Hugo Rifkind says in The Times that satirists change nothing.
I’m not sure that’s true.
The first ‘alternative comedians’ (or alt-cons as we’d have to call them now) were massively influential, I’d say.
Jo Brand, Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton – my, they knew how to make left wing comedians in those days. You might not have liked Jo Brand’s politics (if you ever found out what they were) but you had to admire her. If she’d been a footballer, instead of a psychiatric nurse, she’d have been described as hard but fair. She seemed to save her most vicious criticism for herself. Alexei Sayle was another stern and unpredictable self-critic. He’d be savaging Tories one minute and mocking council tenants the next. His harshest judgements seemed to be about factions on the Left, despite him being a lifelong Marxist-Leninist.
Ben Elton turned out to be a complete phoney. But when I really thought he was from Catford (rather than the mockney son of a Surrey University professor) I hung on his every word.
It’s quite admirable that Brand and Sayle were confident enough in themselves and their politics to be so self-effacing. Both Sayle and Brand had a sort of reverse ‘spree killing’ comedy style. They would start by slaughtering themselves for ten minutes before finally they turned their weapons on the audience.
Ben Elton took the mickey out of himself. Or rather, the character he was pretending to be. Still, at least he had some humility – he must have done, otherwise he wouldn’t have hated himself so much.
It’s that even handedness that gave the satire of Brand and Sayle in particular its potency. (Sorry if that sounds a bit Pseuds Corner). You would be much more receptive to criticism of Londoners when Sayle made them, because he had a certain authority. You respected his views. By the same logic, I would always wince when Brand mocked blokes. Her psychiatric medicine background made her insights even more fearsome, like she was a comedy Hannibal Lector.
Comedy on the TV was more ecletic then. For every posh mockney lefty like Andy De La Tour or Ben Elton, there were working class comics like Jimmy Tarbuck, Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning, the alt-right of that era. They were all on their way out, of course.
There has been a complete comedy revolution since then. A new generation of bigots came in and, being middle class university graduates, were never going to tolerate anyone unlike themselves. Despite his popularity, Benny Hill was taken out and shot. They wanted to create their own little absurd Reich. Now everyone is left-wing but none is secure enough in their own beliefs to even tolerate anyone who questions anything. They’re like cult members.
Like their role model, Ben Elton, they are all second guessing what it’s like to be working class. It’s weird to hear people like Marcus Brigstocke slating ‘posh’ people, when he came straight from university into a plum job at the BBC where, by enormous co-incidence, his brother was working as a producer. There’s nothing wrong with coming from a nice home, but because he feels guilty about it, he feels he has to point the finger at others. What does that act of blame-shifting tell you about his character? “Here, are you looking for Spartacus? That’s him! Look, over there!!!”
The modern targets for satirical fire are non-existent enemies that they can’t even see, so high are the walls around them. Russell Howard is constantly slating ‘racists’ he claims to have witnessed getting a come-uppance. He’s somehow met more intolerant people in his short time in London than I’ve seen all my life. I wonder if he might be making these up in order to make himself look good. Still, anti-racism eh? What a brave stance to take. That’s really going out on a limb in this day and age.
The reason that ‘satirists’ aren’t influential is that nobody respects them. They can even defend their prejudices themselves. They can’t allow anyone to challenge their views. You see the same names pop up as comedy writers on every show, whether it’s Newsjack or NewsQuiz or Newzoids, it’s the same dross, with the same predictable myopic world view from the same circle of comedy in-breeds from a cloistered insular society.
They have imaginary targets, non-existent people on which they have psychologically projected their own faults, and they can’t defend their own beliefs because they don’t stand up to scrutiny.
That, I imagine, is why satirists doesn’t get through to the public. Nobody respects them. The viewing figures bear this out.