Magazine article The Spectator

Under the Spotlight

Magazine article The Spectator

Under the Spotlight

Article excerpt


The other day I took our cat Beetle to the vet's to get him treated for one of those mega-expensive urinary tract infections that no one warns you about when they're kittens. Soon I was joined in the waiting-room by three other cat-owners, all of whom began exchanging cat talk, admiring each other's pussies, and fussing over two tabby cats that happened to live in the surgery.

Personally, I didn't want anything to do with this. I mean I like cats but I don't consider them particularly central to my universe. What I soon realised, however, was that this was not the correct attitude to strike in a vet's surgery. If I didn't find it impossible to look at a flea-ridden tabby without wanting to scratch it behind the ear, if I didn't make out that Beetle was as important to me as my children, if I didn't come up with a few choice anecdotes about his hilarious ways, then I would reveal myself - or so I was made to feel - as a closet, feline-fur-wearing, puppy-farming, hamster-torturing, badger-baiter. So, reluctantly, I gave up and joined in.

There's something similarly oppressive, I fear, in the atmosphere surrounding Red Nose Day. To resist its dubious comic charms or, worse still, to venture the slightest criticism is tantamount to saying, `I'm a heartless, cynical bastard and I like nothing more than watching flyblown African babies, their bellies swollen with malnutrition, slowly dying before my eyes on camera.'

It's a shame that a cause so good and noble should have a side effect so creepy and unpleasant, but it's true. You see it in the stick that hapless couple received for daring to complain when the manager of a nearby wine bar laser-projected an image of a giant pair of Comic Relief underpants onto the walls of their Georgian house. You see it, too, in the queasy subtext of those TV sketches where the likes of Martin Clunes and Dom Joly are seen on the phone telling their agents, `They want me to work for how much? Tell them I don't do charity.'

I say 'queasy' because, of course, such a response is a luxury that they could never in a million years have afforded for real, no matter how great the conflict of interest between comedy and charity. One is about laughing when a man slips on a banana skin. The other is about rushing up to console him and pay his medical bills.

Perhaps this stops being an issue when, like Lenny Henry or Billy Connolly, you've reached that stage in your career where mirth is a distant memory; but for the younger, hipper comics whose humour relies on subversion, acid observation and unflinching honesty, it must be quite hard taking part in just the sort of Butlins-style, enforced jollity-fest that you'd spend the other 364 days in the year reviling. …

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