THE BLOG

Why Not Stand Up for Labour?

03/03/2013 09:49 GMT | Updated 01/05/2013 10:12 BST

With recent events called Stand up for Cancer, Stand up for Women and Stand up for Shelter, you'd have thought there is not much stand-up comedians won't put their name to. But you'd be wrong, as there is one cause many comedians are shy of committing to: political parties.

Stand up for Labour was set up to put on comedy nights for local Labour Party constituency groups all over the country and has contacted dozens of comedians (mostly, it must be said, through their agents). But only an elite few have come forward. Some well-known comedians have been overtly hostile ('I would never do a gig for a political party,' said one regular from 'Mock the Week').

Considering that Labour is the only main party to pledge to reverse the privatisation of the NHS and to maintain welfare benefits in line with inflation, this is surprising. Those charities that comics are happy to support (for healthcare and homelessness, for example) would certainly be less necessary if the governing political party were Labour.

There are some well-known comics who have also replied to invitations to perform by saying that Labour is not right for them. There is some 'je ne c'est quoi' about Labour that they just don't like. Maybe it's not cool enough, or it's about something Labour hasn't said or has done in the past. One of these comics said: 'I don't want to do it, but I hope the Tories get kicked out.' How helpful! Sometimes I think that if I were offering thousands of pounds this would make a difference and there would be no umming and erring.

However, despite this, there are an elite of comedians who have appeared for the Labour Party and who are benefitting from big audiences and cultured ones too.

A Labour Party gig is unlike any other. There is respect for the comic and little interest in racist or misogynist jokes, nor 'gags' about disability or 'chavs', which have become sadly common material in many comedy clubs. And when a performer is not getting great laughs, there is compassion.

Young and up-and-coming comedians such as Joe Wells, Mark Hurman, Manos and Paul Ricketts thrive in an educated environment and it has allowed them to develop enlightened material.

And it's not only the lesser known comics who have enjoyed performing. Household names such as Arthur Smith; Perrier Award winners Arnold Brown and Nick Revell; Red Dwarf's Norman Lovett and Royal Variety performer Hal Cruttenden have appeared at Stand up for Labour gigs. There has even been impro comedy from two of the Comedy Store Players (Luke Sorba and Suki Webster). And there are gigs planned all over the country: 20 constituencies in Labour's list of must-win marginals - from Lowestoft to Stroud, Carlisle to Birmingham.

March will see the biggest Stand up for Labour gigs yet. On March 9, in Eastbourne, 95-year-old former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey will speak at a gig that features Arthur Smith, Grainne Maguire and Manos. And, two weeks later in Chiswick on March 24, the comparatively young 87-year-old Tony Benn will speak at a gig featuring Shappi Khorsandi (who has not only appeared on Live at the Apollo, but also Question Time - twice!), Ed Aczel and Tony Law.

The two gigs in March will both be filmed and a promotional video made from them. It is hoped that this will show some of the reluctant established comedians just how inspiring, useful and fun Stand up for Labour can be.