Thursday, December 12, 2019
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Thank Evans for a glimpse of humour on the BBC

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For The Mash, get smashed. Certainly, some form of anaesthetic is essential when watching The Mash Report, BBC2’s satirical and surreal news show – their words, not mine – which a few days ago was expertly dissected by Nick Booth.

In addition to being an extremely amusing writer, Nick evidently possesses an unusually high threshold for pain. Whereas I have been able to tolerate only the occasional smack from the show’s lazy, metropolitan agitprop, Nick has seemingly endured all of the two series, bravely withstanding the televisual equivalent of repeated bludgeoning with a rolled-up copy of The Guardian.

For TCW readers who, either by luck or good judgment, have missed The Mash Report, the tenor of the show is exemplified by this short clip. Presenter Nish Kumar currently enjoys considerable BBC patronage; to anyone unfamiliar with the smug Mr Kumar, please also view this ending to his most recent appearance on Live At The Apollo and remind yourself that what you are hearing is officially classified as comedy. The showbiz dictum ‘leave ’em laughing’ is evidently not for Nish, and on the rare occasion he aims at a just target, his overweening piety requires an allergy warning.

Though he is the show’s principal mouthpiece, Kumar’s responsibility for The Mash Report is at least mitigated by not having a writing credit. In fact, given the relentlessly anti-Brexit material, the scriptwriters appear to have taken dictation from psychotic Remainers Alastair Campbell, James O’Brien and Terry Christian (the last named having just dragged the quality of debate on Question Time to a new low).

Nick is correct that there is nothing wrong with Left-wing comedy per se, provided it is done with originality, wit and panache – characteristics conspicuously absent amidst the one-dimensional predictability of The Mash Report. One wonders how the show is viewed by Radio 4 pet Marcus Brigstocke, who last year expressed shock that provincial audiences seeking laughs were leaving shows during his anti-Brexit lectures. Pre-referendum, in 2014, Brigstocke had complained of BBC television having ‘given up on topical satire’, and he denounced BBC2’s Mock The Week as ‘terrible’. Coming from Marcus Brigstocke, comedically that was akin to Oxfam condemning louche behaviour at the Presidents Club.

For a long time, the BBC’s idea of political balance in its comedy output was to have on The News Quiz the likes of Hugo Rifkind and Matthew Parris, commentators ostensibly from the Right but with approved liberal credentials. Which made it all the more notable when, in January, comedian Simon Evans upset that show’s cosy consensus.

Having previously enjoyed his acerbic, middle-aged misanthropy

– why that should resonate, I cannot imagine – it was pleasing to discover that Evans’s exaggerated stage persona is nevertheless rooted in a genuine aversion to Leftist shibboleths. Though he is no stranger to Radio 4, having presented without incident several series of Simon Evans Goes To Market (an attempt to mine humour from economics), one suspects the producers of The News Quiz were unprepared for the NHS being described as a socialist utopia which does not work, nor for an eloquent riff on Trump that concluded: ‘Objectively speaking, I think he is the most successful president of my lifetime.’

Having caused something of a stir on The News Quiz


Simon Evans followed this with a bravura performance on the January 21 edition of the BBC discussion show The Big Questions.

While admitting to ‘finding it difficult to defend him in conventional terms’, Evans nevertheless demolished the received wisdom in the studio that Trump’s first 12 months of presidency is solely responsible for imminent nuclear war and/or impending environmental catastrophe. Also, describing himself, perhaps only half-jokingly, as a feudalist, Evans entertainingly disparaged the socialist preaching by many of his ‘petit bourgeois’ comedy brethren: ‘They live like socialists only in the sense that they are poor.’

Lesson for the BBC: for genuinely subversive comedy, less of the Kumar Rogue and more of what Simon Says.

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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