Andrew Lawrence has been one of the most interesting figures in British comedy over the last few years. As he prepares to bring his show The Happy Accident Tour to the Edinburgh Fringe, he explains below how the predominantly left-wing comedy industry has shunned him since publicly breaking from their consensus.
We think it'd be fair to say you've had a turbulent few years, Andrew.
I spent the last three years poking fun at the liberal-left with my comedy. No other comedian was doing that, and I think it came as a massive shock for many of my peers, many of whom were disgusted with me.
For the first two years of making jokes about liberals, I was getting daily abuse on social media from other comedians and a lot of snark from left-wing comedy journalists. I was sad to discover how much parochialism and ideological bigotry existed within UK comedy circles. It was fascinating, but also quite frightening to witness the amount of vitriol my peers could have for someone expressing views outside of the group-think mentality that had become a malaise in UK stand-up.
Things seem to be changing for the better now. There are a number of comedians starting to step outside of the liberal-left comedy consensus and doing stuff from an alternative political stand-point at the moment; in fact I'd say it's starting to become fashionable.
We live in a climate where people who call themselves 'liberals' are the very opposite. They're aggressively authoritarian, and they cause a lot of misery and division.
Stepping outside stand-up's left-wing consensus was quite a self-destructive thing to do, and it's been an intense and often unpleasant few years for me. I'm moving on with my comedy to other things, as I always have every few years since I started. Now I just want to mess around and have a load of fun with my stand-up and my audiences, and for me that means a lot of sick jokes and misanthropic humour, because that's the stuff that makes me laugh hardest. I've got a kid now, so there will be a lot of jokes about how annoying that is.
Have you noticed any change in your audience over that time?
My audiences have grown a bit, but it's broadly the same people who come and see me; they don't care about politics, they just want to have a good laugh, and they know that's what I'll deliver.
I think the stand-up industry itself has become very politicised, and extremely PC, and there are tour venues and bookers who I did great work for for years who now won't deal with me. For example, I'm not welcome at The Stand venues and the Glasgow Comedy Festival, where I've performed many well-received tour shows over the years and sold quite a lot of tickets. It's a shame, but I'm still available should they change their mind. That's just one example mind you, there are several others, sadly.
Do you get audience members walking out?
A few years ago there was a real culture of offence, where people seemed to want to be outraged about things at the slightest provocation. So I'd get the very rare walk-out by one or two people, but that was a gift, because the rest of the audience would see the histrionic nature of that gesture and it was often very easy to get big laughs out of it.
Do you feel freer, unrestrained to do and say what you want in your act, not pretending to kowtow to the same narrative as others?
I think my stand-up's always been quite unrestrained, I've always just done whatever I wanted on stage. I don't think about getting corporate work, TV work or radio work, I don't think about what critics are going to say. I just do exactly whatever I please when I get up in front of an audience - and if people like it, they'll keep buying tickets and if they don't, I'll go and do something else, because there are plenty of other ways to make a living.
I'm not someone who is able to lie, even when the truth might hurt people. I'm quite compulsive when it comes to honesty. I'm not able to disingenuously go along with the huge amount of PC nonsense other comics will happily pay lip service to for the sake of their careers. I'd be a lot better off if I could, but I can't. It's not some worthy, ethical choice I'm making, it's a self-destructive impulse. I wish I could just churn out bullshit like some of my peers do.
I gave the producers total editorial control. And they filmed about ten of my tour shows and interviewed me for maybe fifty hours. I did that because I've got nothing at all to hide. I didn't see any risk. I'm a decent stand-up and I live a simple life of just trying to provide for my family.
There was never any chance they'd be able to make me look like a monster, because there's not the slightest trace of that in me. So I trusted them to do whatever they wanted. I was paid well and it was a pleasant experience, they were good people. There were lots of funny bits of stand-up and interesting points I made that they could have used but didn't. They were very ethical in their approach, and I admire that, it's nice when your trust in people pays off.
What do you make of the current political climate in Britain?
I feel that the political climate in the UK is brutally acrimonious at present. And consequently, if you choose to be a political comic, unless you're a fence-sitting one, you are setting yourself up for an enormous kicking.
It's very bleak. I think the way the hard-left have used social media these past three or four years to intimidate and smear anyone who has different values to them is hideous. What I find most depressing is that quite a lot of prominent figures in UK stand-up have joined in with that vile behaviour.
If I put any joke about Corbyn's Labour on my Twitter page right now, within a few hours I will have received perhaps fifty messages of extremely personal abuse from hard-left trolls. I can make jokes about any other subject, without that happening. I can't imagine how difficult and unpleasant it must be for politicians to do their jobs under those sorts of conditions.
As most people are starting to realise, we live in a climate where people who call themselves 'liberals' are the very opposite. They're aggressively authoritarian, and they cause a lot of misery and division.
You made several popular sitcom and stand-up series for Radio 4. Would you be keen to make more?
I'd probably be up for doing another stand-up series for Radio 4, because stand-up is all I'm interested in right now - although I've made quite a lot of caustic jokes about the BBC these past few years, so I might not be high on the list of people they want to work with; I don't know how much of a sense of humour they have about themselves.
There's not much I want to do on radio or TV, I just want to do live stand-up. I'd certainly think about doing Live At The Apollo again if it was offered. Hopefully the producers will get around to coming to one of my live gigs and seeing what I'm doing these days.
The thing about radio and TV is there are a lot of very funny comedians around now, so being funny isn't enough to get you broadcasting work. If you want that work, you have to really network, grovel and ingratiate yourself with the right people, you have to debase yourself. Personally, I don't have the stomach for it, it's just not worth that much to me. If I ever do that work, it's because they've come knocking on my door, and that's how it's always been.