We don't care if comedy is partisan — just make it good
Reports arrive that the BBC’s satirical news programme The Mash Report has been cancelled for being biased against Conservatives. According to The Sun, its cancellation is due to BBC director general Tim Davie’s belief that BBC comedy needs “a radical overhaul as it was too biased against the Tories and Brexit.”
Left-wing radio host and angry bulldog impersonator James O’Brien says:
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The Mash Report, a comedy program critical of the government has been axed by the state broadcaster, reportedly for political reasons, and at the behest of a director general appointed by the government. Finally, a stone cold example of what 'cancel culture' looks like.
— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) March 12, 2021
While arguments about exactly what constitutes “cancel culture” are boring, it is worth saying that there is a difference between insisting that something not be said and deciding that something not be said too much. The BBC still carries Left-leaning comedy programmes like Mock the Week, Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, Have I Got News for You, The Now Show et cetera. If it carries one that is discernibly Right-leaning then it has escaped me.
Still, I do not think The Mash Report should be cancelled for being biased towards the Left. If it was cancelled solely on those grounds then it is bad news for TV as it suggests that content is being judged less by its quality than by its message.
Personally, I think The Mash Report should have been cancelled for being miserably unfunny. It belonged to a stale genre of cheap, contrived, self-satisfied “satire” programmes where the jokes are as predictable as rain on Bonfire Night and have all the freshness of a week-old slice of mackerel.
Watch five minutes of the show and tell me I am wrong. Every joke had essentially the same formula. I could create my own: “Dominic Cummings says he drove to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight,” the host Nish Kumar would say, a smile gathering on his lips like water building up inside a blocked drainpipe, “Which is about as believable as Boris Johnson saying he is a faithful husband.” Then he would arch his eyebrow as if he had dropped a line so incisive it would have made H.L. Mencken give up being a critic and become an accountant.
But there would be no value in a “Right-wing” equivalent to The Mash Report. Conservatives can be as miserably unfunny as Leftists. In the noughties, impressed by the popularity of the progressive satire programme The Daily Show, American Republicans produced a rival series called The Half Hour News Hour. Filled with tired jokes about liberal stereotypes, it was also miserably unfunny. If the BBC presents us with a bunch of windbags cracking jokes about student activists being oversensitive and Diane Abbott not being especially good with numbers, I will be no more glad than I was when I observed Nish Kumar’s eyebrows jig.
What comedy needs is not just more conservatives but more imagination. Chris Morris is certainly Left-leaning but I would love to see a programme as original, fresh and cutting as The Day Today or Brass Eye. I don’t know what the Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder thinks about anything but I would love to see a British series with the absurd genius of Nathan For You.
Mr Kumar has reacted to the decision by uploading a photo to Twitter that displays him gurning next to the words, “Boris Johnson is a liar and a racist.” He absolutely has the right to say that… but there is absolutely nothing funny about it.