The pratfall is comedy distilled to its essence.
And so we should be grateful that when Health Secretary Humza Yousaf tumbled head-first off a scooter while whizzing along a corridor inside the Scottish Parliament last week, TV cameras were in place to capture the moment.
Carrying a sporting injury, the Health Secretary has been using a scooter to get around the Holyrood complex in recent days. And, because Yousaf is a show-off, he couldn’t resist the temptation to crank up the speed when he saw a crew from STV filming outside the debating chamber. An aide, carrying Yousaf’s crutches, had to jog to keep up with his boss as he barrelled along.
Everything about the scene screamed silly alpha male so it was especially delicious when the Health Secretary lost control of the scooter and came clattering down.
Soon BBC Scotland’s political editor Glenn Campbell had tweeted out a short clip of the tumble, noting that the Health Secretary was not having a good day.
And that, I think, should have been that.
But, of course, it wasn’t.
Rather than allowing the nation to share in this moment of slapstick, an army of exhausting b******s emerged to declare their outrage that people were watching and enjoying the clip.
Yousaf kicked things off, tweeting that while he was all for media scrutiny, he wasn’t sure there was any need to share a video showing him falling over while injured. If anyone else had fallen over while on crutches, a knee scooter, or in a wheelchair, would your first instinct be to film it and tweet it out?
Yousaf’s laughably pious tone was swiftly echoed by colleagues. SNP MSP Fiona Hyslop, displaying a remarkable failure to grasp the nature of the internet, suggested that everyone who had shared the footage of the Health Secretary’s fall should delete their tweets.
The SNP’s Chief of Staff to the leader’s office at Westminster, Catriona Matheson, was equally pompous. She wasn’t going to share the video but noted that any Tories poking fun at a government mobility scooter were beyond the pale. Political discourse in Scotland needs to be better, she added sorrowfully.
There are few things an SNP politician enjoys more than whining like a petulant child about the BBC so those rushing to condemn Glenn Campbell will have been delighted that their entirely fabricated outrage led to him receiving a barrage of abuse from nationalist supporters.
Yousaf’s initial complaint was disingenuous, at best. Nobody - seeing him fall - suddenly decided to film it. Rather, TV cameras were already filming - as they do every week before and after First Minister’s Question Time. Yousaf was perfectly happy to be filmed whizzing along the corridor like a buffoon.
To read the reactions from colleagues, you would think Yousaf a victim of terrible cruelty. Let’s maintain a bit of perspective, the Health Secretary is not permanently disabled. Rather, he’s a fit and healthy 36-year-old man who happens to have damaged his achilles tendon while playing badminton. Sure, this must be uncomfortable, but it is a rather minor matter in the great scheme of things.
And, if SNP politicians want to play the public interest game, here, they are on to a loser. It is, no matter how embarrassing it might be to Yousaf, entirely legitimate to show a clip of the Health Secretary using a scooter recklessly inside the Scottish Parliament. It is only through good fortune that nobody else was injured during Yousaf’s crash.
A more appropriate reaction from the Health Secretary would have been to accept that he had been the architect of his own misfortune and to laugh things off. Instead, his fragile wee ego badly bruised, he lashed out creating a wave of moral outrage that was entirely unjustified.
Some time ago, the Scottish Tory Leader Douglas Ross - a football linesman in his spare time - took a tumble while officiating at a match. Yousaf was quick to react.
“Best moment of the 2nd half,” he tweeted, “Douglas Ross MP decks it a belter! Can't wait to see the meme.” So that’s clear then: Tory politician falls over - good, SNP politician falls over - bad.
I’m reminded of a quote often attributed to the great Mel Brooks: “Tragedy is when I get a paper cut on my finger, comedy is when you fall in a sewer and die.”
Yousaf is a cock-of-the-walk kind of fellow, confident and charming and energetic. He must accept that all of this makes his tumble all the more enjoyable for the rest of us.
At the age of 13, I fell into a chest freezer in our local Spar while trying to retrieve a frozen Kwenchy Kup which had stuck fast to the bottom. Girls from my school witnessed this. There is nothing Yousaf can tell me about the humiliating fall. I have been there.
Even at 13, I knew the only acceptable reaction was to laugh along. It never once occurred to me to try to shame those who found my predicament amusing.
I’d quite like our Health Secretary to have a thicker skin than a socially-awkward adolescent, wouldn’t you?
By behaving so childishly over this matter, Yousaf has only enhanced the joke. The only thing that can make a cocky man falling over any more entertaining is if that man then goes on to pompously fail to see the funny side.
I rather hope Humza Yousaf and his colleagues continue to rage. Their fury does nothing but keep the joke alive.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.