Monday, May 15, 2017

Comedy and Politics

I should think most of you have heard it by now, the little joke about what President Trump’s bodyguards would have to shout if he came under fire.  Yes, of course you have.  “Donald!  Duck!”  It’s actually one of those ones where, if you give it some thought, you realise they probably wouldn’t shout that at all.  It would be more like: “Lower yourself, Mr President!”  Or perhaps, given the reportedly regal nature of his audiences with the media of late, “Get down, your highness.”

But of course, Donald doesn’t duck.  He would not so much as consider lowering himself.  He’s so high he can’t get down.  And if he remains standing, bold and pugnacious, and there’s an accurate shot, perhaps his last words will be: “You’re fired!”

So there we are, at this point the joke backfires completely.

As probably - if some of the complaints I’ve heard from some comedians are to be accepted - do most jokes about the current incumbent.  “You can’t make it up,” they say.  “Reality outstrips you every time.”  Which feels about right – many of the darkest, funniest routines about Trump seem merely to involve straight description of the activities and pronouncements of the president and his cohorts.  A bit of canned laughter can be added to the soundtrack to keep us chuckling - if, at any point, we forget to think it’s funny.

I love a bit of satirical comedy as much as the next vaguely leftie old hippie, but here’s the thing.  Sometimes when I appreciate the commentary it’s making, I find myself thinking: ‘These men and women are so wise, thoughtful and observant.  They make their observations with insight, their deductions hold logic.  Why can’t they run the country instead of…?’ (conclude with an expletive of your own choice concerning politicians).  And it seems to me just about credible that they could do a better job.  And of course the media coverage would be lively and fun.  It would boost public interest no end.  In the UK we could have Jeremy Hardy and Alexi Sayle as the Corbyn and McDonnell of the labour party; Stephen Fry heading the lib dems and Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown helming what’s left of UKIP into oblivion.  Though for some reason I find myself struggling to think who might do for the conservatives.  Jim Davidson?

In fact it probably wouldn’t work out.  I’ve been a great admirer of Eddie Izzard for many years (even if I don’t always get his space age approach to cross dressing) and have observed with some interest his efforts to get involved with political activism on behalf of the labour party and the ‘remain’ campaign during the run up to last year’s referendum.  But he doesn’t appear to have distinguished himself on this front or to have added a great deal of worth to the debate as yet.  Maybe the crossover requires a character with a bit more grit.  Mark Thomas springs to mind.  Or perhaps (and it has occurred to me that I’ve so far failed to include any female comedians) Josie Long.

I guess my conclusion is that it’s obviously one thing to diss the politicians, quite another to replace them.  It isn’t that difficult to take the piss or point out the flaws, especially if you ignore the fact that not all politicians are 100% venally motivated.  Pockets of integrity do crop up amongst them and sometimes even endure – providing they don’t get assassinated, as one of ours did last June.  The simple logic of my initial thought dissolves into the complexity of the world as we know it.

It helps to have a laugh, as one despairing friend of mine remarked after I’d re-posted a video clip of Mark Steele doing one of his affably scathing rants about Teresa May’s election u-turn on my Facebook page.  That inane joke around Trump’s first name with which I began this piece certainly made me laugh the first time I heard it.  And there’s not much that causes me to laugh about DT, or the power structure that now finds it advantageous to have him presiding.

Laughter does put it into a different perspective, presents another facet of reality in which foibles are made transparent.  I’m not talking about caricature so much here, which often slips too easily into insult alone.  It’s the observational comedy that works best for me, the stuff that points out the inconsistencies, contradictions, self-interest and deceits that lie behind the pompous facades.  Comedians can do that pretty well, even if they’d be no better at running human affairs than anyone else.

Of course, ‘Donald!  Duck!’ doesn’t fit into that category.  That’s just silly.

But then, I think there’s room for a bit of silliness as well.

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