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Which will disappear first, the snow or the arts? | Stewart Lee
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Which will disappear first, the snow or the arts? | Stewart Lee

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Nineteen years ago, I was invited to do my stand-up routine at the Aspen comedy festival in the Colorado Rockies. This festival is attended by wealthy locals and serves as a platform for the American comedy industry. While in the affluent town of Aspen, I was appalled to learn that economically disadvantaged workers in the service industry were residing in designated “employee housing projects”. These living quarters resembled something out of a Russian science fiction novel, with the workers living in small, cramped pods and dreaming of better accommodations. However, the housing situation on Sunak island today is even more dire in comparison.

The renowned comedians in Aspen stayed in lavish hotels while I stayed in a budget motel on the outskirts of town. Each morning, I had breakfast with four other comedic writers who were also undervalued, but praised for their wit and talent in providing content for the cutthroat industry. Daniel Clowes shared with me that the contents of his goodie bag from the Oscars, where his comic Ghost World was nominated, were worth more than his earnings as a writer up until that point.

The individuals in Aspen reside in luxurious Frank Lloyd Wright homes situated in secluded Fabergé eyries on top of mountains. They look out over snowy peaks and indulge in the finest wines while their servants live in shared dormitories. Did these privileged individuals truly find my crude jokes about flatulence and American foreign policy entertaining? One could question the validity of a performance that is well-received in Aspen. Ideally, a comedian would deliver a set so cutting that the audience would be driven to fling themselves off their patios.

The relationship between wealth and the arts is a complex one. During the Labour Creatives conference, Keir Starmer gave a powerful speech, but simply offering free recorder lessons and reminiscing about iconic music will not be enough to revive the cultural explosion that defined postwar Britain and gave us international influence. Currently, it is difficult for individuals to afford a career in the arts, while being a doctor is considered a more financially viable option. Starmer must prioritize making the arts an accessible and viable career choice, as its value goes beyond monetary measures. Artists only require a small space, inspiration, and some creative stimulation. In the 1990s when I moved to Hackney, there was an abundance of muses. However, they have all been priced out of the area and have relocated to places like Glasgow. Additionally, it seems that conservative politicians have also taken hold of all the inspiration and drive, leaving artists with limited resources.

The majority of attendees and participants of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival nowadays either have a significant amount of wealth, are content with camping 10 miles from the city and biking in as if they were peasants, or are fortunate enough to have a family member who consistently leaves in August to avoid the chaos of actors discussing Andrew Scott in sandwich shops.

Top private schools have better theatre facilities than the entire city of Gloucester. Unlike Gloucester, Eton doesn’t have a cheese named after it or a famous serial killer, admittedly. But it does produce loads of famously cheesy actors, one of whom, Dominic West, got to play a serial killer from Gloucester with the same surname. Put down those puppets! The arts ain’t for you any more, peasants. Back in auspicious alpine Aspen, you could even ski after you’d consumed your culture.

I made the conscious decision not to participate. During my initial secondary school physical education class, I permanently resigned from all athletic activities. I had experienced repeated humiliation after accidentally letting a strange-shaped ball drop, something I had never encountered before. This occurred at the hands of our games instructor, a former professional rugby player who was all too eager to align himself with the popular students. This ultimately led me to pursue a career in writing.

However, I regret not taking advantage of the chance to ski in Aspen. In our lifetimes, skiing will likely cease to exist due to the disappearing snowfields that support it. In the future, even old James Bond movies will be altered to portray an unfit Roger Moore wearing goggles and cracking jokes about headless skiing while zooming down dry Swiss mountainsides.

Two prominent lawyers, Tom Little KC and Sue Carr, recently made a decision that eliminates one of the last legal arguments used by climate protesters who cause property damage. This decision, made by two lawyers profiled in the Daily Telegraph, has been met with criticism from some as the newspaper is known for its biased reporting. As a result of this decision, juries are now not allowed to take into consideration the defendant’s beliefs or any evidence related to climate change in their deliberations. Some people argue that facts can be manipulated to support any argument.

During the same week, Bill McGuire, a geophysicist and the author of Hothouse Earth, calmly stated that in the middle of the 21st century, Britain could face summer temperatures as high as 46C (115F) and potentially devastating flash floods. Unfortunately, it is now too late to prevent this. Is the heat getting to you?

During the closing night of the 2005 Aspen comedy festival, the esteemed writer Jonathan Ames, sporting a green beanie reminiscent of Hemingway’s signature look, announced his determination to help the rest of us, who were not considered important enough to receive invitations, gain access to the exclusive private house party hosted by the wealthiest man in Aspen. With his charismatic charm, Ames managed to convince the door-staff to let us in, alongside a writer from the popular show Sex and the City. As we made our way to the bathroom, we couldn’t help but notice framed photos of our host shaking hands with various American presidents, regardless of their political affiliations.

After twelve hours, I found myself drinking the last Beck’s beer alone on a frost-covered wooden deck set into a frozen cliff. I witnessed the chilly sun rise like Shiva the Destroyer over a perfectly crafted snow-capped Rocky Mountain landscape and I captured the moment with a Polaroid camera. Eventually, I was escorted out by security personnel who, I believe, had known all along that I, like them, would not have been invited to such a high-end party. I did not partake in skiing in Aspen. However, I am grateful for the temporary glimpse into the high society and the majestic snowy scenery. I fear it will not remain as impressive and may not even survive the century.

  • Stewart Lee’s Basic Lee is being performed at Cambridge Arts Theatre on April 15th and 16th.

  • What is your viewpoint on the topics discussed in this piece? If you wish to contribute a letter of maximum 250 words for potential publication, please send it to us at [email protected].

Source: theguardian.com