Cyclical funnyman Alexander Armstrong has finally come clean, and apologised for his role in a series of Direct Line commercials. In a lengthy interview, Armstrong said he ‘didn’t feel guilty’ about promoting the RBS-owned business, and had been Direct Lining for 'months, maybe years'. But like legendary Direct Liners before him including Stephen Fry and Paul Merton, Alexander felt under pressure to ‘earn, at all costs.’
Armstrong had been seen as a role-model by many trendy young comics, who’d watched him rise through the pack to seize the career’s biggest prize. But instead of giving them the chance to roll their eyes and smugly call him a ‘sell-out’, he carefully avoided hypocrisy in private.
“When you set out to be a politically aware entertainer, there are very clear rules you have to follow”, complained disillusioned comedy fan Andrew Wheaton. “You’re expected to sneer at the Tories, the Daily Mail and slag off the banks, before selling your soul to the first corporate giant that’ll have you.”
Following in the footsteps of such legendary sell-outs as Ben Elton, George Carlin and latterly Chris Addison, Marcus Brigstocke, David Mitchell, Robert Webb and Jimmy Carr, Armstrong knew he couldn’t afford to drop a bollock. Clearly embarrassed by the questioning, Armstrong admitted ‘he found it difficult’ to throw away all his credibility, and so hadn’t pretended to be an angry political activist in the first place.
“Armstrong has been hiding in plain sight”, claimed Wheaton. “He’s associated with known hypocrites on all those panel shows. But where he should have been conforming to stereotypes, he’s been all ‘moderate’ and ‘quite funny’. I feel let down, it’s definitely cheating.”
Some comics are still supportive of Armstrong, not least fellow endorser Ben Miller. “If it’s a crime to promote a company you’ve never vilified or something that doesn’t conflict with your principles, then we’re both ‘guilty as charged’”, confessed Miller. “But you don’t know what it’s like out there, grinding towards the peak of your career. There’s an awful lot of pressure to be a dope.”