Charlie Brooker has said Nigel Farage generates so much comedy material that the Ukip leader was both a “gift” and a “pain in the arse” because he made it challenging to keep to rules around impartial broadcasting for Brooker's Election Wipe comedy programme on BBC Two tonight.
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Brooker gave his satirical verdict on the General Election campaign, calling Ed Miliband “inherently comic”, David Cameron “slippery and a bit weird,” and Nick Clegg “a microwaved Tony Blair”.
During the pre-election period, known as purdah, media must apply balance when covering politics, meaning Brooker's special Election Wipe show can't ridicule any one party leader more than another.
Brooker said the rule makes the humourous style of Election Wipe - a spin-off from his regular Weekly Wipe comedy current affairs show - trickier to make than usual. “Comically, you want to punch up and not punch down, and so it’s a bit difficult sometimes to find comic purchase on things. Basically, we can be balanced as long as we are equally horrible to everyone.”
Brooker said that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg were all “cover versions” of Tony Blair “to varying extents,” but that Farage was like “a flipping slightly pissed-up sort of brother in law or something. He’s like somebody else’s uncle at a wedding that corners you and starts banging on about immigration.
“But people sort of like him, because he seems authentic. How authentic he is, I’m not really convinced, but he certainly seems like he is. He’s got slightly off mannerisms and he guffaws and it’s very calculated, I’m sure, everything he does.
“I mean he’s a bit of a gift [comically] in a lot of ways, obviously. But in a weird way he’s a bit of a pain in the arse, because we’ve got to be balanced, and he keeps providing all the [material]. Like when he sort of turns on the audience, and having a go at HIV sufferers and stuff like that.
"These things are like open goals really, for a comedy show, but then you’ve got to hunt around for other things that are equally outrageous things other people have done - but they don’t often do them.”
But he added that the leaders of all political parties were “sort of mockable in their own way, which is useful”.
“You’ve got Cameron… he’s an odd one,” Brooker told HuffPost UK.
“One thing that we’ve noticed - and we’ve mentioned this before on the show - is that he is quite good at slipping away [from TV interviews]. He walks away.”
Brooker said he suspects this tactic is to avoid an incident like a viral clip of Ed Miliband “repeating the same soundbite again and again and again in a desperate bid to get it on the news.”
“Cameron’s tactic is to say what he wants and then fuck off,” Brooker said. “So he’s sort of slippery, and a bit weird, and there’s something a bit robotic and odd [about him] and we often have fun saying that he’s some sort of nether beast.”
“Miliband is just inherently quite comic, in a lot of ways," Brooker continued. "Although it’s interesting the caricature that he has often fulfilled, of being a bit awkward and sort of dweeby. Now, it seems like the attacks on him... it’s like no-one can quite pin him down, one minute he’s a weakling and a nerd, and the next he’s backstabbing sort of lady-killer. It’s odd, he can’t be all of those things.”
Of the election campaign’s nastier moments, such as the Tories calling Ed Miliband a 'backstabber' for running for the Labour leadership against his brother, Brooker said: “It definitely feels pretty unpleasant doesn’t it? I mean, there’s a lot of sort of tetchiness. They definitely made it personal. [The Tories] seem to have wheeled that back a bit but there were a lot of personal attacks going on, certainly towards Miliband, and it seemed less so the other way." Brooker added that the personal attack on Miliband “doesn’t seem to have worked.”
But a more savage election makes for better TV, he insisted: “It’s certainly more entertaining when they’re being unpleasant. It’s like Big Brother: if you’re watching a reality show, you don’t want people getting along, you want abrasive characters winding each other up.
"From the point of view of the health of the nation and democracy as a whole, it's probably better if it's not so unpleasant, but from a detached I-want-to-be-entertained perspective, it definitely could get a lot nastier.”
He added that all campaigns had generally been very controlled, with no “big banana skins anyone’s slipped on” because politicians have been “largely kept away from the public.”
We haven’t had a “Gillian Duffy” moment, as in the last General Election campaign when then prime-minster Gordon Brown was recorded calling a woman a ‘bigot’.
“Usually those moments happen when the public come up alongside [them] and everything goes unscripted. You know, you get Prescott punching someone, and that hasn’t happened.”
BEYOND THE BALLOT:
“Everything seems quite controlled, but what there is definitely this huge sudden swathe of choice,” Brooker added. “It was a novelty enough last time in 2010 when suddenly everyone went ‘Ooh, hang on, there’s a third party?’ You had 'Clegg mania', which became [similar to the enthusiasm for] Tony Blair very quickly. He was like a microwaved Tony Blair, wasn’t he, basically?”
Brooker told HuffPost UK that he would be voting in the election, and didn’t think that his anarchic brand of comedy in Election Wipe was likely to put viewers off voting.
“I think, weirdly, we’re so nihilistic and detached… [and] there’s a sort of guideline we’re not actually allowed to tell people to go and vote. We're also not allowed to say don’t go and vote. I think that obviously we wouldn't be doing the show if we didn’t think… people will be at least half way interested.”
He added that he believe not voting is, in effect, voting for the current system: “I was reading a quote from somebody the other day, that basically not voting is a decision in a way. By not voting, you are voting for the status quo.
"You can’t really kid yourself that by not voting you’re not participating, you sort of are. Unless you are actively trying to bring about the downfall of the entire political system, in which case that seems like quite a big project. There’s probably a better way of going about it. But what do I know?”
Election Wipe with Charlie Brooker will be shown on BBC Two at 9pm on 2 May, and afterwards on BBC iPlayer
Catch up with Beyond The Ballot, The Huffington Post UK's alternative take on the General Election that is taking on the issues too awkward for Westminster. Our series focuses on the unanswered questions around internet freedom, mental health and housing.