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Andrew Doyle: Friendly Fire

at The Stand, Glasgow

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A leftie that the left think is alt right. Right?

Image of Andrew Doyle: Friendly Fire

Ten years ago, Andrew Doyle – a gay, left-wing Northern Irishman – would’ve been exactly the kind of pinko liberal comedian the Daily Mail thinks plague our television screens. How times have changed. It’s now the left that have a problem with him. As co-writer of Jonathan Pie, he’s seen by some as a reactionary blowhard grandad who “just doesn’t get it”. As writer for Spiked, he’s tantamount to a bona fide “freeze-peach” touting fascist-enabler, a node on the alt-right hate network that is bringing about the end times. How on earth did we get here from there? Has the world changed or has he changed?

Perhaps a bit of both. There’s no doubt the tide of wokeness, especially in comedy, has shifted fast, leaving some perfectly defensible standpoints high and dry. It’s easy to get labelled a fascist these days, simply by sticking to what were impeccable liberal values only a short time ago. Even the very notion of free speech in comedy has become “problematic”.

At the same time, an exasperated Doyle has gone all in as an upholder of comic and other freedoms. He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more. Honesty is a word he returns to several times tonight. He’s not going to let the newly-censorious left ride roughshod over previously hard-won freedoms, even if that means breaking bread with those whose opinions might be otherwise objectionable. Not everyone likes him for it.

On this, his first proper tour, Doyle reflects on that experience of being turned on by his own side. It’s part Greatest Hits – adapting and expanding upon anecdotes from his last couple of Fringe shows – and part work-in-progress. Twitter may be involved.

He’s a lot looser and more casual tonight than in his Fringe shows, allowing himself more off piste time bantering with the crowd, while building his own backstory with tales of sibling conflict with his twin brother, and being Catholic. It’s only at the end of the first half he begins to get political in earnest. He revisits the story that was the climax of his 2017 Fringe show – how he estranged two friends over dinner with a casual (and almost certainly accurate) comment about Corbyn. It’s more succinct and more personal in this retelling, and no less timely – politics continues to lose people friends – but it’s the second half where he digs in for some serious ranting…

His writing for Pie, by design, can be a bit hot takey. The “FFS! What now?”-ness of it is great for instant YouTube views and retweets; it’s not necessarily ideal for more considered longform stand-up. In his punditry and thinkpieces, though, Doyle gets to detach, stand back and take a longer view. It’s a style that normally distinguishes his own stand-up persona from that of Pie.

The newer material tonight hasn’t yet got that contextualisation. Thus his opening second-half segment about Jamelia wanting to rescind voting rights for the elderly sails close to an ad hominem about a silly pop star, rather than forming part of a larger routine on casual ageism or Remainer intolerance. The recent Gillette ad also gets shoehorned in for a quick once over. These are topical Pie takes, without the Pie, and at this stage in their development, lack some of the depth and intellectual nuance he has previously shown in his solo shows.

Some of his old chestnuts are revisited – student union no platforming, Count Dankula; some interesting ideas are introduced (Ghandi as a toxic male is a great concept although he doesn’t linger enough to properly explain). There’s a few waspish one-liners and some great traditionally set-up gags (the line about his offensive cats is the pick).

He saves his best ’til last though, with an up-tempo rant in which he defends the much-maligned Tyson Fury‘s right to say what he likes. It’s here Doyle’s stance is most effective; he’d be on the receiving end of Fury’s homophobia, after all. Yet even then he regards freedom of speech and tolerance of others’ views as more important. Once Doyle’s in flight like this, he’s very good. If only he’d had time to work the Jamelia material into something as convincing.

We live in the era of woke comedy, and as with any era, it’s the dissenting voices that are often the most interesting to hear. Doyle’s set himself up as one of this era’s dissenters and he makes a good antidote for those who’ve heard too many punchlines about orange fascists or Tory cockwombles. It’s a fine line though. One step in the wrong direction and he’s in The World According To Clarkson territory. This isn’t that, but the cut-and-thrust of Twitter and hot takes of Pie might be blunting his ability to weave one-off exasperations into a more nuanced narrative.