When Tom Lehrer stopped writing satirical songs in the 1970s, he explained that “today everything just makes me angry, it’s not funny anymore,” and retreated to teaching mathematics at the University of California. It might be tempting to agree that the times are unremittingly serious. Radio 4’s Today programme recently asked whether a year of bad news was causing us to lose hope.
But not humour. As Sam Leith argues, the British sense of what is comic thrives in dark times. The Sun, for one, found a silver lining in its headlines “Greece loses its marbles,” and “No Cannes do.” One of my favourite moments in the euro drama, in which leaders’ personalities have shaped the script as much as have bond yields, was when Nicolas Sarkozy leaped up to declare that he was going to call China. There has been dark pleasure too in the sonorousness with which pundits have declared that the unthinkable was now thinkable.