Imagine. It’s 11pm and your supper remains uneaten because a Paxman-less Newsnight has just finished putting its driest spin on current affairs and you wonder if such a boring world will even bother to wake up in the morning. You flip over to BBC1 to catch the credits of a programme that’s just starting. A sonorous voice announces the date and the title of the show. Your host is sitting at a familiar desk as the camera swoops in. A live audience applauds. The host smiles, does a characteristic scribble on a paper, and enters into a fast paced rundown of the day’s news.
‘The G8 is taking place over here in Belfast this week. You might have noticed, what with all the curfews and the tendency of the police to bludgeon anybody with collar length hair or smelling of student. But the big question on everybody’s lips is: will the Big Dog get some? That’s right. Vladimir Putin is in town and the newly divorced President of Russia ain’t here to sign no damn trade agreements with the West. Not unless that trade agreement has a 36 inch bust and likes to wrestle naked in caviar. The Russian embassy have already been forced to deny rumours they’ve hired a pink limo with en-suite judo mat but Putin was seen boarding his plane wearing white polyester bell bottoms, a lime green shirt and enough cologne to subdue a Caucasus. Let’s go over to the the President’s hotel where our correspondent has a view of the penthouse apartment. And you’re already wearing your gas mask, I see…’
Well, that’s my attempt to imagine how it might sound but is it any wonder that interest in politics is at an all-time low and governments act as though they are beyond criticism when we haven’t got a daily satirical show to stoke a fire under political debate? The One Show doesn’t count and I don’t mean satire as represented by the endless variations on Mock the Week who rotate guests like most people rotate their socks. We need satire that has more moral conviction than the simple wish for Russell Howard to sell more DVDs. It’s not as though we need look far for a model. Good ideas are routinely ripped off so why not steal everything from America where The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is currently running for its eighteenth gloriously successful year?
The Daily Show first appeared as on Comedy Central back in 1996 but it only attained the crown as the best satirical show in the business once Jon Stewart joined in 1999. It’s under Stewart that the show became more politically focussed and achieved its popular appeal as much by setting the news agenda as merely responding to it. Regular contributors have become stars in their own right: Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell being perhaps the most famous, but current regulars such as John Oliver and Samantha Bee deserve and will undoubtedly get wider appreciation.
Here in the UK, we do have our own long running satirical show in the form of Have I Got News For You but that often feels like the BBC’s pusillanimous nod to satirical undercurrents that have always been so rich in this country. Compared to The Daily Show, the Beeb’s best offering lacks ambition and bite and feels too conventional and safe.
The popularity of web satire such as ‘The Onion’ and ‘The Daily Mash’ suggests that there is a big appetite for satire out there. The fact that so many of us go to extreme lengths to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report which follows it, despite neither being available in the UK, is surely a sign that there are plenty of people who want hard-edged daily satire that doesn’t have its roots in the establishment. We might bemoan the fact that Jon Stewart’s humour never found a true home on satellite channels here in the UK but the show’s attention to American domestic issues does make it difficult to follow, even for those of us who make the effort to read the backstory. Yet that shouldn’t invalidate the fact that we’re desperate for that scabrous tone that is sorely lacking in this country since the demise of Spitting Image.
We need a daily satirical show for an adult audience. If the powers that be think the original Daily Show is too American then give us one of our own: edgy, opinionated, and not hosted by either Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton. I personally think The Daily Show with Stewart Lee has a ring to it. So why can’t it happen?
A slightly edited (the G8 is in Belfast, not London which, like the idiot I am, I originally stated) and less contentious piece that the one I submitted to The Guardian’s Comment is Free and which this time wasn’t ignored but rejected outright. I’m taking that as positive encouragement. You might say that I’m honing in on my target like some guided munition. This time we nearly hit the target but took out a church next door to the target.