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Piece for Portsmouth Evening News to promote "Joe Wells Doesn't Want To Do Political Comedy Anymore!"

Whatever you think of her politics, on a purely human level, I hope we can all agree that when Theresa May started to cry during her resignation speech it was very very funny. 

My favourite part was when she tried to think of something positive about her time in Number 10 and came up with “reducing plastic waste”. That’s her legacy, Churchill defeated fascism in Europe, Attlee founded the NHS and May made it so you have to pay 10p for your bags in Tesco. May also talked about “the burning injustices in society”, to be fair Theresa, those injustices wouldn’t have been burning in the first place if you hadn’t put that cladding on them. 

We now face the very real prospect of a general election battle between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. A sexist, racist, posh-boy, buffoon…and Boris Johnson. And as both the main parties fail to offer anything to the electorate more and more people are being drawn in by extremist groups like The Liberal Democrats.

The political scene is so awful that I’ve stopped voting. Not voting feels great, I used to have to choose between 5 parties I hated, now I have more choice than before because I get to spoil my ballot paper in any way I want. Obviously I always draw a crude picture of a penis but I have the choiceto draw anything. (I hope that this line can be included, last time I wrote something for The News I used the word ‘masturbating’ and it was subject to soviet-style censorship even though it’s a medical term and not a swear word)

Given that our country’s politics are a cesspit of egotism, ideology and hate, what worse career could I have chosen than working as a political comedian and writer? It’s depressing, everyone is sick of hearing about Brexit and it’s my job to try to write jokes about it, week on week on week. My new show, Joe Wells Doesn’t Want to do Political Comedy Anymore!is about trying to find a way out, it’s the comedy equivalent of that scene in Groundhog Day where he drives his car over the cliff but the car is my career and the cliff is Brexit. I’ll be performing work in progress previews at The Wave Maiden in Southsea on the 13thof June, and 17thof July, tickets are available from www.wegottickets.co.uk 

 

New Show!

In the run up to my new stand up show at The New Theatre Royal and The Edinburgh Fringe I’ve been thinking about how our politics change as we get older.

47. That’s the age at which you become more likely to vote for a right wing party than you are to vote for a left wing party. At least that’s what it said on a graph I saw on Twitter. The graph didn’t cite any academic study but I imagine that, like everything I read on social media, it’s probably true.

There’s overwhelming evidence that as people get older they become more conservative. It probably doesn’t happen overnight on your 47th birthday, like a reverse Christmas Carol where Ebenezer Scrooge ends up declaring Tiny Tim “fit for work” and taking away his disability benefits. It’s more of a gradual shift that you don’t notice until it’s too late. it’s the same with turning grey or enjoying jazz music, when you’re young you think “it will never happen to me” but then one day you wake up with your grandad’s hair and a Jamie Cullen album and you’ve no idea where they came from.

I think part of the reason is that as you age you just get tired. When you’re young you have enough energy to want to save everyone in the world, then you get into your thirties and can only bring yourself to care about the people in your own country. In your forties you can only care about your own family, and then you get into your fifties and you realise that your family were the ones you hated the most all along.

As you get older you also just accumulate more stuff. a house, a car, and other stuff. stuff that you’ve worked hard for and you don’t want it being sold off to pay for lazy teachers and nurses who expect to be paid enough to not have to use food banks. Whatever the reason, we all become Tories and there is nothing we can do about it.

I’m 28 years old, which means that I have 19 years left before I start voting conservative. I’m already moving to the right, as a teenager I believed that the government should be overturned in a violent revolution, now I wonder whether a revolution might actually cause more problems than it solves. My teenage self would have seen the 28 year old me as a massive sell-out and I look back at the 18 year old me with the kind of embarrassment and shame which Adam Sandler must feel when he watches any of his own films. When I’m 47 I will probably look back at myself now and be embarrassed at the stupid and naïve things I believed.

So if you know that your political views are going to change then what’s the point in even having them, let alone acting on them? Why go to all the hassle of destroying capitalism if, in a few year’s time, you’re going to want it back again?

So that’s what the new show is about, it’s based on the James Joyce novel Portrait of the artist as a young man in which, as the protagonist gets older, the overall narrative voice changes. But there’s also at least 1 joke about masturbating so it’s not all high-brow.

