[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/42983?ns=guardian&pageName=Michael+McIntyre%3A+a+comedian+for+the+Cameron+age%3AArticle%3A1308059&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Comedy+live+%28Stage%29%2CStage%2CCulture+section&c6=Paul+MacInnes&c7=09-Nov-20&c8=1308059&c9=Article&c10=Comment&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FComedy[/img]Loved by the masses, but loathed by his peers – does Michael McIntyre's conservative humour explain his meteoric rise?
Love him, loathe him, have genuinely violent feelings towards him, you just can't ignore Michael McIntyre. Currently touring the sold-out arenas of the UK, and with standup's fastest-selling DVD ever, modestly titled Hello Wembley, 2009 looks set to be remembered by historians as a year dominated by a rubber-faced unusually-tanned comic who invented the concept of the "man drawer".
McIntyre is big. Big in a way few standups ever manage and perhaps only Peter Kay has achieved in this decade. He only made his television debut in 2006, admittedly on the Royal Variety Show, but three years later he is the face of live comedy in the UK as host of Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow. In a similar space of time, he's gone from playing attic rooms at the Edinburgh festival to performing nightly to 16,000 people. And what's now being asked by her majesty's press is quite why – and how – that has happened.
The question wouldn't be raised if it weren't controversial. McIntyre, you see, is not much loved by his fellow comics. Among a generation of comedians obsessed with breaking taboos, McIntyre is derided for being safe, his material too centred on familiar observation, too "a funny thing happened on the way to the M40".
For some, this itself is political. In an article in the Independent this week, Dominic Lawson (son of Nigel and former editor of the Sunday Telegraph – and therefore well-placed to assess a man of the people) declared McIntyre a riposte to alternative comedy, something that is to his mind "merely a kind of commercialised Tourette syndrome". He writes: "Suddenly, here was a man who managed to be extremely funny without being cruel to anyone – not even politicians. The subject of his wit was nothing more than the everyday domestic engagements of bourgeois life. To find original humour in the most ordinary of circumstances, this is a rare and valuable gift. "
I'll spare you the rest, mainly because it veers off into bonkers rightwingery, painting McIntyre as a martyr whose success came only latterly because pinko-lefty "Luvvie-land" had disdain for his sort, "seeing Margaret Thatcher, for example, as the epitome of evil". (It might not surprise you to find that the Daily Mail bought the article and republished it yesterday.)
Sadly for his critics, Lawson does have a point; McIntyre is a genuinely funny performer. Technically proficient, he knows how to build a routine and squeeze it for maximum effect. He also brings an unbridled effervescence to the stage. McIntyre's energy contrasts starkly with most standups and it never dips; he skips and dances and jiggles and prances, just camp enough for British audiences to warm to. There's also the feeling that he's really enjoying himself. Which helps.
I'd also go so far as to claim that many of his observations are genuinely sharp. At least those he made his name with: "Who phones radio stations with travel updates?", the uncertain quality of the week between Christmas and New Year, uniform embarrassment at passport photos. The Guardian's comedy critic Brian Logan, in reviewing McIntyre's latest show, says the material isn't too hot, and in his recent TV run there has been a tendency to rely on his physical qualities to beef up a joke. But plenty of comics struggle to come up with new material, particularly when they're constantly performing.
Still, I'm not sure it's just his ability to spot comic potential in the term "HD ready" that has led Lawson and the Mail to clasp McIntyre to their bosoms. I do think Lawson is wrong about the class thing; the crowds that pack out the Birmingham NEC aren't all public-school-educated oenophiles, they're middle class of the broadest stripe. But McIntyre's humour is more conservative than most comics you'll see on the circuit. He's not offensive – not in a Frankie Boyle or Bernard Manning sense – but he observes that Man United sounds like a gay club, before mincing around the stage. He's not sexist - but men and women always assume traditional roles (and he's never shy of reminding the audience he's married). He's not racist, but he wonders why Scottish Asians have Scottish accents. He's not a southern snob, but he can milk a good two minutes out of the way Geordies (don't really) pronounce their vowels.
In the end, if I had to point at just one thing that might explain his huge success right now, I would suggest it's his conservatism. Michael McIntyre, you see, is a comic for the Cameron age.
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Guardian: Michael McIntyre: a comedian for the Cameron age
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