GO to the Fringe or a comedy club and you'll probably notice most of the comedians seem to be left-wing. But more and more conservatives are aiming to prove they can be funny too. Five right-leaning comedians appearing at this year's Fringe tell Mark Smith why it's happening and why, this year, the joke's on the lefties.

The Herald: Leo Kearse

Leo Kearse is a Scottish comedian who grew up in Penpont in Dumfries-shire. His show Right-Wing Comedian was banned in Australia following allegations of transphobia.

WHEN I was growing up near Dumfries, the Tories were demonised, although lots of people voted for them. As I got older, I started to question things and saw that government interference is usually a bad thing. When I won Scottish Comedian of the Year, I did it with a show talking about why Margaret Thatcher was a hero of mine. If something’s coming from your personal truth, people will see that and find it funny even if they disagree.

My show at the Fringe this year, Transgressive, is about the fact I got banned from a venue in Perth, Australia, after people complained that it was transphobic even though I wrote it with a trans woman I was dating at the time. There was no attempt to look at the material in the show to see if it was offensive – just a knee-jerk reaction from the venue. The fact that a white guy was saying it was enough, they assumed it wasn’t from my personal experience. It showed their prejudice and discrimination rather than mine. People love to complain and get offended and everybody wants to broadcast on social media that they are a good person.

There are some venues that don’t book me. One venue has taken a stand and won’t book anyone who’s right-wing. I was told by the venue in Perth “this is an inclusive place, you have to leave” but how is it inclusive then? So much of it is posturing. I’ve never seen one of these left-wing headliners demanding their pay is equally distributed among all the acts. Comedy has always pushed against the establishment and the moment the political establishment is right wing but the social establishment – the prevailing trends in society – is not right wing at all.

There are a few shows from comedians on the right at the Fringe this year and I think it’s because people in general are sick of cloying, hypocritical, liberal attitudes and all the witch-hunts on Twitter. I think anyone should be subject to a joke and I disagree with the idea that you shouldn’t ‘punch down’ with a joke. In my last show, I did jokes about poor people, disabled people and the #metoo victims – I made fun of them. You’ve got to be able to scrutinise anything. The comedy stage has to remain an unsafe place.

Transgressive is at Gilded Balloon Teviot from July 31 to August 25.

The Herald: Sarah Southern

A former aide to David Cameron, Sarah Southern has been performing comedy since 2017.

I GREW up in a very politically engaged family – my dad was a prison visitor and my mum lived a feminist ideal – she worked full time, she went back to university when I was about nine, but she would never identify as a feminist. So, for me, I thought only women were allowed to be in charge of things – my mum was in charge in my house and Maggie was the Prime Minister. But during the 1980s, there was the fall of the Berlin Wall and I could see the change. I always felt the Conservatives was where I was.

The essence of my show is about why, a girl who grew up in the north of England, ended up becoming a Tory and working for the Tories. It’s about me questioning my political identity, which a lot of people are doing at the minute. The Tory party I worked in for eight years is very different now and I feel very uncomfortable about universal credit – it’s appalling the way it’s been done. But who else can I vote for? Jeremy Corbyn’s party doesn’t represent me.

A lot of comics I worked with didn’t know my background as a Conservative and there’s a couple of gigs I think I haven’t been booked for because I’m a Tory but I don’t let that worry me. There’s enough space – there are other gigs – and I haven’t come across any animosity from other performers.

Left-wing comedians have dominated comedy and I think that could be because art often fights against the establishment and power. In the 1980s, Spitting Image and comedy like it was perfect for bashing against the Thatcher and Major governments.

I think there’s a trend towards right-leaning comedians now because we are in such interesting times when lots of people are questioning their identity and MPs have left their parties. Brexit has also changed things – those who voted Remain are cross that it’s still a live issue and those who want to Leave are cross that we haven’t left.

You have to think hard about right-leaning jokes in terms of people having a preconceived idea. If people think I’m a Tory, I’ve got to make them understand I’m not punching down at people – that’s not my style. I have to be conscious about the way I say things so they can see I’m in the same boat as them – I’m not from a wealthy family, I didn’t go to a fancy school, and when I worked for the Tories, I was one of the only people who hadn’t gone to boarding school or Oxford. The likelihood is: we probably think a lot alike, I just happen to vote differently.

Tentatively Tory is at PBH's Free Fringe, Waverley Bar, from August 3 - 25

The Herald: Geoff Norcott

Born in South London, Geoff Norcott is a comedian and political commentator who has appeared on Radio 4, Mock the Week and the recent TV documentary, How the Middle Class Ruined Britain, which looked at the effects of gentrification.

LOOKING back, I probably had tendencies to be a conservative quite young. I remember hating getting free school dinners and thinking: why am I depending on this thing called The State? My dad was a Labour man and, although we have different politics, there’s a streak in both of us of hating people having power over us. I ask myself: what is it that makes me think like that? My main guiding instinct is I just hate people telling me what to do. It’s not libertarianism, it’s just the government staying out of our lives where possible.

A lot of comedy is left-wing because there was a backlash against what was seen as the bigotry of some 1970s comedians but not all the comedy of that era was like that – a lot was quite playful and family friendly but it’s been struck off the register. There was this sort of inherited victory – the feeling that the left won the debate in comedy and that went unquestioned for a long time. But what’s punctured that is the Brexit vote because we discovered that it’s possible to be left-wing and vote Leave and a lot of people did and yet when you look at the comedy circuit it seemed like nobody did.

