Stand Up, Knock Down

There’s a light piece on comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe in today’s Economist which raises questions about both political humour and truth-telling.

It answers its own question, ‘Do comics dare to mock Mr Corbyn?’ by immediately quoting a couple of lines from anti-JC wags – one, for instance, describing his Remain campaigning as having ‘all the ferocity of a cornered blancmange’. Five out of ten for that, I’d say. A stand-up comedian on the other side thinks David Cameron’s listing of his achievements in his post-Brexit resignation speech was ‘like if someone dies at your house party but you just bang on about how great the guacomole was.’ Hmm: a score draw, shall we agree?

The simple question here is how scathing humour has to be in order to make a genuine impact (whether for Left or Right). Four-letter words often cover for a lack of real satirical bite, and self-indulgent humour runs the danger of letting its targets off the hook. Consider how many times we’ve laughed at the absurd antics of Boris Johnson, only to find him suddenly stepping out of his clown costume to become foreign secretary – and even finding himself, to his obvious discomfort, in putative charge of the country for a trembling day or two.

As for the truth, the Economist article reports that some rightwing stand-ups, rejecting the notion of ‘post-truth politics’, have begun to bring an army of fact-checkers along with them. We read this after being told that jokes about ‘Labour’s hapless leader’ seem to write themselves: ‘A week after he had filmed himself humbly sitting on the floor of a ram-packed train carriage, the rail company in question released CCTV footage of Mr Corbyn walking past empty seats on the way to film his piece.’

Fact-checkers to the fore, please! We may yet learn more about this story (though we’re all yawning a bit by now), but let’s remember that several eye-witnesses have confirmed Corbyn’s version of events and spoken about coats and bags on reserved seats which appear in the camera shots to be empty. It was Norman Mailer who devised the word ‘factoid’ for something that was commonly regarded as true without necessarily being so at all. Here, I suggest, is a prime example.


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