I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative opens at The New Theatre Royal on the 28th of July before going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Tickets for the New Theatre Royal show are £8 and available from www.newtheatreroyal.com or by calling 02392649000

 

Royal Institute Lectures

Here's a piece I wrote for the Portsmouth News before Christmas about the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.


Started in 1825 by scientist and Cravat-enthusiast Michael Farraday, the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have since run annually (Except for 2 years during WW2). This makes them the second oldest British institution after Bruce Forsythe.

When I’m in charge it will be the law that everyone in Britain must watch the RI Christmas Lectures every year in their entirety. Anyone who breaks this law will be considered a traitor and publicly executed.

UK television is increasingly becoming more American, but even if the Queen’s speech is interrupted by Kanye West to claim Beyonce did it better, the RI Christmas lectures will remain as the last bastion of truly Great British television.

On a surface level the RI lectures have the kind of brilliant naffness that only British TV has. One lecture, which had a particular impact on me as a child, showed a middle aged university lecturer crawling through a children’s play-tunnel to demonstrate black holes. They don’t have that on HBO!

But it’s much more than the aesthetics of the shows that make them great it’s the values behind it. With Higher education feeling increasingly elitist, the RI lectures are for anyone who owns a TV. The powers that be can raise tuition fees and take away grants but they can’t stop you learning about black holes from a middle-aged man with a children’s play-tunnel.

 

After Think Tank

If I have achieved just one thing in the past 5 years working as a stand up comedian it is getting the vegan, transvestite, anarchist, metalhead, comedian, Andrew O’Neill on the same stage as the Conservative parliamentary candidate (and quite possibly the next MP) for Portsmouth South, Flick Drummond. Two people who it is hard to imagine walking down the same street let alone sat on a panel debating education policy. It’s this clash of worlds that drives ‘Think Tank’; politicians whose job it is to represent people and who must be seen as respectable members of their communities are forced to interact with comedians, most of whom have no interest in being respectable or polite. 
How Think Tank works is that I get 3 of my favourite comedians to come up with ideas for laws or legislation that they would like to see put in place, they get 5 minutes to propose their ideas and then they join a cross party panel of politicians who debate the policy (with me as the chair). All of this is done in front of a live audience then recorded as a podcast and each show is on a political theme. The first show was themed around education and the next one will be themed around ‘health’.
I have always enjoyed comedy that feels dangerous; Mark Thomas driving a tank into McDonalds or Joan Rivers being so rude to the guests on her talk show that they walk off. Think Tank is the first thing that I have done where I have felt that there was danger, where there was a sense that anything could happen. 
Grainne Maguire our first comedian opened with an impassioned attack on private education, at one point describing people who went to boarding school as ‘psychopaths and drug addicts’ something that the don’t say on question time. I was aware that some politicians would not know how to react to something like this, luckily they all held their own. 
In fact all of the politicians held their own pretty well throughout the show and I left with real respect for them all (I never thought that I’d respect a Tory!). I’m proud of creating a format where bad politicians could really falter and make fools of themselves but at the same time politicians with conviction in what they believe can come across really well. That is what good political comedy should do; it should shine a light on the hypocrisies of bad politicians but leave alone those with consistency and conviction in what they believe. 
The next Think Tank will be in July, there’s no fixed date yet but the best way to find out more about it is to sign up to my mailing list at www.joewells.org.uk

Interview with The New Theatre Royal Portsmouth about Think Tank

Originally published here: http://www.newtheatreroyal.com/interview-new-theatre-royal-associate-artist-joe-wells/


We caught up with associate artist, Joe Wells, on his new comedy series ‘Think Tank’, which combines political debate with stand up comedy.

 We’d love some background on you, what made you decide to be a comedian? Where does your interest in politics come from? 

I grew up being taken to see Mark Thomas who I still see as one of my biggest inspirations even though what we do is quite different. I had a poster of Mark’s Coca Cola show with a quote from a newspaper; “Coca Cola execs should be worried, Mark Thomas is gunning for them”, I thought that was so cool, that some powerful executive would be frightened by a man telling jokes on his own. It wasn’t until I went to university and started going to see live comedy that I realised that this was something I could do. Comedy has a real DIY punk rock ethos where anyone can get up and have a go without learning an instrument or going through any kind of training, so I guess the answer to the question ‘what made me decide to become a comedian?’ is ‘because I could.’

To someone who hasn’t seen you, how would you describe your style of comedy?

