Michael McIntyre: £40,000. Ricky Gervais: £25,000. Jason Manford: £25,000. Jo Brand: £10,000-£25,000. Barry Cryer – who after that lot looks an absolute steal – is £2,000-£5,000.
This, according to Funny Business (BBC Two), is what it costs to hire the above to tell some jokes at a corporate event. The documentary was about comedians’ relationship with money: how much they earn, how they earn it, and how they feel about how they earn it. And when it comes to corporate events – hosting, say, an awards do for the burglar alarm industry, or the national association of actuaries’ Christmas party – some of them itch with self-loathing.
Rhod Gilbert, a Welsh comedian, said he had such miserable memories of corporate events that he no longer does them (he once did a set for the Professional Footballers’ Association. His efforts were met with total silence). Other comedians said they by and large found themselves going down well, but none the less seemed vaguely ashamed.
The same went for adverts: easier money but seen by many more people, which is the last thing comedians want. Glad as they are of the cash, many comedians talk about doing adverts the way other famous people talk about having their sexual misdemeanours exposed by the tabloids. They know they shouldn’t have done it, but they couldn’t help themselves, and they’re only human, and, and…
But is it so wrong? The venerated US comedian Bill Hicks sneered that if you do an advert “you’re off the artistic roll call”. Why a comedian should worry about “the artistic roll call” is hard to say.
Until about 30 years ago, it was thought fine just to tell jokes and be well-paid for it. Then came “alternative comedy”: liberal, leftish, notionally anti-establishment. Now no self-respecting comedian could be merely a jester. He had to be an artist. And an artist must hate himself for making money, or, if he doesn’t make money, hate peers who do.
Especially if that money is made from adverts, because adverts are made on behalf of firms with products to sell, and selling products is evil. The idea that selling products is good, because it keeps people in jobs and their children fed, rarely gets a look-in.
Maybe we’re having this debate 10 years too late, though. We’re now in the era of Jimmy Carr, a former marketing man for Shell who’s been upbraided by the Prime Minister for not paying enough tax. I don’t know whether Carr would make it on to the Hicks Artistic Roll Call, but I have a funny feeling he doesn’t care.