Michael McIntyre – the comedian that comedians love to hate
His Comedy Roadshow pulls in the viewers like no other stand-up TV show for a long time, but not everybody is a fan of Michael McIntyre
When Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow broadcasts tomorrow on BBC1, about 5 million are expected to tune in – an impressive number in these days of fragmented TV viewing.
But the fluffy-haired one is far from revered among one particular group: his fellow comics. In the pubs and clubs of the comedy circuit, McIntyre is frequently derided in a snarky aside, or is the butt of the joke – and whether they agree with the comic or not, audiences tend to laugh along with it.
McIntyre has acknowledged in the past the criticism he receives from comics who preceded him – notably Vic Reeves and Stewart Lee - and again this exists on the circuit as well. Revered comedy actor Kevin Eldon in his debut Edinburgh show this year venomously parodies McIntyre – and the way he says it, it looks like he really means it – and not long ago I saw Fred MaCauley make a jibe about McIntyre's way of getting laughs. Newer comics are just as vocal – if you are going to hear a circuit comic, who are usually between 25 and 35, snipe about another comic, it'll be McIntyre who gets it.
So what's the beef? There are two. Firstly that he's a cocky sod. Nothing to dispute there, in fact McIntyre most likely makes a virtue of it – a little arrogance goes a long way towards "owning" the stage, which is vital for the audience-comedian dynamic. A comedian confided recently that McIntyre was was hardly a warm, humble presence backstage even when he was toiling on the circuit.
Secondly – and this is more contentious – is the charge that his style of comedy is inferior, just pointing out stuff that happens and getting laughs of recognition (ie observational comedy). This does him a great disservice.
If it were so easy to make observational comedy funny, the circuit would be awash with it, but it's not (in the same way that, if Gary Lineker or Denis Law were just goal hoggers, why did they score more than everyone else?). Yes, there are plenty of better comedy writers out there than McIntyre, but few can match his energy and delivery. The results (laughter, let's not forget) speak for themselves.
Both pre- and post-fame – his big break came in 2008 – McIntyre has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to walk into a frosty room (as opposed to an arena) and take it by the scruff of the neck, by the time he's finished the audience is howling and you wonder why the others made such heavy work of it. Nobody does that just by pointing out the "birthday blowjob", the perils of getting rid of Scottish notes in England or that funny things happen on the tube. Other than a gift for timing, delivery and mimicry, it also requires impressive force of personality – but this simply does not come through on television (rarely is TV stand-up as effective as it is live). There are similarities to Billy Connolly, who is a force of nature live but his routines flatten on TV (indeed they share the trait of laughing at their own jokes, McIntyre doing it with added lashings of middle-class smugness).
Around 2006 before his TV appearances, McIntyre was a regular headliner at the excellent Boat Show comedy club at Tattershall Castle, booked as a cast-iron guarantee that he'd bring the house down. Christian Knowles, promoter for the club, says: "He would just rip the arse out of every gig. The first time he really turned my head was at the Banana Cabaret when there were a lot of quality comics on, and even then he was in a league of his own. It was when there was a freakishly hot October and he just threw his set out the window and improvised about the heat – and it was just amazing."
Ally Wilson, who worked for at the Boat Show at the time of his semi-residency, adds: "It was obvious he was brilliant. Whatever people say about him, when he's in the room, everyone else in the room was laughing." Now he may be a little past his peak after 10 years in the business, but that's hardly the basis of his peers' criticism.
"Prickly" Peter Kay
Professional envy is obviously a factor in why McIntyre takes a kicking (who doesn't indulge in a little professional envy?), the added juice here is that the comedy circuit is meant to be a subversive forum – and that means iconoclasm. Perhaps some comedians genuinely think McIntyre has zero comedy credentials, but I suspect some say it because one of the traditional roles of the stand-up it to knock establishment figures.
Why not some other big-name comic? It's all about exposure. Peter Kay is another comic whose name is also muck among many comics, again because of a "prickly" personality, the ease of nostalgia comedy (again it's worth pointing out that it still has to be done well), but also, crucially, because of his lack of gigging. The argument is that Kay trades off a humble, down-to-earth, homebody persona, but since he became a household name has exploited fans by releasing "new" DVDs and books without having put the stage time in (his new show this November is his first for seven years).
But Kay is less visible right now. He's not the one with a primetime BBC1 show, so a snipe at Kay is a less empowering one. Eddie Izzard is spared comics' barbs (except Stewart Lee's) as he is more of an original voice and overtly liberal, while Jimmy Carr is not mainstream enough for there to be cache in bashing him.
It's for the same reasons of visibility that other observational comics don't receive the same treatment. Alun Cochrane, Micky Flanagan and Sarah Millican are brilliant, traditional comics who are also concerned with everyday themes but are not successful enough to be establishment. There is of course room at the inn for all comedy styles - we need original, bold comedians as much as we need comforting, familiar ones. The music world would suffer if all bands were a Radiohead and there were no Crowded Houses.
The irony is that, for gigging comics, McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow is also a ticket to success. Appear on that show and the bookings will come flooding in. It’s a rare example of a TV show where comics are given a platform that suits most (not all) comics, as opposed to panel shows such as Mock the Week where the loudest one wins. By appearing in the coming MMCR series, fine comics such as Milton Jones, Terry Alderton and Seann Walsh are getting the sort of leg up that didn't even exist five years ago. So despite what many comics may say about McIntyre on the stage, many will be among those 5 million tuning in tomorrow – and coveting a slot.
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