It’s stand up that’s loosely political but not the kind of political where I have to read the paper every day, I’m more interested in broader political ideas than what legislation is being passed this week. My first hour long show, Night of The Living Tories, was described by the comedy website Chortle as ‘much more than an hour of swearing at David Cameron’ although there was plenty of that to make sure that people didn’t go home feeling short changed. I wrote the show around the material I was doing in comedy clubs anyway which was very angry about becoming an adult and realising just how unfair the world is. It was quite an angry show that stuck two fingers up at people who say that life isn’t fair and you just have to deal with it. I’m now working on a new hour which is a bit more introspective, the show is called ’10 things I hate about UKIP’ but it’s actually a defence of UKIP voters, the message of the show is that it’s more important how you behave as a person than what your politics are.

What has been your most memorable moment when doing stand-up?

I supported Alexei Sayle on some of his warm up dates for his most recent tour, he’s an incredibly inspiring man, if it weren’t for him and a few other people then comedy as we know it today wouldn’t exist. Even though he’s in his 60s now he still has that anger that he had in his early work, he hasn’t been taken in by the establishment, he’s still an outsider figure which I think all good comedians should be.

What inspired your new show ’Think Tank’?

I love comedy that has an opinion, too much political comedy stands at the side and sneers without offering any solutions. The American comic Doug Stanhope is one of my favourites because when you leave the show you end up debating the ideas that he’s talked about in his act, there’s lots of comics like this; Jamie Kilstein, Mark Steel, Bridget Christie. I wanted to do a show where that comedy- inspired-discussion I would have with friends on the train home would happen onstage with actual politicians who have the power to put these ideas into practice.

What can people expect from your show?

Three of my favourite comedians (Romesh Ranganathan, Grainne Maguire and Andrew O’Neill) will spend 5 minutes each proposing an education policy of their choosing, then I will chair a panel with 3 politicians and debate these policies. The politicians who have agreed to do the show are Flick Drummond (Conservative), John Ferrett (Labour) and Tim Dawes (Green) so there’s definitely going to be a wide range of opinions. There’ll be points from the audience too, its basically Question Time mixed with Live At The Apollo. The show is being recorded and will later be released as an audio podcast online, we then hope to do more in the future on different themes, the next one will probably be ‘health’.

What do you hope people take away from your show?

I hope that the debate continues after the show and that people get a better idea about who some of their local MPs might be after the next general election and what they stand for.

You worked with New Theatre Royal on Think Tank – what does the theatre mean to you as a local resident and a performer? 

Working with the New Theatre Royal has allowed me to pursue the kind of comedy that I can’t do at normal comedy clubs. Last year we did the world record attempt show and NTR also supported me with my debut fringe show. This year they are supporting Think Tank, if it weren’t for them it would be very difficult for me to put on this show.

An article I wrote for Total Politics Magazine about politicians doing stand up

Should Politicians Tell Jokes?

In recent years there has been a growing trend for politicians turning their hand to stand-up comedy. Because I’m a political comedian I have been a first hand witness to Tom Levitt, Lembit Öpik and Stephen Pound’s failed attempts at mastering the art form.

Hearing about the time when a train passenger saw Lembit’s penis and enduring Tom Levitt’s Ken Dodd impression are both horrible experiences surpassed in painfulness only by the YouTube footage of Sarah Teather doing a short stand-up set at the 2011 LibDem conference, the kind of footage you would read about being used to torture prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

What is horrible about politicians doing stand-up is not the fact that they’re no good at it; that’s understandable, it takes time to learn how to be a comedian, its not like being Education Secretary or Health Minister where you can just pick it up as you go along.

What is horrible is that these politicians seem to think that if they act like zany, up-for-a-laugh, goofballs then I will respect them more than if they behave like the aggressively dull individuals that they actually are.

The truth is the opposite. I don’t want funny politicians. I want funny friends, funny colleagues and funny comedians. But when someone has control over our education, healthcare and nuclear weapons I want them to be as boring as is humanly possible.

Politicians, like accountants, geography teachers and Gwyneth Paltrow, have always and should always be boring and unfunny. I urge any politicians reading this - be proud of your dreariness! Let it shine dull and go unnoticed to all around you. Remember, you are not an interesting person, your favourite band is Coldplay, you like the novels of John Grisham and you were never cut out for stand-up comedy.

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