October 25th, 2015. Respected, award-winning comedian Andrew Lawrence publishes a Facebook post. One of his main arguments seems to be that Mock the Week is shit. If only he’d stopped there, he’d have an uncontroversial opinion bordering on fact. But he doesn’t.
Instead, the toxic torrent takes aim at the BBC, anti-UKIP jokes, “ethnic comedians” and “women-posing-as-comedians”. That brings us to The Outcast Comic, an engaging hour in which Lawrence and his peers reflect on the fallout from what we’ll generously call a social media gaffe.
Comic contemporaries such as Nish Kumar and Shappi Khorsandi are here, both understandably regarding themselves as a target of Lawrence’s baffling ire. Neither seem angry, just disappointed at the views expressed and his refusal to engage with anyone who’s challenged them. Similar sentiments are expressed by Reginald D Hunter, Brendon Burns and Al Murray. No one disputes that Lawrence is a man of comedic skill.
The question of whether he really believes what he says, or just created a persona that got away from him, permeates the whole documentary. Murray’s views are particularly interesting, due to the fact that being a bit right-wing for chuckles is a staple of his Pub Landlord character.
We’re reminded that a comedian is expected to punch up with their jokes, never down. A deliberately absurd character is the only way around this golden rule of stand-up. While acts like Murray can leave the fool they’ve created onstage, by ignoring the laws of the game, Lawrence himself has become the idiot. It’s a tag he still can’t shake off.
There’s a particularly interesting segment where Lawrence actually meets Murray for a chat. It seems clear that Murray wants to give him the benefit of the doubt and even laughs at some clips of his routines. There’s definite sympathy in the room. “You find out where the edge is when you fall off it,” observes Murray.
Lawrence hasn’t quite tumbled into the canyon just yet, but he’s arguably hanging on by his anti-immigrant fingernails.
He claims that his audiences are at the same level they were before the incident. If so, it only proves that his career has stalled. Whether this show has been edited unsympathetically is tough to say, but the cameras turn up at a horribly half-empty theatre in Derby. One couple walks out before the end. He claims not to care.
It’s important to stress that while some of Lawrence’s content is undoubtedly of a Conservative political persuasion, this does not preclude him from being funny. He jokes that the media furore “really ruined my dad’s scrapbook of my press cuttings” and he is without doubt playing up his image as some sort of misogynistic bogeyman to an objectively amusing degree.
At one point he reads out a review that’s clearly been written by someone who was out to get him from the start. This is fuel for Lawrence’s fire and adds some credence to his claim that comedy is a world where only the politically left-leaning are welcome. While the unpleasantness has undoubtedly lost him fans, it seems to have been a bigger deal for other comedians than the public.
However, Comedy Store impresario Don Ward tells him that the club’s doors will “always be open”, so he’s clearly not totally cut adrift.
We leave with the impression Lawrence would do things differently if he had his time again. That’s not to say he’d change his views. Just days before the documentary goes out, he posts another indefensibly inflammatory anti-BBC Facebook diatribe that harps on about ‘quotas’, while he’s also shown criticising the stand-up circuit for being “just to the left of Stalin”. He is evidently reluctant to do himself any favours.
However, even though it’s a mess of his own making, it’s clear he resents the focus on his political leanings over the content of his comedy and would prefer the jokes to speak for themselves. He may have objectionable views, but in the end, Andrew Lawrence just wants to make people laugh.
Even if they voted Brexit.
The Outcast Comic was originally aired on Sky Arts, October 6th 2016.