With performers facing pressure from all sides, and working against a backdrop darker than the darkest satire, how to rescue the art form?by Marie Le Conte / October 13, 2020 / Leave a comment
What does it take to be funny about politics? From newspaper columns to television panels, those who manage to turn current affairs into gags have long performed an important national service, but times are tough.
Have I Got News for You has grown increasingly stale, the new Spitting Image is so far more miss than hit, and even Twitter, once the ideal repository for quick wit, is now more boxing ring than stand-up gig.
“The humour has got darker and darker to the point where sometimes I feel that you probably can’t even see it,” says John Crace, the Guardian’s sketch writer. “I’ve had to readjust what a sketch means, really. In the good old days, you would just lightly take the piss, but in the age of coronavirus, that doesn’t work so well.”
Because the news is so consistently harrowing, comedians are left with two less-than-ideal options: either attempt to make a global pandemic that’s killed over a million people funny, or decide to try and be funny about something else entirely, thus looking like they’re ignoring the one thing everyone cares about. It also presumably doesn’t help that the whole entertainment industry currently looks like it may not survive the next few years. It is hard to be amusing when you’re not sure you have a career anymore.
Still, the problems didn’t start with coronavirus; over the past few years, debates have raged over what is funny and what isn’t, who gets to joke about what, and what sort of humour the BBC should be promoting. This culminated in reports last month that new BBC Director-General Tim Davie intends to “tackle perceived left-wing bias” in comedy programming.
It is unclear the move would solve much, but it is clear there is a wider problem in comedy—just ask Gráinne Maguire. After years of political stand-up, the comedian decided to leave it all behind in 2016. “After Brexit, it just felt like there was a real sea change; before Brexit you could talk about politics, people would engage with it. But something happened with Brexit and everything became so personal. It didn’t feel like you were attacking political beliefs; people thought that they themselves were being attacked, and you just felt such tension in the room.”
“It’s ironic because people would think ‘Oh, Brexit, this big national debate,…