In Praise of Roy “Chubby” Brown

On Tuesday evening, Channel 4 ran a documentary looking at Roy “Chubby” Brown both at home and in performance. While not exactly a hatchet job, it certainly appeared to me as if the documentary maker came in with a particular agenda of his own that he wished to push. Well, his was not an agenda I agreed with, and here’s why.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. I am a Guardian reading, left-leaning male in my mid-thirties. I come from the working classes, even though I might now be seen as middle-class. And I think that Chubby Brown is funny.

Chubby Brown tells racist, sexist, misogynistic gags about pretty much anything and anyone. And that’s OK. Anyone who can say something back is fair game I think, especially because now we have comedians from pretty much every area of society, some pushing particular agenda. We now have black comics, asian comics, disabled comics, female comics and others from other groups. Looking at their material,they’re usually having a pop at someone, because, unfortunately, the nature of humour is such that it works best when it’s picking on someone. So it is with Chubby Brown.

The documentary maker had misgivings about the tone of Brown’s leanings and his routines. He particularly had an extended criticism of a section where Brown and two friends, in response to an article in either the Mail or Express (I couldn’t discern which) complained about immigrants who were reluctant to take on British values and culture on arrival. Interestingly, I noted that one of Brown’s friends immediately suggested they go off for an Indian because they were hungry. Even though the language was fairly intemperate, it wasn’t that far from what many people (including British-born members of ethnic communities) and even the expression of government policy articulate.

And, to be honest, it’s a bit rich having a white, male middle-class metropolitan film-makier having a pop at this man having opinions he doesn’t like. Brown hails from Grangetown in Middlesbrough, a place so rough that Bosnian refugees wanted out (the story is apocryphal but I can easily believe it). A place where the jobs that can be found are low-wage and low skill. When immigrants arrive who are willing to do those jobs, working longer hours for less money, they can be seen as a very real threat to the little you do have. To the middle class Julians and Jocastas tutting at his material, of course, the only worries about immigration are whether the next au pair should be Polish or Romanian. A rather different world, I think, and one that preaches values rather more easily than actually practising them on a quotidian basis.

Almost paradoxically of course, these working class communities where the immigrant communities first landed, are where most of the real integration in this country has actually happened. Because it had to. It didn’t matter whether you were black or white, you were still a member of the working classes and roundly shat upon from a great height by your so-called ‘betters’. There are flashpoints and tensions, that cannot be denied but, in the main, most people just want a quiet life and so they rub along together, especially if it’s clear that they mostly want the same things: a decent standard of living, a decent life for their kids and a place to call home.

Look at Shane Meadows new film, ‘This Is Britain’, to see at least one take on the whole idea of integration and assimilation. These are the areas where Chubby Brown’s audience are. And this documentary, perversely, may just have served to remind all those people who have some affection for Roy “Chubby” Brown exactly why they do. A man who has plied his trade for many years and will not be told what he can say by anyone, particularly by the so-called intelligentsia, who look down on him and the people who like him. And quite right too; there’s room for comics like him in the panoply we have now and long may that continue.

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