Rob Gilroy

Where did it all go?

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The other day, Tiernan Douieb wrote an interesting piece about the lack of satirical shows on British TV. Despite the fact his surname is onomatopoeic with the sound a Noise Stick makes, he has a valid point.

It was sparked off by the announcement of a new satirical puppet show – a Spitting Image reboot if you will; presumably part of a wider shared universe that encompasses Team America and Fireball XL.

Like Tiernan, I have nothing against this new show; it has some great talent behind it and this sort of show can work really well. I was a huge fan of 2DTV when that first started; in fact, I’m probably the only person that still owns a ‘Best Of’ DVD. It wasn’t exactly corrosive satire, but it could be very funny. As well as that, it was nice to see a British adult animation* that worked.

I think the main concern with our recent attempts at satire is, as a country known for not taking itself too seriously; it seems we’ve become a lot less able to poke fun at ourselves and our institutions.

Is this because the culture of offence has scared people away from taking risks? Or is it due to the fact the relationship between politics and the media is now so close, that to openly mock the political processes leaves you open to legislative bullying? Or maybe it’s just that, as a country, we’re past fighting.

Our satirical history has always been strong – from Beyond the Fringe, the genius of Peter Cook, his Establishment Club, and the considerable input from Michael Sheen and That Was The Week That Was, right through to the alternative comedy boom in the 80s and the anarchic attitudes of Ben Elton, Alexi Sayle and the rest of The Comic Strip gang. Where did it all go? (With the exception of Ben Elton. We know where he went – Australia.)

This lack of satirical ire can’t be down to the fact that things are better now. They’re not. But our pointed political commentary and our aggressive convention-breaking, seems to have given way to a much softer, more snarky form of insult humour. It has its place, but it’s not quite the same.

There are a great many comedians out there doing strongly political material, without once losing sight of the humour – there’s Tiernan himself, as well as Mark Steel, Mark Thomas, Josie Long, Bridget Christie, Chris Coltrane – there’s lots of the buggers. Not to mention more localised shows like John Scott’s Sod the Tories, and Paul Sneddon, Keir McAllister and Mark Nelson’s new monthly topical shows at the Edinburgh Stand.

Yet, we rarely see any of this on TV. The Brits we do see – like John Oliver and Armando Iannucci – are off in the states, making brilliant shows that were they over here, would struggle to reach the pilot stage.

Radio seems to be the only place for satirical people and, while they show a constant commitment to satire of every sort – from Newsjack through to The Now Show and the News Quiz, it’s a shame that this great talent can’t reach a bigger audience.

Despite channelling a tramp version of David Bowie from the hit film Labyrinth, Russell Brand is one of the only comedians bringing proper political discussion to TV. I don’t necessarily agree with his points – if people didn’t vote then The X Factor would last forever – but at least he’s engaging in the debate.

The fact that so few people seem certain of how they will vote in the coming election, should be enough of an indicator that what is needed is something that brings politics to a personal, accessible level, without having to disappear up Kim Kardashian’s bum hole.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that I’m the person to do this – I’m not. I’ve written topical material before and it was, at best, spelt correctly. I do think that’s a big part of the issue though – finding the right people to tackle it.

John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and the like are brilliant at what they do because they’re fearless – fighting that institutionalised pomposity drives them to creative brilliance. It’s the same with Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris – they channel their anger and dissatisfaction into comedy that is both hilariously funny and incredibly pointed.

We need to get the right people, as opposed to comedians who are great at being funny, but don’t really have a stand point when it comes to current affairs. Anyone can fire off Eric Pickles fat jokes and digs at governmental U-turns.

It’s unlikely that any of these concerns will be answered before the next election but should the results prove as fractured as is predicted, then maybe the demand for a show that tackles this will increase.

Either way, if funny political discussion on TV is a dead duck, then at least the discussion about political discussion being on TV is alive and well.

*Just to be clear, by ‘adult animation’ I’m not referring to Cartoon Porn. That’s something completely different and utterly inappropriate. You’ll never look at the Moomins the same way again.