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Politics And Comedy In An Alternative Facts World

08/02/2017 13:05 GMT | Updated 08/02/2017 13:05 GMT

As the Leicester Comedy Festival starts up again, there are more 'political' acts on the card than ever before. Yet the problem here is finding something in the political arena about which many people can laugh and enjoy. Truth has become stranger than fiction.

Did you hear the one about a billionaire businessman come-reality tv host, who had previously declared himself bankrupt? He became President of the USA! Not really funny, but it makes the point. Donald Trump was seen in many quarters as a joke candidate. Here in the UK, the vast majority of the population did not take his candidature seriously. He was not expected to last a week; then he was expected to be knocked out during the Republican primaries; then Hillary Clinton was expected to win.

We now have a US President who tweets vociferously, and woe betide anyone who attacks him. The 'Trumpistas' will be out in full force to protect their man. So, how does a comedian poke fun at a very thin-skinned political bully? Problem. It does not matter how outrageous Trump's assertions might be, if anybody questions them - be it in a serious news investigation or in a comic manner, those being questioned are likely to become the brunt of attack.

Yet even here in the UK, we have a similar problem. Poke fun at Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage, to pick but two examples, and you can expect an unhealthy response from their respective support bases. It does not matter how outrageous their assertions, their supporters will not have their idols denigrated.

We have a world now where fake news appears to reign supreme. Some of the fake news in social media is outrageous; yet there are those who accept it as 'fact'. I am reminded of the bigoted comic character, Alf Garnet, who told someone how planes flew to Australia. According to him, they took off and then hovered while the world span around, and then they landed at their destination. Totally ludicrous; totally unbelievable; but in our 'post-truth' world, why not?

Even in the world of Brexit, the 'post-truth world' is obvious. Britain will get its cake and eat it. The deal that will be struck will be better than what was available as a member of the EU. And we won't have to pay a penny. And everyone will be better off. Sounds awfully similar to getting the Mexicans to pay for the building of that wall! The politicians who spout these ideas seem totally convinced of their accuracy. These 'facts' are incontrovertible. Anyone who suggests otherwise is being unpatriotic and 'doing Britain down'. How can you poke fun at that? How dare you?

Yet that is what our comedians do. They can take these ideas or 'facts' and put a spin on them. Not just about Brexit or Trump, but anything that is of interest in the political world. In the same way as a jester might have kept a medieval monarch grounded, so modern comedians do the same to the contemporary political leaderships. The challenge is to be able to do so in the post-truth world. How can you keep a politician grounded when the line between fact and fiction is not just blurred but non-existent? And as a leader appears to become more and more totalitarian, the potential danger to the comedian increases.

What are the links then between politics and comedy in our brave new world? One of the events at this year's Leicester Comedy Festival is called "It's My Party", which is part of the "Beyond a Joke" feature in the festival. It will entail a discussion exploring the links between comedy, humour and politics. The event, which is free to enter, will be at Peter Pizzeria on Sunday 12 February from 1pm.