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Craft beer – ‘ripe for parody’?

Every now and then someone decides that “craft beer is ripe for parody” – is it really?

Earlier this week the comedian Alistair Green posted a short video in which he played both the part of Matt, CEO of Punk Squirrel brewery, and Matt, Matt’s business partner and head of marketing.

Mr Green is one of those people who can make merely passable material seem good through the strength of his performance and his commitment to the bit. It’s part Vic & Bob outsider awkwardness, part Victoria Wood observation.

His piece from last year about Adam and Eve discovering the concept of death was particularly brilliant, we thought, somehow conjuring three characters and the Garden of Eden into being with a single talking head and a blank white room.

So when we saw Punk Squirrel pop up on our non-beer Twitter feeds, we watched it, and sure enough, it made us laugh out loud a couple of times. The line “I’m 43!” seemed particularly funny, perhaps because Ray is, indeed, 43 and recognised the look of despair in poor Matt’s eyes.

The punchline also rang true. We know people who weren’t remotely interested in beer until they hit 40, moved to the suburbs and had kids. Now they’re all over Cloudwater and Camden and definitely will order “a two-thirds of that, please” at the local craft beer festival, yeah, yeah, yeah, cool, cool, cool.

We’re also always fascinated to see commentary on beer from outside the ‘beer community’ and the response to this video was interesting, too, with hundreds of people replying with variants on, “Ugh, craft beer wankers… I swear I know these guys.”

So, without overthinking it, we gave it a Retweet from the Boak & Bailey account.

We were then surprised later in the day to find that other people were less amused.

Some were even, it seemed, a bit angry and upset. We won’t embed those Tweets here but they were impassioned: “Fuck that guy” said one.

This made us pause and reflect. For one thing, we think we understand where this pushback is coming from.

We’ve lost count of the number of times some godawful Twitter account called, e.g. ‘The Craft Beer nobhead’ has popped up, managing twelve weak Tweets about checked shirts and IPA before running out of steam.

And Matt Curtis in particular has been the victim of some limp, mean-spirited ‘parody’ over the years for reasons that aren’t exactly clear to us – “He’s just zis guy, you know?”

It also made us think about how this latest two minute swipe fits into a long history of taking the piss.

We could go digging into the far past – Falstaff, Pickwick, all those mid-20th century books which caricature the kinds of people you find in pubs and so on.

But the recent example that’s probably most useful is the ‘Real Ale Twats’ from Viz, whose creator, Davey Jones, told us the full story a few years ago.

What’s interesting there, with The Beer Nut’s comment in mind, is that the RATs debuted in 2001 – about 20 years after the bearded real ale bore stereotype first evolved.

People are often surprised by that, assuming the strip dates from the 1980s, but it does take a while for these things to breach the bubble.

Rewatching Mr Green’s sketch, we find ourselves reaching a few conclusions.

First, this is not an attack on craft beer drinkers or brewers, if you can call it an attack at all. It’s about the privileged founders of a certain type of big money, brand-led operation – specifically Camden, Beavertown and BrewDog. It’s punching up, not punching down.

Secondly, when a professional comedian notices your hobby, it means it has broken into the collective consciousness. That’s potentially pretty exciting.

And, debate aside, it did make us laugh – that’s a fact. Comedy is one of the few areas of creativity whose effectiveness on an individual can be measured with any degree of objectivity. Did they crack a smile? No? Then they probably didn’t find it funny. If they did, however, it worked and was therefore, kind of, in some way, good.

Finally, we don’t, as it happens, think craft beer is particularly “ripe for parody”.

What is there to say about hipsterism that wasn’t covered in Nathan Barley 20 years ago, or more recently by Portlandia?

And most of the people involved in the business of brewing seem to us to be earnest Heriot-Watt types trying to make a living.

Of course if people think there’s an angle, we’ll certainly always be interested to see what they come up with. We just can’t promise to laugh.

3 replies on “Craft beer – ‘ripe for parody’?”

I don’t hate it, but I do think it’s misdirected and a bit stupid. On one hand, the “rebel” branding that some breweries are so keen on always was vapid, pretentious and annoying, even when the people involved were in their 20s and weren’t massively capitalised. On the other, the craft scene does have quite good bullshit detectors – breweries don’t survive (even survive long enough to sell out) unless their beer has a following. Moneyed hipsters squatting the scene aren’t a big enough phenomenon to be worth satirising, I’d have said. Also, I can understand people feeling that it’s meant as a pisstake of Craft Beer and Craft Beer People in general – and in that context I don’t think it works at all.

I think there was a bit too much anger directed at this by plenty of people who don’t need to worry about their own authenticity. He was obviously aiming at either the big boys who you’ve named (and who can handle a bit of ribbing), or at the people who are in the industry for the wrong reasons (who might deserve it).

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Alistair supporting good local craft breweries on his social media before so I doubt there was any malice in the sketch, and I’d even go so far as to say his intended audience was probably people like us who are in-the-loop. This sketch would fall totally flat on anyone who isn’t familiar with the scene.

Whether our personal interest in beer is professional or just a hobby I think we do need to learn to laugh at ourselves sometimes.

I missed all this—thanks. I agree about the punching-up, too—it’s clear who the target was. That the references were passé is part of the schtick.

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