stand_up_comedy

This week’s stooshie in ‘Bonnie Scotchland’ has centred on the lack of political satire here.

This has, of course, been used by the ‘Bitter Together’ campaign (see what I did there…comedy gold eh?) to throw another squib up the close (in a fairly long line of squibs) to see if it will frighten the natives – not that I think the Mothers of Niddrie are too worried; it’s just something else for us chattering classes to angst over. ‘Oh no- if we can’t even do political satire then how could we run a country? Those Oxbridge boys just do everything so much better!’

The stooshie occurred because the funny and lovely Susan Calman dared to bemoan the lack of political satire here and it brought a barrage of nasty criticism to her door. And she is right, as is Bruce Morton, that there isn’t much here. Nor actually in Ireland, Norway, Spain – nations not known for their biting political satire either.

There are many reasons why it doesn’t happen here in the way that it does in London. To do political satire, your audience has to know who you are talking about. In a media dominated by London-centric Westminster politics and politicians, it stands to reason that no-one outside the political classes or interested parties will know what Scottish politicians you are talking about. It’s maybe fine to do political gags in a small comedy club to fellow travelers, but standing in front of 1,000 doing gags about Johan Lamont or Willie Rennie when 90% of the audience are asking ‘Who?’ isn’t pleasant. Comedy performers, satirical or otherwise, need laughs, it’s their lifeblood, and if a gag or story doesn’t land with an audience then it’s ditched…pronto!

It’s not fear that stops comics doing gags, or a desire not to offend; it’s that the lack of visibility of our politicians and what goes on in our parliament . A few years ago I was asked to be involved in a TV show that was a sort of Scottish ‘Have I got News for You’ and I turned it down because it wouldn’t work. Not because I didn’t want to take our ‘maisters’ to task, but because our parliament was too new with unknown politicians and no-one really knowing how devolution was going to work. There was a lot of hope around too; satirical comedy about hope? How sad would that be? 

If the audience know only three politicians – Salmond, Sturgeon and Dewar – then it isn’t comedy, it’s a slagfest of individuals.

We should note that this is a small country and slagging off people is a bit like slagging off your distant family – if you do it then you should be prepared for that eventual meeting when a finger is pointing and a voice shouting, ‘Say it to my face, smartarse’. I know that this happens in London, but in general you can lob a satirical grenade and then hide. There is also more of a balance – all sides get slagged off because all sides get mass coverage. My God, more Scots will know who Nigel Farrage is than Ruth Davidson.

Susan was unjustly rounded on because she is a rare, lone Scottish voice on the patrician Radio 4 and therefore Scots listen keenly to what she says when addressing the rest of the UK. And because of the huge frustration that Scotland gets mentioned only if a UK politician deigns to visit. George Osborne’s visit was on the UK news and therefore a legitimate target for Newsquiz. Sadly and unfairly for Susan, she became the target of that sense of injustice.

Political satire here would, I fear, end up with a few individuals getting slagged off. That might raise a laugh but it ain’t good comedy.

I hope that changes and we get fairer, more balanced coverage, but maybe the bigger question should be, ‘”Why aren’t we making ANY comedy programmes in Scotland at all?’ One from BBC Scotland a year, nothing from STV for 20 years, surely isn’t good enough…..