THE BLOG

Comedy and Politics - An Unlikely Combination?

05/02/2015 17:59 GMT | Updated 07/04/2015 10:59 BST

Comedy and politics have an interesting relationship. Many politicians are extremely unhappy about the way in which they are portrayed by comedians. Yet these same politicians are so desperate to get themselves in front of the microphone they will contort themselves to whatever is needed. For many politicians, good news is better than bad news; but bad news is better than no news! This, of course, adds grist to the comedian's mill.

Such comedy is not just about stand-up comedians poking fun. Some of the greatest sources of comedy and satire are through the cartoonist's pen and the sketch writer's pen. For over a century, Punch magazine poked fun at any and every politician. The comments and observations were insightful and often hilarious. It was all part of holding politicians - among others - to account for their actions. Or maybe it was ridicule...

This tradition remains strong around the world. Yet the barriers of taste and decency need to remain. When does comedy or satire turn into abuse? The question then becomes - and this applies to any comedian - where is that line drawn? That which is acceptable to some people may not be tolerated by others. Herein lies the problem with freedom of speech. What is acceptable, and what is not? If the aim is to cause offence, should the consequences of such offence not be considered as well? Somebody who wishes to strike a wasp's nest with a stick, for example, would be well advised to consider the consequences of that action. Maybe comedians should do the same. With power ought to come at least some responsibility, or at least so you would hope.

Sometimes it appears as if political comedy has disappeared, at least with regard to 'high' politics. Interest in politics - especially that involving Westminster - has diminished significantly. With the apparent corruption surrounding MPs expenses, collectively MPs were sloughed off as being too busy lining their pockets to care about anything else. Yet, out of this morass arose a brilliant satirical play - The Duck House.

Similarly with local government, there appears a high degree of public disinterest. Every festive season, across the UK, Christmas pantomimes are full of political jokes and references which have the audience in stitches. This is not high-brow humour. It is a commentary about the local politics of the area; with a bit of 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?' thrown in for good measure.

Yet there is an interest in what is often termed 'low' politics. This is the single issue campaigning and protesting in which so many people participate, but without seeing it necessarily as 'politics' or 'political'. And there is comedy and satire to be drawn from so many of these groups. Organisations as diverse as Fathers for Justice and the Countryside Alliance have been pilloried by comedians, sketch writers and cartoonists. This may be about the issues for which they stand, or the actions of their members. Sometimes this humour may be perceived as a social commentary, but there is a clear political underpinning.

Even though comedy will focus on the errors and weaknesses of politicians, people want more. Some of the most successful politicians have willingly put themselves up for public ridicule on television, in the hope of advancing their career. Consider, for example, Boris Johnson. A buffoon? An upper class twit? Or one of the most astute political brains of his generation? All of it built on comedy.

With power ought to come at least some responsibility, or at least so you would hope. On Sunday, as part of the Beyond a Joke Lecture series at Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival, I will debate this with comedian Matt Forde and Dr Sharon Lockyer, director of Brunel University's Centre for Comedy Studies Research.

There will be much to talk about. Sometimes it seems as if political comedy has disappeared......