Ayesha Hazarika: We need satirists more than ever, but it's so hard to keep up

'Man. These are tough times for the comics and the satirists' said no-one ever. Especially right now. Political comedy is hot right now. To quote the late, great Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam: 'It's hot. Damn hot! Hottest things in my shorts. I could cook things in it.' You get the picture. He also said: 'People say satire is dead. It's not dead; it's alive and living in the White House.' I miss Robin'¦ sniff.

Nish Kumar fronts The Mash Report  terrestrial televisions latest stab at a US-style political satire show
Nish Kumar fronts The Mash Report  terrestrial televisions latest stab at a US-style political satire show

Politics was a bit of a no-go area for a while in comedy but it is back with a vengeance. And it’s easy to see why. There’s the great orange tanned one – no, not Tony Blair – prowling round the White House tweeting like a demented orangutan. There’s Brexit and all the comedy joy that it brings, from that bus which got its sums so wrong it now makes Diane Abbot look like Carol Vorderman, to chlorinated poultry and the inevitable class, culture and demographic war that is being waged. Then there’s the never-ending emotional breakdown consuming the Labour Party which is played in real time on Twitter. It’s like a political version of 24 except it feels like it will be 24 years before a truce will ever be drawn. You’re a Tory! You’re a Trot! Iraq! Venezuela! Neo-Liberal bastard! Communist! And that’s just the flirty bit before the real action kicks off.

And let’s not forget we have Boris Johnson as our Foreign Secretary at possibly the most delicate and important moment in modern political history. The man whose greatest achievement was dangling by his crotch from a zip wire is now our global ambassador. By the way, there is something definitely going on at global level about crazy right-wing men and weird blond barnets. I’m half expecting Michael Fabricant to pop up as head of Nato.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

So, you would think satire and political comedy is easy-peasy right now, what with this embarrassment of riches occurring on an hour by hour basis. Well ... that’s partly the problem. There’s too much of it around. It just needs to stop for a while to let us satirists catch our breath and rewrite our material. Things are happening so fast that sometimes it feels it would be easier and funnier (in my case) to clamber up on stage and read out your Twitter feed. I actually did that last year just after the result of the EU referendum. The country was still reeling from the fall-out and then the Labour Party managed to eclipse that once-in-a-generation moment by staging the most hapless mass resignation in the history of time, while Deputy Leader Tom Watson was at the silent disco at Glastonbury. There were no words to capture the glorious absurdity, so I just read out a series of updates about various sightings of Tom from the mystic fields culminating in the iconic shot of him in shorts charging his phone and checking his messages at a local train station. I’m not ashamed to say this got more laughs than my carefully scripted material.

Twitter is an occupational hazard. Social media as well as being a vortex for all the hate and rage in the universe has also democratised political comedy. Just like everyone is a commentator and a citizen journalist these days, everyone is a satirist too. And some of them are quite good. Damn you, you little tinkers out there with your clever wee gifs, your memes and your parody accounts which are far funnier than most things you see on prime-time comedy shows and which can go viral within hours.

To be fair it is incredibly difficult in the era of social media for topical television and radio shows to be that current unless they are literally recorded within an hour of transmission. Of course, the holy grail amongst comics and commissioners alike to is to find the British equivalent of those late-night political satire shows which are thriving in America right now. The BBC’s Mash Report hosted by Nish Kumar and Matt Forde’s Unspun on Dave are having a very good crack at it but British satire on stage and screen is struggling to get the cut through that Spitting Image had in its heyday.

Of course, television consumption and the media landscape has changed vastly and no shows get the kind of figures that Spitting Image managed, but mainstream comedy on our televisions and radios is still quite predictable and that means left wing. As a fully paid-up leftie, this provides me a great comfort but is it doing satire justice? I love a good crack at Trump, Brexit and the rest of the right, but does that mean that us comedians, who tend to be more left wing, shouldn’t scrutinise and poke fun at the all sides in politics? Does it show that we really understand where society is when our side keeps losing quite important stuff like elections and referendums? Or is it that our comfort zone is where those elusive, magical “lols” lie? Which I guess is fair enough and indeed I am guilty of that.

Sometimes getting a laugh is hard enough without becoming a carefully balanced Ofcom-approved production. But I think we need to try and stretch ourselves a wee bit. Each generation of comedians think that they are at the vanguard of satire but it has been around for a long time. Juvenal was the original godfather of satire in Ancient Greece. It is an important part of any healthy democracy and plays a noble and necessary role. The definition of satire is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. Satire is synonymous with mockery, ridicule, derision, scorn and caricature. No-one, or any side, should be immune or protected from it. Unless of course I ever stand for election.

We need good sharp satire without fear or favour more than ever before, on all sides of politics.

These are serious times. We live in a divided society, and we are witnessing the rise of extremism and racial, religious, cultural and political intolerance. It sometimes feels like the world is on fire.

But when things get dark and dour, there’s often only one way to make sense of it – take the piss and laugh at it all. Speaking of which, come see my show!

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ayesha performs State of the Nation, 14-20 August, at Gilded Balloon