THEY WERE the two stories that
rocked the Western world last year.
But while Donald Trump’s election
injected new life into U.S. political
comedy, the British are still waiting
for Brexit to usher in their new
golden age of satire.
Americans can choose from
half a dozen weekly or nightly TV
shows for acute observations of a
political transformation that has
given veteran actor Alec Baldwin
a whole new career as a Trump
impersonator.
“(My comedy career) did die and
I’m being reincarnated as Trump,
oh God!” Baldwin told Reuters.
In Britain, comedy fans have thin
pickings as broadcasters have to
respect rules on impartiality, and
chatty panel shows, rather than
hard-hitting satire, dominate the
schedules.
“I don’t know if there’ll be a
boom in satire here. Clearly there’s
some big issues to get stuck into,”
satirist Andy Zaltzman told
Reuters after recording an episode
of “The Bugle”, his weekly “audio
newspaper for a visual world”.
“In America, their politics and in
particular their media are conducted
at a much higher pitch … There’s an
unending stream of news stories
that are ripe for satirical comedy
which we probably don’t have here,
but we should be able to do a very
strong weekly topical satirical TV
show.”
Zaltzman launched The Bugle in
2007 with fellow Brit John Oliver
who has since become one of the
most influential TV satirists in
America with his own weekly HBO
show “Last Week Tonight”.
The re-booted Bugle, with a roster
of co-hosts to replace Oliver, gets 12
million downloads a year and gives
Zaltzman independence he would
not have with a broadcaster.
“Because you don’t have a
commissioner saying ‘you can’t say
that’ or ‘you have to balance this
out’, you can just say whatever you
want,” he says.
That was not always a problem.
The social revolution of the 1960s
was met by “That Was the Week
That Was”, the BBC show that
launched the career of David Frost.
The famously vicious 1980s puppet show “Spitting Image”, broadcast
on the main commercial channel
ITV, had a grotesquely domineering
Margaret Thatcher as its central
character.
The closest thing Brexit Britain
has is “Have I Got News For You”,
a panel show running since 1990
that, some critics say, is ripe for
retirement.
“Images are required to spit in a
balanced, proportionate fashion,”
Guardian columnist Peter Preston
wrote, branding “HIGNFY” a
“semi-satirical quip show”.
A smaller TV channel, Dave,
best known for showing reruns
of HIGNFY and other “banter”
formats, has launched its own
weekly political comedy show,
“Unspun”, presented by Matt Forde,
whose Trump impersonation gives
Alec Baldwin’s a run for his money.
“He’s got the manner of someone
trying persuade an elderly relative
to go into a nursing home,” Forde
told Reuters, puckering his lips and
adopting Trump’s voice:
“’You’re going to be so happy, It’s
such a beautiful place, ok, now off
to sleep now.’” There’s something
deeply untrustworthy about how
calm he makes himself sound.”
While “Unspun” has some
elements of “The Daily Show” and
“Saturday Night Live”, it is far
gentler towards politicians. The
house band, MP4, is made up of
actual members of parliament who
share their views and anecdotes throughout the show.
Forde worked for Britain’s
Labour Party before going into
comedy and is unusual for a
satirist in that he actually respects
politicians, most of whom he says
are “really good people who are
trying to change the world”.
“Democracy is really important
and you could argue at the
moment, certainly in my lifetime,
it has never been as important to
protect us against certain forces …
So I make no apology really for on
the whole defending (politicians).”
Fortunately for fans of Trump
impressions, he adds this caveat:
“Obviously that doesn’t
include people like Trump and
it doesn’t include people who
are demagogues or racists or
prejudiced in any way.

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