The relationship between politics and comedy is deeply unfunny
Hello, Ill be standing in for David Mitchell this week, and Stewart Lee next. Id like to apologise for this in advance: regular readers of this column have become used to scintillating satire from these two, delivered via crisp, witty prose. What do I have to offer in return? Nothing but grim jeremiads about the dreadful state were in and pretentious, jargon-laden analyses about how we got here. True, I too was once a well-known light entertainer on national television, but in recent years Ive fallen victim to the worst character trait of the ageing farceur: a desire to be taken seriously an inclination that has, quite rightly, coincided with my gently smelly slide down into Stygian obscurity.
Bobbing about down here, Ive begun to suspect that my status in our septic, MRSA-ridden isle exists in an inverse correlation to that of Her Highnesss current first minister. Its a truth universally acknowledged that, in search of his destiny as world king, Boris Johnson turned to television to build his base, and in particular to the satirical news show Have I Got News for You. Throughout a number of barnstorming appearances, Johnson cemented his reputation as a charming and self-deprecating Old Etonian, whose tousled blond mop nonetheless surmounted a mind like a steel trap. Even at the time, commentators remarked on how bizarre it was that serving politicians were prepared to go on the show and risk being eviscerated by their fellow panellists however, by perfecting his routine (in Marxist terms, his praxis), Johnson enacted the dialectical relation between politics and comedy that has since typified our era.
Yes, think of Johnson not as man but a sort of personified synthesis: one between the high-minded politics of old and the cachinnating prejudices of the new bigots. And, of course, hes not alone in this true, comedy was only a sideline for Johnson, but for Italys Beppe Grillo, and now Ukraines Volodymyr Zelenskiy, one-liners have become party ones. Then theres Marjan arec, in Slovenia, and Jimmy Morales, in Guatemala, both former comedians who abandoned their shtick in favour of the slapstick of governance. Just how good any of these characters were as comics is debatable I suppose you had to be there and then, rather than here and now, since none of them has been doing terribly well at the notoriously unfunny business of making life-and-death decisions concerning your fellow human beings.
In the long dark night of my soul, when Ive failed to surf that wave of illegal melatonin into even the lightest of slumbers, disturbing visions throng my mind: I imagine a summit convened by that prime-time joker-in-chief Donald the Donald Trump. Around the polished oval stage in the Oval Office, sit Messrs Johnson, Zelenskiy et al, all rocking and rolling with laughter as they carve the worlds audience up between them. But if superannuated comedians are our new rulers, perhaps weve only ourselves to blame? Did we not laugh too readily at their feeble quips, thereby propelling them into office? At this years Edinburgh fringe, the funniest joke award went to this one, by the hilariously named comedian Olaf Falafel: I keep randomly shouting out broccoli and cauliflower I think I may have florets.
Frankly, if Id been on hand to heckle when Falafel threw up this little ball of wit, Id have shouted Fuck you, you fucking shitting wanking fuck, youre about as funny as fucking fuck-all what makes people with Tourettes ripe for your alleged humour? Are there other disabled folk youd like to have a go at while youre up there? Thereby exhibiting the rank hypocrisy of those of us who arent so much woke as utterly insomniac. But even setting the prejudice to one side, Falafels joke is a pretty tired bit of punning. Nietzsche quipped that Wit is the epitaph of an emotion but, even as epitaphs go, puns are a grave old business.
I do hope Messrs Mitchell and Lee will be using their downtime to re-up on their material so you can look forward to plenty of hearty chuckles in the autumn, when broccoli and cauliflower become too expensive even for Observer readers. But my suspicion is that they may, in fact, be moonlighting as premiers themselves, while you have to put up with my second-division repartee.