Intermission theatre editor George Ruskin contemplates the inherent comedy of our current political world, and points out the positive ─ it is, grimly, a fascinating spectacle to watch.
Watching Have I Got News For You for the first time in a long time one evening last week, I was only half listening, scrolling through my Twitter timeline. It hadn’t quite the satirical hold over me it once did. The panellists didn’t quite know what to do with themselves, it quickly became clear, and so, predictably, the hackneyed repertoire of Melania Trump being a robot, Jacob Rees-Mogg being a Victorian, and Prince Phillip being old were popped in for a thirty second re-heat. This isn’t a television review, however, and it’s clear that HIGNFY isn’t the only current affairs comedy programme struggling in the global political tempest: the once-indefatigable Miles Jupp has vacated the News Quiz chair, and the puerile anti-humour of Mock The Week looks well on its way to having its rights sold to Dave. Have satirists lost their touch? I think not. Instead, they’ve been served their P45s by a twenty-four-hour news cycle of pantomime quality. Put simply: this shit writes itself.
This boiled over last week, when The Metropolitan Police announced an active investigation into satirist Jo Brand after she joked about throwing acid instead of milkshakes at "unpleasant characters". With no charges being brought against what Brand herself described “crass and ill-judged” comments, I’ve no wish to open that particular Pandora’s Box once again (especially as the satirical censorship debate has got me into hot water in this publication’s editorial in the past). Instead, the heart of the issue is, in my view, the satirical sea-change that we’ve seen in the past three years caused wholesale by Wagnerian geopolitical high drama, in particular, I hardly need add Britain’s diagnosis of terminal and incurable Brexit.
We’ve now cut out the satirist middlemen: Private Eye is shuffled into an ever-more obscure corner of magazine stands and seasoned professionals like Brand - normally perennially insightful - are misjudging their material and audiences in a big way. Were this trend to continue, we could see an end to news satire altogether, as well as (heaven forbid) the profession of columnist.
The fact of the matter is we have all now become satirists of our own platforms. The quotidian shambles of our political situation no longer requires a wit forged in the fires of Radio 4’s panel programmes to extract a humorous dimension; any Tom, Dick and Harry can now log onto Twitter and poke some quite sophisticated fun at that week’s particular whipping boy (or girl).
I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a good thing, no doubt we’ll soon return to the dull-as-dishwater news bulletins of Levison Enquiries, CQC NHS Trust inspections and expenses scandals, but until then we need to enjoy the news circus for what it is: a coup de théâtre. We’ll call back in the likes of Ian Hislop, when we need him to cast a wry eye over the morning papers when normal service resumes, but until then, let’s all have a go. Britain is now a nation of satirists.