Comedy audiences aren’t necessarily mostly left-wing though. When you go and gig and do tours around the country, it’s quite reassuring to find that the vast majority of people are still grown up, whether they’re left or right, leave or remain. Because of the dialogue that happens on social media, you can be persuaded that everyone has lost their sense of humour but I don’t think that’s the case. There is a small percentage of people that are like that or are likely to complain at gigs. Some people have a different lens on humour and will make a calculation before they decide they can laugh.

I think, for some reason, people think right-wing humour must be mean about the vulnerable, but it’s not – I take issue with the idea that right-wing comedy has to be implicitly mean. There’s maybe less subject matter for jokes, partly because the left aren’t currently in power. But once you tap a vein, it can be quite a rich one.

One of the things people said about the documentary I made was: how can you, as a Conservative, have compassion for people who are going to lose their homes, but hang on a minute: how does being a Conservative preclude compassion? That idea comes from the self-consoling views on the left that their side inherited all the virtue. The left’s argument would be ‘let’s give you a bigger slice of the same-sized pie’, whereas my argument would be ‘let’s give you the same-sized slice of a much bigger pie. Let’s make a bigger pie everybody.’ There’s something slightly infantile about the left thinking they’re the good guys like they’re in some sort of Marvel franchise where they are the Avengers and everyone else is Thanos.

Geoff Norcott: Work in Progress is at Underbelly, Bristo Square from August 12-25.

The Herald: Dominic Frisby

Dominic Frisby is a comedian and writer on financial affairs. His book Life After The State argues that government should be much smaller.

I WOULD say comedy is institutionally left-wing and a lot of comedians these days avoid politics altogether because they don’t want it to affect their work. There’s a comedy club near my house – I contacted them and I went down and compered. But I was taken off the roster because I voted Leave. It’s the whole country gone mad – people will not give you work if you have the wrong political opinions. It’s become so unacceptable to have views that don’t conform to the tyranny of the Guardian/BBC axis of liberals.

It’s a form of suppression and censorship and it goes back to smearing everyone who doesn’t agree with you. It goes back to Ben Elton – he’s a great comic, but his generation, in attacking what came before them, they no-platformed an entire generation of comics. Benny Hill for example, who was harmless.

There is a trend now, though, towards right-wing comedians and Brexit has been the turning point – a lot of comedians have come out of the closet. However, there’s an authoritarian left and its figureheads are Owen Jones [columnist and commentator] and people like that, who say: you cannot think that, you cannot say that. It’s almost like a religion and anyone who utters thoughts that deviate from it are ex-communicated.

Comedy audiences also tend to be a certain way. If you ask an audience, ‘who voted Leave?’, it will be 80/90 per cent Remain and those who did vote Leave go quiet. It’s because we’ve had left-wing comedy rammed down our throats so it attracts those people and people who don’t think that way keep their mouths shut.

Libertarian Love Songs is at PBH's Free Fringe, Banshee Labyrinth, from August 3 -25.

The Herald: Konstatin Kisin

Konstantin Kisin is a Russian-British comedian and a former student at Edinburgh University who made headlines last year by refusing to sign a university behavioural agreement insisted that all humour must be respectful and kind.

MY show is about the fact I turned down the behavioural agreement contract which was offered to me, which is a jumping off point for looking at where we are with freedom of expression and censorship and no-platforming. I also contrast it with growing up in the Soviet Union – I’m starting to feel like we’re heading in that direction.

I was shocked to receive the agreement. If I’d felt it was an isolated incident that has nothing to do with what’s going on in broader society, I might not have said anything about it, but I turned it down because it’s part of a broader change that’s sweeping through society. We’re in a world where we think that words are violence and jokes oppress people and saying the wrong thing triggers someone’s PTSD or whatever and renders them disabled for life. We are starting to take words far too seriously.

The left are now the people peddling ideas that don’t stand up to scrutiny and the reason they have to suppress free speech is that is the only way to continue advancing all the things they tell us are true, that Britain is a racist, xenophobic place that hates immigrants, that everyone is oppressed, that we’re all privileged in different ways and this is what determines everything – all of this nonsense is being spread by the radical left and the reason they don’t want to engage in debate is that any examination of the facts immediately contradicts that. The people who want to suppress freedom of expression are people who know they’re wrong.

I think there is a kickback happening and rightly so – it’s almost like we’ve got to a point where we’ve gone so far in one direction, we almost feel: someone had to say something. But I can count the number of people fighting back against this in the comedy world on one hand. Comedy also reflects culture more broadly – universities have become more woke and that is leaking out into society. Comedy only mirrors what happens in society and the reason there are a few comedians challenging this stuff is because the progressive, woke narrative is perceived as the establishment and anyone who disagrees is a heretic.

My feelings about free speech are not driven by something I read on the internet – they are driven by what happened to my family. My grandfather was arrested and exiled from the Soviet Union in 1979 for saying that the invasion of Afghanistan was wrong – it was something that everybody thought but you weren’t supposed to say. I know just how important freedom of expression is and when I ask audiences if they think it is more dangerous to say what they think than it was ten years ago, often more than half the audience say yes and that is not a healthy direction of travel.

Orwell That Ends Well is at Gilded Balloon Teviot from July 31 to August 26