Stewart Lee on Jimmy Carr: 'The public need to get fed up with standups'

The comedian claims Jimmy Carr's tax avoidance scandal shows mainstream standups are not on the same side as their audiences – and that a shakeup could be coming

The furore over Jimmy Carr's tax avoidance could spark a much-needed shakedown of standup comedy, Stewart Lee has said.

The comedian also raised the possibility of the situation toppling the coalition government, following David Cameron's scathing public response.

In an interview with Scotsgay magazine, Lee argued that, despite Carr's subsequent apology, the episode demonstrated that comedians and their audiences are not necessarily on the same side, or facing the same day-to-day problems.

"I think the Jimmy Carr tax avoidance thing is pivotal," said Lee. "I think the public need to get fed up with standups, and then the distinctive ones would be left standing. It might be a watershed moment."

He continued: "I think the assumption will be that any comedian on stage … has stolen loads of money and therefore isn't entitled to talk about anything."

Lee went on to suggest that Carr's actions might make his knowing, tongue-in-cheek style of offensive humour unfeasible: "This might be the end of irony comedy. The idea that you're being ironic about the weaker members of society doesn't really work if you've concealed millions of pounds a year which would have gone towards helping them," he said. He pointed out that he himself had been issued a rebate following his last audit by the Inland Revenue.

In Lee's eyes, any such shakedown would be advantageous for comedy. He believes that, as was the case in the late 1970s, there are too many prominent comedians "using gag writers to create generic material … Mainstream comics are funny and ridiculous in the same way that they were 30 years ago."

However, Lee also partially defended Carr. "What he's done is a tiny drop in the ocean compared with what some of David Cameron's friends in business have done. Which is why it's so funny that Cameron chose to single out Jimmy Carr. It's clear that no one's advised him."

A fornight ago, the Observer revealed that George Robinson, who had donated more than £250,000 to the Conservative party, was, like Carr, one of the 500 directors of Romangate – part of the Rushmore tax avoidance strategy. The prime minister had previously described Carr's actions as "morally wrong".

"If handled properly, this could bring down the government," Lee said. "To pick on Jimmy Carr when you're giving knighthoods to CEOs who are evading much more is absurd."


Matt Trueman

The GuardianTramp

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