Interview: Will Franken – Who Keeps Making All These People?

This article is from 2015

Interview: Will Franken – Who Keeps Making All These People?

‘Jon Stewart is one of the least funny people on the planet’

The one-man sketch machine that is otherwise known as UK-based American Will Franken has a fair old bash at some sacred comedy cows.

How well did satire do under Obama?
Satire suffers tremendously under Obama as it would under any leftist presidency. It’s especially dire under Obama, however, who refused to stand for free speech in Paris with the rest of the world leadership after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. We must never forget that political correctness is the brainchild of a leftist ideology that presumes adults are children and that the adage of ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me’ is meaningless. Free speech suffers under Obama and where free speech suffers, so does satire. The targets become easy and safe and predictable and bear no satirical weight. Hence, we have The Book of Mormon but no ‘Book of Mohammed’.

The British are overly keen on saying that Americans don’t do irony. Can you offer a piece of evidence that blows that theory out of the water?
Yes, my comedy blows that theory out of the water. That being said, I am influenced primarily by the British.

Bill Hicks or Denis Leary?
Neither. Bill Hicks was a very over-rated observational comedian with the occasional funny one-liner whose status was incorrectly elevated to that of the martyred equivalent of Lenny Bruce because of his early death. Denis Leary was the man who stole his act.

Are American comedians bothered about winning awards?
Yes, American comedians are bothered about winning awards just as much as the Brits. However, because they’re not as passive-aggressive as the Brits they’re more vocal about their greed and narcissism.

What will Trevor Noah need to do to maintain The Daily Show’s success and reputation?
I’ve always hated The Daily Show as it’s predictable rubbish. Jon Stewart is one of the least funny people on the planet. I seem to remember him showing clips of George Bush mispronouncing a word and then making a weird face to which the audience would go wild and reward him with laughter for doing absolutely nothing. Out here, it’s called Oxbridge comedy. In America, it’s called Frat Boy comedy. In order to maintain The Daily Show’s success and reputation, Trevor Noah would have to continue the tradition of being neither original nor funny and he seems well-suited for the task. The original host of The Daily Show, Craig Kilborn, wasn’t bad, but perhaps this was because The Daily Show was still in its infancy as a comedy show and hadn’t yet become the lumbering behemoth of the entertainment industry establishment it would ultimately grow into. Unless America – and Britain for that matter – can find the modern-day equivalent of the Chris Morris / Armando Iannucci combo that gave us The Day Today and Brass Eye any discussion of news satire is moot.

Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman?
Neither. I suppose one could credit Tina Fey with the creation of 30 Rock, but it’s a bit navel-gazing and inside baseball to be of any lasting comedic interest. Sarah Silverman, meanwhile, is just a glorified shock jock whose real potential was only realised when she was assigned minor roles written for her by David Cross and Bob Odenkirk on Mr Show.

How healthy is the state of live comedy in America? What should be done to improve it?
Comedy in both America and Britain is extremely unhealthy. Political correctness has strangled the satire out of it. Unless we can again embrace the western values of free speech without any pandering caveats and mealy-mouthed platitudes of fairness, it will continue to die a slow death at the hands of this ideological cancer.

Do Americans generally welcome the likes of uppity Brits (John Oliver, Tracey Ullman and Ricky Gervais for three) coming over there and stealing all your jokes?
I haven’t been back to America in over two years. But as far as comedians stealing jokes, I think the Americans should have the finger pointed at them. How is it that the British Office is superlative to the American Office when the former only had two authors and a limited number of series? Because the American entertainment industry suffers from a ‘team’ mentality. And in the name of the ‘team’ it’s permissible to steal from individuals. True art can only come from an individual, not a community. If you want your comedy watered down, head to America.

Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld?
I like both. But I’d have to say Curb Your Enthusiasm because by virtue of it not being on network television it’s permitted to have some very hysterical outbursts of profanity.

Billy Connolly is widely regarded as the man who helped pave the way for modern British stand-up comedy: who would you pinpoint as doing the same in America?
Lenny Bruce. He invented the form. That was the first revolution in comedy that took stand-up out of the Catskills resorts and into the cellars with the exposed brick walls. The problem remains that there hasn’t been a second revolution. So now you have comedians that think they’re being Lenny Bruce in the year 2015 by saying ‘motherfucker’ and ‘cocksucker’ and making fun of Christians and Republicans, blissfully unaware that these taboos have been broken a thousand times over. Unless one is prepared to tackle the real sacred cows, as did the martyrs from Charlie Hebdo, comedy will remain in the dark ages. Luckily, that’s where I come in.

Will Franken: Who Keeps Making All These People?, The Stand 5, York Place, 0131 558 7272, 7–30 Aug (not 17), 9pm, £8 (£7). Preview 5 Aug, £7 (£6).

Read more in our series of Q&As with US comedians appearing at Fringe 2015

Sarah Franken

Surreal and absurdist character comedy.