TV Review: The Outcast Comic, Sky Arts

Others remember where they were when they heard that Princess Diana had died. I remember where I was when I read Andrew Lawrence’s famous Facebook post about the state of modern comedy and the state of the nation in October 2014. I thought it was, erm, interesting, and messaged him quickly to ask if I could post it on beyondthejoke. I then got on a train and when I logged back on he had replied, politely saying: “Good to hear from you, but I’d rather you didn’t”.

I don’t know to this day if he already regretted it by then, but in the Sky Arts’ documentary The Outcast Comic he says it is still on his FB page so I guess he stands by his remarks about “ethnic comedians” and “women posing as comedians” and his suggestion that political correctness was holding his career back. Though in a pensive moment in this film he does wonder if he should have ended the FB post on a joke.

But why? Was the post a lengthy slow-burn gag after all? Is the angry feminist-baiting Andrew Lawrence we see onstage a comedy character? These are some of the questions this otherwise fascinating documentary never quite answers. It seems to dance around various issues taking both sides. At times it sits on the fence so much it might get splinters up its arse.

Director Wael Dabbous certainly got some good and appropriate contributors to take part (although there has been some muttering on social media that they may have thought they were being filmed for a documentary about free speech, not specifically about Lawrence). Shappi Khorsandi, Nish Kumar, Brendon Burns and Reg Hunter are among those airing their views.

Perhaps most intriguing, however is Al Murray, who seems pretty sympathetic to Lawrence. “If you are taking flak you are over the target,” says Murray. And considering how much flak Lawrence got from the comedy community he must have been hitting a bullseye. And there is certainly something to be said about the tyranny of political correctness. Except that maybe it could have been put better than the way Lawrence put it in his post.

It is also interesting to see Lawrence challenged after a gig by Chortle’s Steve Bennett. In the dressing room Lawrence seems almost contrite and prepared to take Bennett’s swipes on board. This is a big contrast to his position on Facebook where he was far more confrontational when other comics pulled him up. Khorsandi suggests he would block rather than enter into a dialogue.

Towards the end though there is maybe some insight into what drove Lawrence to post his inner thoughts online back in 2014. Leafing through his early cuttings and reflecting on winning the BBC’s New Comedy Award he suggested that maybe being told you are the next big thing is bad for your psyche. As he has seen other next big things do better than him maybe that started to hurt more than he let on. 

One certainly has more sympathy for Lawrence at the end of the documentary that one does at the beginning. There is no sense of sour grapes. In his FB post he wrote that while he is not UKIP he can see why people vote UKIP. To Lawrence’s credit here he doesn’t have a post-Brexit “i told you so” arrogance. As his initial reply to me suggested, at heart he is probably a decent bloke, even if his onstage comedy can be dark and warped.

For the comedy community this doc will be absolutely fascinating, but despite diversity being a hot topic again due to the Jon Holmes/Now Show story it does feel like a small issue out there in the big world. Lawrence jokes that maybe there is a market for his outspoken humour but judging by the small crowds at the gigs he is shown playing it’s still a niche market.

Available now on Sky's catch-up services.

 

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