Some of Britain’s most high-profile comics use behind-the-scenes writers to furnish them with material, marking a break with the traditions established by alternative comics in the 1980s, stand-up Stewart Lee has claimed.
Andi Osho, Michael McIntrye, Jack Whitehall and Frankie Boyle are among the artists named by Lee in an address to English students at his former Oxford University college. “They all use writers. They don’t often admit to it,” he said.
“Sometimes there are these strange credits you’ll see, something called programme associate – blah blah – which is television language for ‘there is a writer but we are going to give him this name because we want to preserve the idea that the comedian is … hermetically sealed – that you are getting this person’s individual vision,” he said.
McIntyre has previously denied industry rumours that he uses joke writers saying: “I never get a laugh with somebody else’s jokes. I can’t do it justice.”
It was the latest sideswipe by Lee against McIntyre, who grossed £21m on his last stadium tour. On stage, Lee has previously compared McIntyre’s observational routine to “spoon-feeding his audience warm diarrhoea”.
No one was available to respond to the claim at McIntyre’s agents, whilst agents for Osho, Whitehall and Boyle all declined to comment.
During a scholarly 50-minute lecture originally delivered at a writers’ event at St Edmund Hall in February, Lee jokingly called for comics who secretly rely on writers to be “stripped” of their artistic and financial rewards like “disgraced, drug-taking Tour de France cyclists”.
Contrasting the long-form solo shows in publicly subsidised art centres in the 1980s with the modern comedy world dominated by TV and the internet, he said: ‘I already feel like a relic in what I do.
“I think the idea of a stand-up as a writer, as a sort of auteur, is already on the way out … the lucrative opportunities to fill hours and hours of television with stand-up comedy in little bite-size bits have pushed the writer-auteur-comedian model aside.”
Bruce Dessau, founder of the comedy website beyondthejoke.co.uk, said many modern comics did not have time to write all their own jokes. “If you are on tour or TV all the time how do you find the material?” he said.
Comedian Neil Dougan said many writers were happy to provide material for other, better-known stars. “I have written for TV comics. I am always glad of the money. And if larger audiences than I can dream of pulling in enjoy the gags, I do derive satisfaction. People can always just nick your stuff if they want it,” he said.