I’ve been working in the satire business for the better part of 30 years now, as a stand-up comedian and songwriter, on the radio, online and of course in the pages of this fine newspaper. But now I, along with all my fellow sideways-glancers and pokers-of-fun, am facing the prospect of having to retrain, possibly in “cyber” or as particularly sarcastic baristas.
Because satire, folks, is OVER.
As it now stands, we’re down to two final candidates for the post of prime minister of the United Kingdom of (still just about) Great Britain and (barely) Northern Ireland. I’m not even going to mention the fact that the final choice will be made not by the British electorate but, by definition, the most
clueless, blithe, hermetically ignorant and/or mindlessly partisan 170,000 people in the country. THAT little factoid doesn’t even get a look-in today.
No, today I’m going to look at the two possible victors and the implications of their respective triumphs for the business, and indeed the entire CONCEPT, of satire.
Heading into the final vote as the underdog, if polling is to be believed, is the until-very-recently chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak. He, you may recall, has been beset with image problems of late… Curiously, Sunak’s PR travails have increased almost exactly in line with his perceived capacity to unseat Boris Johnson, who, I’ll remind you, is currently STILL prime minister, with all the power that this entails, despite having apparently
“resigned in disgrace” three weeks ago. But never mind about that either just now, because not even THAT is the topic under discussion, screamingly insane as it may be.
Nonetheless, it has been a rough few months for Dishy Rishi; his flailing attempts to look like a “regular guy” have merely served to remind everyone just how regular he isn’t.
Filling up a borrowed “normal person” car for a photo op and then not knowing how a debit card works when he went to pay for the petrol didn’t
play well with a crisis-stricken populace, who are still contemplating a winter of frostbite and/or hunger just because they, unlike Rishi, didn’t
have the gumption and foresight to marry the daughter of one of the richest men in India.
In any event, Rishi (who, purely coincidentally, registered the domain ready4rishi.com back in December) is now campaigning for the job of
Conservative leader on the basis that he alone can fix the nation’s economy.
The economy that, until less than a month ago, he himself had been in
charge of running for two-and-a-half years.
This scenario itself poses, I think you can agree, quite a challenge to satirists. Not a lot of headroom on that one. Not much else you can say, really. Fortunately for me and my fellow snarkers, Rishi seems to be floundering with the “selectorate” of Conservative party members who will be the only ones to vote in the final contest. What can it be about the son of Punjabi immigrants, married into an extremely wealthy Indian family, which so puts off the almost entirely white, largely retired, predominantly rural, Daily Mail-reading Tory membership? We can but speculate.
Which leaves us with the only alternative: prime minister Liz Truss.
Prime minister Liz Truss.
And THOSE FOUR WORDS, right there, those are the four simple words that, finally, spell the doom of the satire industry. Prime minister Liz Truss.
Look at them. They’re perfect. Like a balanced equation of stupid, a flawless
diamond of absurdity, a Bach concerto of WTAF. There’s simply nothing even
the most skilled satirist can add to “prime minister Liz Truss” to make it any more bizarre, any more ridiculous, any more howlingly mental than it already is.
It would defeat the greatest of us: Jonathan Swift would stare blankly at those four words for a day before going back to bed. Molière would eat his own quill. Peter Cook would flip his typewriter over and slink off to the Coach and Horses even earlier than usual.
As it stands, the only thing that might yet prevent the ascent of Cosplay Thatcher to No 10 is a hilarious last-ditch effort by Boris Johnson loyalists to find some party rules loophole that would allow them to add HIS name to the final ballot presented to the membership. Again, not much scope for Mickey-taking there.
Back in the late 1970s, the great American satirist (and my own personal comic songwriting idol) Tom Lehrer, when asked why he’d stepped away from the topical comedy business, replied that satire had become obsolete in 1973 on the day Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize. With nothing but the greatest respect for my boyhood hero; Tom, you hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.