Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Satire's Not Dead

In another age, your correspondent wrote satirical comedy for the BBC. Sort of. Guess what? I wasn't very good at it. TV once (you've seen it - dog and cliff), radio a couple of dozen times. Put it this way - even without peers like Newman, Baddiel and O'Farrell, I'd have been struggling. But it doesn't diminish valuable insight into the comedian's creative process, nor the shrill indignation of those terminally who can't grasp the game. Such echoes resounded in James Donaghy's mean-spirited whinge in the Guardian yesterday attacking Rory Bremner for hoax phone calls to cabinet ministers.
As the Guardian - its features at any rate - seems to be written for and by three-score or so thirty-somethings and their leftover student-mag obsessions in north London, often irrespective of their interest or talent (often both). In other words, this surreal half-pennorth (for which I assume Mr Donaghy trousered a fair bit more than the cost of one Fruit Salad chew) is about par for the course these days.
If I have an objection to Mr Bremner's stunt, it was simply its timing, a dopey little piece of pre-pub for a new series; fine, upstanding man of principle Peter Hain accused him of sowing 'cynicism' by denigrating cabinet ministers for laughs (the very idea!) when the more perceptive among us might firstly point to Bremner's rare taste-failure willingness to play the publicity game.
Donaghy's 'argument' was that the stunt had shown how devalued was the currency of political satire - indeed, that it scarcely mattered at all any more. I sense that the steady thump of rejection letters on a doormat might be behind this high-horsiness, but let that pass. Grapes taste pretty sour to me when I read 500 paid words of nothing like this on a national newspaper website, remember.
The article's targets were problematic. Sorry, but accusing Marks Thomas and Steel of humourless bludgeonry is elephant's-arse target practise worthy of castigating Stan Collymore for self-publicity. There was the obligatory - for the Guardian crew - uncritical hosanna of Chris Morris, conveniently ignoring the fact that the latter has done nothing of any note since half-way through Brass Eye (which often looks dangerously dated these days). Be honest, people - Morris is unproductively obsessed with willy-waving sensationalism of a clunking repetitiveness as irksome as the awful music that so polluted Blue Jam. Not big, not clever, not funny. One of the posters to Donaghy's article was straight out of Central Casting (mid-90s student union extras dept); 'I don't need any lessons in satire from someone [Bremner] who voted for Thatcher...' The refrain was depressingly British - most agree on Bremner's technical abilities as a mimic, but as Brits cannot bear ostentatious displays of facility or ability unless from unpleasant middle class children, this brilliance was, if anything, used as a tool of denigration.
Bremner's scripts are feeling clunkier as the years go by, it's true. That the Bird-Fortune Two Johns section is among the most boring things on TV is no longer opinion but verifiable fact. Sketches, I am afraid, simply do not last more than four minutes.
Moreover, The Office and, before that, the much better People Like Us have taken satire in bracing new directions. But that Bremner Bird and Fortune actually engages the mind to the degree it does means the fact that one can laugh at it at all is a minor miracle. My old comic nerve can feel the quality of some of the monologue jokes and they're delivered with real snap. If Bremner as political satirist is becoming shopworn, this is not because of his shortcomings as a humourist. It is thanks to the tedium of politics and the increasing stupidity of television full stop.

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