Steve Coogan: Comedians should punch up, not down

Coogan has been honoured for his comedic career by Bafta Los Angeles.

Steve Coogan has said comedians have a responsibility to target the powerful and not the weak as he waded into the debate on the state of comedy.

High-profile comedians including Chris Rock have bemoaned what they perceive to be limitations on what is permissible to joke about.

Filmmaker Todd Phillips, who was best-known as a director of comedies before taking on dark psychological thriller Joker, said it was too difficult to be funny in today’s “woke culture”.

Steve Coogan
Steve Coogan has said comedians have to be responsible with their material (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

However Alan Patridge creator Coogan said it is a good thing that comics are thinking twice about their material.

Speaking at an event in Los Angeles, he told the PA news agency: “Just because you’re in comedy doesn’t mean you don’t have responsibility.

“I never punch down. I don’t pick on weak people. If I satirise or attack anyone it’s the powerful, people in positions of power, call them to account.

“In the old days the court jester was the one person who could poke fun at the king, and that’s what comedy should do, poke fun at the king. Not pick on the weak and the defenceless, that’s bad comedy.”

Coogan, whose film roles include Holmes & Watson and Stan & Ollie, said comedians can still tackle difficult subjects.

“Comedy is actually one of the few things, if you do it properly, you can talk about difficult things and you can point out hypocrisies about things,” he said.

“Even in terms of sexual politics, in terms of race, in terms of any of the issues that are being talked about now.

“You can talk about them in comedy, but it all depends on where you’re coming from. Are you coming from a good place in your heart, or are you coming from a mean place? That’s all that matters.”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Phoebe Waller-Bridge was named British artist of the year by Bafta Los Angeles (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Coogan was speaking at the Bafta Britannia Awards where he was honoured with the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for excellence in comedy.

The 54-year-old, whose career began in the late 1980s working on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image, said he feels “only halfway through”.

“I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said.

“Even though I’ve been 30 years, nearly, in this business. But I’m very happy, I’m lucky to be here, enjoying my job and if you want to give me an award, great.”

Coogan was honoured alongside Fleabag writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who was named British artist of the year by Bafta LA.

Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan was among the honourees at the Bafta Los Angeles Britannia Awards (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

She has enjoyed a stellar 12 months and stormed the Emmy Awards in September, winning three prizes for Fleabag.

At a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton, Bafta’s biggest night outside of the UK, action movie star Jackie Chan picked up the Albert R Broccoli Britannia Award for worldwide contribution to entertainment while veteran writer Norman Lear was honoured for excellence in television.

Oscar-winner Jordan Peele, best known for writing and directing the 2017 horror film Get Out, was honoured with the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for excellence in directing.

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