Why do comedians keep siding with the establishment?

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Sunday 29 October, Church House, London


At this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Comedy Unleashed’s show, featuring Graham Linehan, was cancelled because the venue did not ‘support his views’ and his presence would ‘violate their space’. The edgy spirit that used to characterise the Edinburgh Festival Fringe specifically, and stand-up comedy more generally, seems to have evaporated. There was no outcry from comedians attending the festival and very few publicly expressed even the mildest of support for free expression in the arts.

Earlier this year, Nigel Farage was debanked by Coutts, for expressing views that go against the bank’s ‘values’. Despite the bankers themselves having admitted fault, comedian Omid Djalili publicly sided with the elite bank. When comedians see no problem with using the denial of banking services as a form of punishment for holding certain views, how can they claim that they are ‘punching up’?

Why do comedians increasingly side with the Establishment? How can comics say that they are ‘punching up’ when they support the people being ‘cancelled’ by corporations? As society becomes more authoritarian, where is the satirical response and creative backlash?

Miriam Elia
satirical conceptual artist; author, We See the Sights, We Go To The Gallery and We Do Lockdown; creator, A Series Of Psychotic Episodes

Dominic Frisby
writer; comedian; author, Bitcoin: the future of money?

Graham Linehan
creator and co-creator, Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd; comedy writer, Count Arthur Strong, Brass Eye and The Fast Show; author, Tough Crowd: How I Made and Lost a Career in Comedy

Andy Shaw
co-founder, Comedy Unleashed