WE could do with an Irish Rory Bremner on television, someone to soften the coughs and puncture the pomposities of our politicians. Someone to call them out on their bullshit.
Yes, we have Mario Rosenstock and Oliver Callan, both of them, like Bremner, talented mimics who include politicians in their repertoire. But there the similarities end.
Where Bremner, one of the few people doing proper political comedy on British television, if only occasionally these days, goes for the jugular, they tickle the belly. Bremner satirises; they soothe.
In Rosenstock’s hands, Joan Burton was portrayed as a kindly, well-meaning figure – sure Joan is just like the rest of us, except she’s a politician – spoofed with maximum affection and minimum spite, that foghorn voice appropriated as a kind of lovable, cuddly idiosyncrasy.
Satire has a long history of cementing, rightly or wrongly, the image of politicians in the public mind. Many people took their impression of Margaret Thatcher from Spitting Image. British Liberal Party leader David Steel blames that very programme, which characterised him as a tiny lapdog of SDP leader David Owen, for destroying his credibility with the public.
In one of Rosenstock’s live shows Burton was seen in the audience, laughing along at the send-up. Hint: if the politicians are in on the joke, and worse, enjoying it, the joke isn’t doing its job.
Callan is slightly edgier, slightly more willing to play something resembling hardball. But even his ‘Wreck It Reilly’ sketches, portraying then Health Minister James Reilly as a psychotic bully who breaks children’s toys (a riff on the kids’ film Wreck It Ralph), rather than a man who tried to bend the crippled health service to his will and was allowed to get away with it for too long, were largely toothless. Satire requires a scalpel; Callan used a sledgehammer.
You don’t have to be a dedicated observer of British politics to appreciate the comedic talent, skill and finesse that went into making Rory Bremner’s Coalition Report (BBC2, last night), a brilliant combination of stand-up, impressions (although they’re not the centre of attraction) and razor-sharp sketches.
All you need is an understanding of the basic facts: David Cameron is running Britain; Nick Clegg is under the illusion he’s helping to run Britain; Nigel Farage would love to run Britain, and Ed Milliband will probably never run Britain.
Bremner and his co-conspirators, Matthew Forde, Sarah Pascoe and the great John Bird, a satire veteran since the days of That Was the Week That Was, went to town.
“It’s not true to say all parties are the same. Labour want to go back to 1948, the Tories want to take us back to the 1930s, and UKIP want to take us back to 1065.”
After five years in office, Cameron (a convincingly made-up Bremner) offered his thoughts on where things are going: “A country needs two leaders, at least for the first five years. After that, he can f**k right off.”
There was also room for silliness: Boris Johnson as a unicycling clown; Cameron, Clegg, Milliband and Farage taking part – a brilliant feat of technological trickery – in an edition of The Weakest Link.
Change the make-up and the names, and you could easily transplant all of this to our own current political climate.
But short of contacting Dermot Morgan in the spirit world and asking Gerry Stembridge to abandon writing novels, forget it.