ON Friday, unchained from my chemotherapy bottle and with my wounds giving me less pain, I treated myself to a night out in London.
The political think tank The UK in a Changing Europe promised a free discussion of political comedy by three top satirists. With free drinks afterwards. Get in! In my reduced circumstances, that had to be the best offer.
‘Brexit and Comedy’ was to be chaired by Professor Anand Menon, the think tank’s director.The panel didn’t look too promising though. The vibe from the Guardian’s Marina Hyde and stand-up myopic Nish Kumar doesn’t bode for any generosity of spirit. If the other panellist is equally negative, that’s the critical mass for a pessimism vortex. Any of my newly emerging optimism will be sucked into a black hole.
So I phoned and checked that it wasn’t a Remoaner rally. I asked: Am I going to be surrounded by a room full of people who hate me?
The nice lady reassured me that comic Andy Zaltzman was to be the counterweight to the two other panellists. I should have checked.
The discussion was hard work: three comedians earnestly talking about themselves. If there was ever any magic, the daylight has been let in and bleached it.
Marina Hyde made some pleasingly conciliatory admissions. You know, I’ve always had a sneaking admiration for her! Nish Kumar is beyond redemption though. Poor bloke seems very bitter. He made the extraordinary claim that Geoff Norcott is the only ‘right wing comedian’ that ‘we’ [I assume he means the makers of the Mash Report] can trust him not to say the N-word on TV. I wonder what Simon Evans thinks of that.
Nish Kumar is still dining out on his anecdote about when someone lobbed a bread roll at him. He could feed the 5,000 with that parable. The real question should have been: is solipsism killing satire?
The panellists seem to have picked up a few tricks from their targets. An audience member asked whether people should be obliged to pay the BBC subscription/licence fee. In response they all ‘satirised’ him as if he’d asked ‘Why do I have to pay for CBeebies when I don’t watch it?’ They answered the question they wanted to hear. He asked about the fee enforcement, not the individual programmes. Nick Clegg would have been proud of that evasion.
Someone asked if any of them had been asked to write gags for politicians.
Andy Zaltzman said that Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy tried to recruit him to be David Miliband’s gag writer.
What sort of dispassionate news professional is Krishnan Guru-Murthy?
Wait – wasn’t Andy Zaltzman supposed to be the ‘normal’ bloke I was promised? If so, why did the Labour Party want him to tell their story?
What saddened me was that a think tank, which is supposedly passionate about Europe and anxious to explain its benefits, couldn’t think of a single interesting thing to say about Europe in the entire night. Even Boris Johnson was talked about as the British Trump.
They benchmark everything in the modern world with America. And everything bad from the past with Hitler, which is to say Europe.
I did manage to get passed a microphone and asked: ‘You’ve talked about Donald Trump and America all night. Where is your passion for Europe?’
The answers were pretty lame, I thought. The usual excuse about sharing a common language with America. You mean you can’t speak German, French or Spanish?
To be fair, it’s much harder to explain the benefits of something so complex as the European Union, as the very pleasant young man sitting next to me explained. But he could see my point. That was about the nicest part of the evening! At drinks afterwards, to my surprise, everyone I spoke to more or less agreed with my ‘where’s the passion for Europe?’ question.
So I got my prejudice confirmed: if even the Remainers aren’t interested in talking about Europe, we probably are better off out. I feel better now.
As for political satire, it could do with branching out from the current model of polemics by myopics. Zoom out from Donald Trump. Find some writers who don’t think Britain is a colony of the US. Get a more inclusive audience than the one on Friday:
To use a phrase that really is in Donald Trump’s play book: diversify.
AFTERTHOUGHT: Hang on, David Miliband has a gag writer?