Last summer I wrote a comedy drama script, currently “in development with a major broadcaster”, concerning a charming, confident, clever and machiavellian politician. Named Horace Thompson, he manipulates popular culture to consolidate support for a controversial referendum he narrowly won, intending to further his own self-interest. And he was in the Bullingdon Club. And he lives in Islington.
(I don’t know where I got the brilliant idea for this character from. Sometimes I think I am a genius, or some kind of unwitting God, forcibly exiled to Earth, his memory of his own divinity erased by jealous members of his former pantheon.)
But, like Liam Fox and David Davis and all the bullying Brexiter shitbags, the charming, confident, clever and machiavellian politician the character of Horace Thompson is inspired by no longer seems quite so charming, confident, clever and machiavellian.
The problem for me is that the average high-profile Brexiter now looks like a once powerful man who thought he was playing a rigged party game of pass the parcel, aiming to win a prize he had previously wrapped himself, but has suddenly realised he is sitting with an unexploded nail bomb in his lap, right next to his shrivelled nut-sack.
Still, as long as there is some way to hold on to the closing scene, in which Horace Thompson’s head is sliced off by the rotating blades of a ceiling fan, and then eaten by his own guard dogs, I will feel it has all been worthwhile. My final rewrite will consciously uncouple the character from specific details.
It may have been folly to hitch my story wagon to a character so clearly inspired by Boris Johnson, even though his future once seemed secure. Boris Johnson will be a forgotten casualty of the crisis his own lying Daily Telegraph columns created; the mad scientist, raging at his own now murderous monster, at the end of some black and white B-movie, “But no Brexeeto, I am your master! I created you to serve me. Noooo. Brexeeto, aaaaaggggghhhh! My nut-sack!”
Pity the professional humorist. It has become a cliche of opinion pieces that the news of the past 12 months has been so absurd, unpredictable and fast-moving that it is beyond satire.
Only the infinite keyboard monkeys of Twitter, trapped on the inhospitable concrete island of their moated social media platform, and lobbing the wet simian excrement of their viral memes and gifs into the hair of curious onlookers, can respond to news stories with the speed required to land a blow.
Then the roulette wheel of events spins again and makes the carefully conceived conceits of slow-moving professional humorists immediately irrelevant, leaving us spluttering through our long-winded set-ups as the gas cloud of poorly thought-out policy our punch lines aimed to ridicule evaporates in a fog of central office plausible denial.
The trick to being a champion clay pigeon shooter, my violent and weaponry-obsessed wife tells me, is to aim for the space you anticipate the clay fool moving into, not the space where it appears to be.
(My advice for any clay pigeons reading is to avoid being shot by moving forwards into a space you didn’t anticipate being in. Then perhaps your decimated numbers will recover in the wild, flying idiots.)
Lawyers and nervous TV producers pore over contributors’ jokes, while the politician they concern is already in the process of being sacked, resigning, performing a blatant policy U-turn, or saying something so stupid and racist that their valuable contribution to the mildly amusing Teignbridge Business Buddies scheme is swiftly eclipsed.
The successful modern satirist must enter a Zen-like state, where all possible outcomes take shape in his third eye, each in turn satirised in advance of its existence, in the event of it becoming a reality.
(When I wrote for the BBC radio satire Week Ending in the early 90s, the writers’ room smelt of excrement and BO, and was full of filthy ashtrays, empty crisp bags and overflowing spittoons. Nobody there was in a Zen-like state, although some functioning alcoholic visionaries were asleep under the desks, which is the next best thing.)
Satirists are supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Standup comedians, all of their professional metaphors involving violence and death, call this “punching up”. But which way is up?
Is it “punching up” to poo your comedy pellets on to a severely weakened prime minister with a randomly flapping lower jaw, whose desperate over-reliance on a small repertoire of endlessly repeated and ultimately meaningless statements indicate she is clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and who has sacrificed her future career and hard-won credibility on the altar of her ungrateful party’s best interests?
I don’t know. But when a woman was filmed putting a cat into a wheelie bin everyone thought it was awful. Theresa May is that little cat. History is that wheelie bin. Am I that horrible woman, putting that miserable cat into that horrible bin? I need a clear clay pigeon villain to aim at. All I see, everywhere, are victims and losers.
I’m halfway through my current two-year tour, but I’m taking the summer off because my towering stage set, made entirely from the smashed DVD cases of other standups, is too high, and my show is too long to fit any Edinburgh fringe venue. And I hate all comedians under 40, so I don’t want to spend a month trying to act presidentially around them.
About a quarter of my current near-three-hour run time uses topical material as feeder routes into the main narrative thrust. For simplicity’s sake I could do with Boris Johnson and Donald Trump still being around in September, as the similarities between them dovetail the two acts together neatly, but every night in the interval I have to go online to check Trump hasn’t been assassinated or impeached.
Just over 12 months ago I declined a role in a promising new topical satire TV show which, though green-lit now, still hasn’t made it to our screens. By the time it airs the government under which it was conceived will have been replaced at least twice.
If the news rollercoaster ride of the past 12 months were a real rollercoaster ride it would long since have been closed down. People like excitement, but no one wants to emerge from every brief perusal of a daily newspaper covered in spilt Diet Coke and the vomit of other people’s children, while a showman makes off with all the change that fell out of their pockets.