"24 Hours To Go Broke", the show I recorded with David Baddiel in Armenia aired last night to largely positive crits. Unsurprisingly a few people were put off or offended by the concept and questioned the morality of deliberately blowing money at a time of economic crisis. I got a few tweets about it, which I expected. I liked the way that most of them had assumed that it hadn't even crossed my mind that there was controversy in the idea. But, of course, I had thought about this when offered the job, but then, on consideration had decided that the show was worth doing, because it was not really any different from any travalogue TV show and I thought it would throw up some interesting points about money and its power and how we use it.
I got this tweet just before bedtime " same to you matey" (he's not directly replying to anything so I don't know what that means) "ripping the piss out of Armenia spening 8 grand, why not give it to a children's charity. Useless fucker."
I am more upset by the idea that we might have been taking the piss out of Armenia than anything else in this tweet. We had a great time in the country, made some good friends and I was fascinated to visit a country that I would never thought of visiting. We were trying to be amusing as we went, but never at the expense of the country or its people.
But, whilst it's fine to think that the concept is distasteful, this kind of argument doesn't really hold much water. The £8000 was part of the budget for a TV show (a fairly low percentage of the budget, even though this was not a flashy piece of TV). It was not my money and it wasn't like if nobody had done this show that Dave would have said, "Oh, well, we'd better give that money to charity then". Like all TV shows and businesses, the channel are investing money to make money. Why did George Lucas spend all the money on Star Wars rather than giving all of it (or even some of it) to charity? Because the money was there to invest in a film in the hope that it would make money or at the very least create an entertaining film. Why don't we all just give out paychecks to charity? Because we are going to use the money for something else.
We were using the money to create entertainment (and managed to give a bit of it away to people who might need it in the process). Shows like "The Trip" or "An Idiot Abroad" equally involve independently wealthy men going round the world blowing huge amounts of cash. Is it any different? All of us were just trying to create amusing shows. The only difference in our case is that the people on the show had control of a small amount of the budget.
But I hoped that being blatant and honest about this might promote debate, which it has done. I would hope that the debate would go deeper into the question than the tweeter above has thought about it. Because for me, also, the show made me question the value of money. I did not enjoy the money we spent on empty experiences for ourselves, but I did like giving it away to others. By not treating money with respect, it also made me realise that money only works in the way it does because of this pompous attitude we have to it. We're not meant to blow it or give it away, we're meant to revere it. And even rich people very rarely go out and try and spend a load of cash for no reason. It was liberating and interesting to lose the respect for this commodity. Perhaps it's what has led me to take some financial risks with my own money this year.
Of course it's ultimately a light-hearted entertainment show, and yes I can understand the unease, but I am not sure that it's a bad thing to create that unease. The money would have been spent elsewhere by the business that owned it, so even if only £10 of it went into the pocket of someone "deserving" then that's not a bad result. We snuck more than that out though. Ironically if all rich people spent their money like this rather than hoarded it then there wouldn't be an economic crisis. We're human beings and we're going to hold on to our stuff as best we can and it'd be ludicrous if we all gave everything away (probably), but if there is a lesson amongst the champagne quaffing and gambling and jumping around on Presidential beds, it's that we don't have to hold on to all our money. Give some away, squander some on yourself. It's a commodity. Money is really only an abstract idea. The respect for it is necessary to keep our society functioning, but that doesn't mean you can't disrespect it or subvert its use occasionally.
I felt a bit sorry for rich people in the end. Most of those high end things they spend their money on like Presidential suites and catbum coffee are not really all that great.
I did also point out to the tweeter that in the last 10 years I have helped raise a quarter of a million pounds for Scope, but he didn't feel like commenting on that.
Doing the deliberately wrong thing or behaving in the opposite manner that you're meant to is part of what comedy is about (see this article in the Guardian in which I discuss the similarly obtuse reasoning behind Hitler Moustache). I am glad I took part in this show, to experience what it's like to go against society's rules if only for a day. I wonder how much it influenced my decisions to take some financial risks this year. Whilst I respect money and how much it can do, it's also healthy to disrespect it a little bit.
I had reservations about the project, of course, but I am pleased I took the leap to experience this for myself. Maybe I got more out of it than the viewers would. But even if it was a mistake (and like I say, it's been mostly positive feedback and I don;t think it was), it was a learning experience.
And talking of taking chances and things not turning out like you thought they might, I have decided to quit my Fubar radio show. I just have too much on at the moment to justify the day a week this takes me and need to concentrate on Edinburgh. Plus, you know...
I've really enjoyed working with the force of nature that is Lou Sanders and hope we might do something else together in the future. We're doing two more shows, then that's it. Thanks for tuning in, if you did.
The Metro column has moved to Wednesdays. Here is today's offering.