Comedy is currently more prescriptive than at any time I can remember. Prescriptive of words, of subjects, even of opinions. And that is worrying. The current industry-standard stand-up has to abide by a list of prohibitions that make a gluten-free, vegan shopping expedition seem simple. There are 328 recognised gender identities, Leo Kearse tells his packed audience, and reads a few from his phone. Canada has just passed a law making the non-use of the correct gender pronoun in any given situation an offence, he says. He thinks this is a bit much.
Kearse makes a properly funny show out of his problems with political correctness, the hypocrisy of the left, and misinformation. Kearse offers to make us Tory, but his points are not particularly Political, just political. I am a huge Jeremy Corbyn fan but when Kearse rips into him it is funny. Incorrect, in my opinion, but funny. I comprehensively disagree with him on global warming but I laughed out loud. Kearse has a way with words and his description of the result of a fortnight at a Pray The Gay Away camp is with me still. He is enthusiastic and persuasive in his exasperation with micro-aggressions and safe spaces, no-platforming and triggering. He, like an increasing number of comics around the Fringe, is taking another look at equality, so hard fought for by early feminists. Today’s feminists “just go for the nice stuff”, suggests Kearse before pointing out that 97 per cent of workplace deaths are male. This is a solid hour of honest funny which will change your attitude to bananas forever.
Of course, the poster boy for alternative alternative comedy is Andrew Lawrence, whose current thoughts on equality of the sexes centre, he tells us, on the now obviously unfair and sexist caveat on boys hitting girls, when they can hit anything and everyone else. I will leave that one with you but remind you that it is a joke. That is what Lawrence does. He says things for comic effect. His show is funny. Lawrence’s material is dark and deeply self-deprecating, bitter and somehow managing to be both biting and tongue in cheek, which is difficult to do without drawing blood. He has, he tells us, always regarded comedy as a barometer for freedom of speech. If it is then we are heading into a deep depression. He is a wonderful technician and if you cannot appreciate what he does up there on his comedy tightrope, juggling shock, disgust, outrage and laughter, then I am truly sorry for you.
Gavin Webster takes the genial Geordie approach to frustration with quotas and militant liberals. He comes from a land of sectarianism and hard knocks, where turning the other cheek can be dangerous. His show is pretty much solid laughs making hard points. He explains why Geordies would have made good, if reluctant Nazis, explores uxoricide, and shares with us the four kinds of people he hates. Hippies take quite a lot of stick. Of course the Geordie accent makes his impotent raging and bewilderment at socio-economic unfairnesses lovable rather than threatening. And we agree with him. Especially when it comes to his irrefutable reason for not having more women on panel shows. He is not remotely interested in when Diwali is and resents the amount of time women’s football gets on telly, he paints a chuckle-worthy picture of a dystopian future where humour has been outlawed, and tags it with a great callback to end on a huge laugh. This is great blokey stuff. I identify as a girl-bloke so I loved it.
Chris McGlade is angry. His is the most “unleashed” of the four shows, as he prowls his Cave down off the stage, getting in the faces of his audience and howling his frustration with bourgeois advantages and the way the world looks down on the working classes. He plays the working man’s club circuit and loathes the way proper joke-telling is sneered at. But then he gets into politics and rips into Obama and the 26,000 bombs he dropped, the Thought Police culture we are living in and the increasing number of caveats in our lives. He rails against the unfairness of the strictures on cigarette sales and his suggestions for warning signs on other items are brilliant. Newcastle Brown and Crispy Creme doughnuts should be packaged the McGlade way. “I know I’m a scary man, go with it,” he reassures an American couple in the front row. And they do. He gets his teeth into taboo words and how words can be weaponised and this is gripping stuff. And when he gets onto PC and gender politics and how society is being divided and controlled, and urges us to fight back for the sake of generations to come, I felt like grabbing a banner and marching. This is weaponised comedy, locked and loaded. It is awesome.
These guys are part of a growing group in the crowd pointing out that the kings and queens of political correctness might not be as well dressed as they are thought to be. Andrew Doyle, another comic in the group, calls the current climate of professional “liberalism” a dogma. And dogma is never good. All of these guys are terrific comics. Take a walk on the comedy wild side and see them.
Leo Kearse: I Can Make You Tory, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, until 28 Aug (not 15); Andrew Lawrence: The Happy Accident Tour, Assembly Rooms, ends today; Gavin Webster: It’s About Time We Had More Women in There, The Stand Comedy Club 2, until 27 Aug (not 14); Chris McGlade: Ignorance Is Chris, Just The Tonic at the Caves, until Aug 27 (not 14 or 21); Andrew Doyle: Thought Crimes, The Stand Comedy Club, until 27 Aug (not 14)