The novelist might sneer at the new Labour leader, but he has missed the subtleties of his humourby Ralph Jones / November 6, 2015 / Leave a comment
You can imagine it all too easily: David Cameron looks at a room full of speechwriters and playfully says, “Right, come on, boys, let’s get some cracking jokes in there—we need people to think I’m funny.” Close your eyes and try it with George Osborne—the image will be equally vivid. But imagining the same scene with Jeremy Corbyn is an impossibility—not simply because Corbyn’s past doesn’t include employment in PR, but because he doesn’t need help being funny.
Corbyn’s comic credentials were recently called into question by the novelist Martin Amis, who described the Labour leader as “humourless” in a stinging article in the Sunday Times. “Many journalists have remarked on this,” Amis wrote, “usually in a tone of wry indulgence. In fact it is an extremely grave accusation, imputing as it does a want of elementary nous. To put it crassly, the humourless man is a joke—and a joke he will never get.”
Amis is entitled to his opinion, but his personal opposition to the Labour leader appears to have rendered him oblivious to the subtleties of Corbyn’s humour. When giving speeches to large crowds of people, Corbyn deploys jokes in an understated and intelligent manner. In contrast, as he proves whenever he opens his mouth in the House of Commons, David Cameron can’t help coming across as shrill, crass and predictable.
Despite Corbyn’s huge grassroots popularity, his reputation for humourlessness has stuck. This could be partly due to the geography teacher demeanour he displays at the ballot box—scowling over his glasses at the naughty Tories. Seasoned comedy observers are aware that this is all part of the act, but the mainstream media remains in the dark. This supposed character trait has even inspired a Twitter account—the ever so ironically titled @corbynjokes. Sample tweet: “My wife went to the Caribbean. Jamaica? That’s right. She’s negotiating reparations for the horrors of imperial slavery.”
Corbyn’s speech to the Labour Party Conference gave him the opportunity to flex his comedic muscle. He turned the charges levelled at him by various newspapers into fodder for jokes. The Mail Online, for example, insinuated that he yearned for an asteroid to wipe-out humanity—Corbyn responded in a self-effacing yet acerbic manner: “Now,…