered to swap her baby for a Beethoven CD .Why didn’t she just move back home with her parents? Besides in those days, as even “comrade” Victor Hugo acknowledges, if you couldn’t afford healthcare to tackle the dirty sex diseases eating you up from the inside, the private sector, as always, was there to step in.  Fantine had local businessman Hugh Jackman nearby to pay for her hospice care and adopt her child. This is of course, a wonderful example of the Big Society popping up to sort things out, even back then.

I did find Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean hard to believe though.  We’re supposed to believe that an ex- con, through hard work and discipline, can not only become a successful business man but also an elected official? Like I said, some of the story lines were very farfetched.

Not all the characters are so bonkers. Revolutionary Marius may start off like one of the loony left, abandoning his upper class roots to hang around with a rabble of troublemakers, but as soon as the shit hits the Parisian sewers, he ditches the mucky working class girl for a lovely lady, dumps the radical politics and finishes the film at his really smashing wedding. Good for you Marius! His lovely wife Cossette, seems like a smashing girl.

With all this irresponsible talk of “The people” “liberty” and “food to eat” it’s a relief when one of the characters finally seems to talk sense.  The only person with a responsible, realistic and sensible solution to post Revolutionary politics was the hero of the entire film Javert. Tough but fair, he tried to explain to the shirkers and feckless, caught in the benefit trap of post revolutionary Paris, the difficult choices facing them all. He tracks down a criminal who has broken his parole, only asking that he serves his time. Twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread may seem harsh but imagine what a message that sent out to other people who maybe thought stealing bread to feed starving children was cool or an easy way out of getting a job? It wasn’t even Javert’s fault he was dealing with the inheritance left over from Louis XVI anyway! When he killed himself as the end, I was hugely disappointed. I was hoping they’d give him another solo so I could hear his thoughts on how to tackle immigration.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see why the film is so popular; a movie about hopeless people, wasted youth and an out of touch elite is wonderful escapism.  It was the sobbing I found strange; the hopeless, despairing, gut wrenching sobbing that seemed to fill the cinema stalls from the masses around me. A bit of an overreaction I thought- Russell Crowes singing was that bad!