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Is politics the new comedy?

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Much as I am loathe to cannibalise one of my own columns just three weeks in, I wanted to revisit my musings on political comedy that I made in my first column. I would feel a bit remiss in not reporting back that the first night of The Establishment, the revival of Peter Cook’s satire soiree, was not the peek into the future of political comedy that the organisers (including host Keith Allen) might have hoped for. The reasons for this were various.

First off, the whole thing was churlishly framed as some kind of riposte to Michael McIntyre,  as if he were single-handedly culpable for political apathy, and secondly the roster of acts was hardly the most radical. Terry Alderton was top of the bill and, while Alderton is a super comic, he’d be the first to admit he is no revolutionary. Besides he, along with the other acts that included Arnold Brown,  Phil Nichol and Mark Nelson, was already thrown by the pall that George Galloway’s earlier appearance had thrown over the evening. Offbeat it might have been, but Galloway’s emphatic assessment of Julian Assange’s sex life  (which also made headlines previously) was also a bit off key.

[pullquote]Politicians making jokes feels like that game of football in the trenches during the First World War[/pullquote]

The evening made me feel that my initial misgivings about the state of political comedy were right, and they were further compounded a week or so later by a piece written by considered and cerebral comic Liam Mullone, on the comedy website Chortle. Mullone, despite being no slouch himself, saw few redeeming signs of political life on the comedy landscape, save for the odd old timer.

The rest of the horsemen of the apocalypse pulled up when I realised that Harriet Harman (albeit aided by a speechwriter who might be working on Spitting Image, were it still around) was telling some of the funniest political jokes I’d heard recently. Here she was at Labour Party Conference last week:

And in my new role as Shadow Culture Secretary, I’m always asked what I’m reading.

And just the other week, I had an awkward moment when a journalist asked me if I’d read ‘that’ book.

Women here will know the one…The one about a sado-masochistic relationship – you know…

…with a dominant superior controlling a naive submissive…

And I said: “don’t be silly – of course I’ve read the coalition agreement!

While parliamentary humour can be priceless, politicians making jokes feels like that game of football in the trenches during the First World War, a moment of serenity before the bitter back and forth kicks off again. Most of the time, it is the politicians themselves that are the laughing stock, and often for all the wrong reasons.

To hear one of the best lines in live satire from a politician, and not a comedian, may tell us something about the state of political comedy today. If the suits sew up this market then the future for the next Mark Thomas, or the next Mark Steel, doesn’t look too bright, does it?

I realise, of course, that I am overstating the case – but that’s politics.

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