When I was interviewed a long time ago for admission to one of our ancient universities, a don used the phrase “the maintained sector” to describe my educational background. He meant that I was a state school lad and I suppose his implication was that independent schools were somehow more free-thinking, reliable bastions of excellence. At the time I could only see the other side of that particular argument, but the phrase has come to mind again now in a different context.
The disastrous reception given to comedian Nish Kumar at yesterday’s Lord’s Taverners’ lunch is a sign that the maintained sector of British comedy has fallen victim to lazy groupthink and general mediocrity.
Kumar, who was booed offstage by his mainly provincial, small ‘c’ conservative audience – albeit at a swanky London venue – had made the mistake of rolling out the usual, anti-Brexit, anti-Tory observations that are usually lapped up by the live audiences of his BBC show The Mash Report. And he got a bread roll thrown at his head for his troubles.
I am sure Kumar is not entirely without talent. Clearly it takes courage for anyone to stand before an audience charged with being funny enough to quieten the clink of cutlery on crockery. But, let’s be frank, he is simply another BBC comedian with acceptable views.
BBC-approved comedians now dominate the maintained sector of British comedy. Auntie is the superpower of sponsored satire, scattering munificence in the direction of any up-and-coming talent with a neat line in attacking approved targets – the patriarchy, Brexit, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Tories, country sports enthusiasts, royalists and Priti Patel. You get the picture.
Of course not all comedians rely on such sketches. But those that don’t all too often pay the price. Take talented young comedian Alistair Williams, who shot to prominence on the back of a sketch