The UK has well and truly lost possession of its once unrivalled status as the home of political satire.
Last week the BBC’s political comedy programme Have I Got News For You returned for an impressive fifty-sixth series, but as it depressingly drags itself through its twenty-eighth year of broadcast, the show is plainly feeling the strain of its lost youth.
In 2007, the usually unjustifiably-prudish political hasbeen Ann Widdecombe vowed, after being subjected to forty minutes of Jimmy Carr’s crass humour which may have been acceptable were the brunt of the jokes not an elderly, single, Catholic woman, that she would never return as a guest on the show. She decried what she called a “barrage of filth and the sort of humour most men grow out of in their teens.”
Though, eleven years later, HIGNFY has toned down the crude boyish banter, what remains is the dullness of the quips, unamusing personalities of the panellists, and wooden delivery from the guest host, who this week was frontman of teatime quiz show Pointless, Alexander Armstrong. As the presenter who has taken his programme from strength to strength since its inception in 2009, there was hope that Armstrong would transfer his bubbly personality onto another weekly BBC One feature, giving it a much-needed injection of fizz. Unfortunately, the repetitive scanning of Armstrong’s eyes as he recited lines from a disconnected auto-cue was very visible as he blurted recycled sexual innuendo, undoubtedly originating from a rushed Google search for ‘schoolboy sex jokes’ by the new intern at the BBC assigned the job of writing the script for the new series.
Starting as he meant to go on, Armstrong introduced the show with a selection of dog memes, whilst sitting in front of a collage of disappointing caricatures, from a very bland Theresa May to a hardly recognisable Rupert Murdoch. The majority of the embarrassingly subtle audience laughter came from visual content provided by YouTube, most notably Theresa May’s cringeworthy interpretation of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’, assisted by the BBC’s favourite rent-a-wannabe comedian Josh Widdicombe, commenting that the prime minister resembled somebody ‘moving a fridge’.
When panellists did offer comedic (term used loosely) input, overused and tiresome jokes about antisemitism in the Labour Party and the instability of Theresa May’s premiership were the dire result. The award for the least original line has to be given to BBC Breakfast’s newsreader Naga Munchetty, who quipped that May might last another ‘four weeks’ (I didn’t get it either). This is frustrating, as the BBC has previously pledged to increase diverse representation on its panel-based comedy shows, and as the only female behind the table, Munchetty did not emerge displaying a single cell of humour.
As the closing credit music attempted to drown out humiliatingly feeble applause, I mourned the death of British political satire, once an institutional pillar of pride for the UK, now embarrassingly schoolboyish and humourless in comparison to American comedy titans like Jon Stewart and Jimmy Kimmel. One way to recover our confidence in a genre once dominated by the likes of Yes, Minister and Spitting Image would be to swiftly pull the plug on the depressingly flat Have I Got News For You.
Have I Got News For You is on BBC One every Friday at 9pm.