The world of comedy is almost uniformly left-wing and progressive, especially on British television. But will new satirical show The Mash Report be brave enough to confound expectations and take potshots at everyone, not just conservatives?
When a friend first introduced me to British satirical news website The Daily Mash back in 2010, I lost two full days of productive work time, ravenously reading back through their archives and laughing until it hurt. At its best, the Mash is a very funny publication, and a worthy and uniquely British answer to the great American satirical newspaper The Onion.
After the Tories (kind of) won the 2010 general election it was inevitable that the Mash’s unforgiving gaze would fall more heavily on conservatism than it did in the dying days of Gordon Brown’s tragicomic administration, and that we on the Right would be subject to a lot more ribbing than before. That is as it should be – good satire should devote much of its energy to mocking and belittling those in power, and taking them down a peg or two. And Lord knows that the Cameron/Osborne/Clegg trio – and now Theresa May’s clown show of an administration – have given the Mash more than enough prime material.
Sure, if one surveys the overall output of the Mash in recent years one gets the clear sense that their “normal” – the political reference point from which any departure triggers satirical mockery – sits somewhere on the centre-left. But I never really had an issue with their output until the EU referendum, where the Mash firmly planted its flag with the Remain camp on the side of the powerful establishment, subjecting Brexiteers to every lazy insult in the book while making it clear that only Remainers could be deemed “normal” and allowed to be in on the joke.
As I wrote a couple of months ago, in exasperation:
Does Brexit deserve to be made fun of? Absolutely – nothing should be off the table when it comes to political humour. But the Mash’s lazy bias does its satire-loving readers a disservice by nearly completely exempting the Remain side – who, after all, make up most of the establishment that satirical publications normally exist to mock – from any scrutiny of their own.
Imagine the EU referendum result had gone the other way, and Britain had narrowly voted to remain. We Brexiteers (myself included) would not have taken the result well, would be making our displeasure widely known and probably vowing to hold another referendum as soon as possible. But rather than skewering the victorious Remain side for their wide-eyed europhilia and naive trust in the Magical EU Reform Unicorn (or “punching up”, as we apparently now call the intersection between humour and power dynamics) the Mash would instead be quick to laugh at the angry, disappointed Leavers. No matter which way the result went, the Mash would be laughing at Brexiteers right now. And that is both biased and lazy.
The worn-out old stereotype of Brexiteers as scarlet-faced, tweed-bedecked retired colonels hankering after a bygone age is self-evidently false. It fails the common sense test – more than half of voters opted for Brexit, and there just aren’t enough retired colonels out there to deliver that kind of result.
But rather than actually take the time to understand Brexiteers and work out what makes them tick so as to better lampoon them (humour, after all, is always better when it is closely observational), publications like The Daily Mash sit back smugly and fall back on the familiar narrative of grumpy old men hankering for empire.
And that, of course, is their right. Nobody has to read The Daily Mash, and despite Britain’s increasingly tenuous commitment to free speech they can mock and lampoon whoever they like, as should be the case.
But how much better would their comedy be – how much wryer and punchier their humour – if the Mash writers actually took the time to really get to know a few more Brexiteers (so as to at least make fun of them for the right reasons), or even (heaven forfend) turn that caustic wit back on their own side once in a while?
A reasonable request, I think, but one which the Mash did not heed. Since I wrote those words in early March, the Mash has doubled down on its Brexit mockery, letting numerous establishment cretins off the hook for their mistakes, evasions and foibles as its wittiest writers spend their time skewering the good-hearted but sometimes inarticulate people who dare to express their support for Brexit.
Anyhow, this longest of long introductions is prelude to the fact that a couple of weeks ago, the BBC launched a new satirical television programme fronted by comedian Nish Kumar, entitled The Mash Report. The idea was partly to transpose the successful Mash format from internet to television, but it is also a very conscious effort to introduce the late-night, US-style satirical show made so popular in America by The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.
The British Comedy Guide trumpeted before the launch:
After a successful pilot, BBC Two has ordered a full series of satirical comedy The Mash Report.
Nish Kumar will host the 10-part series, described as “an up to the minute, satirical news show”. Overseen by Princess Productions, it is being produced in conjunction with satirical website The Daily Mash, dubbed “Britain’s most popular original comedy website”.
Kumar has experience at hosting topical comedy, having previously helmed Radio 4 Extra sketch show Newsjack. He now presents Spotlight Tonight With Nish Kumar, a Radio 4 topical comedy which will end its current series next week.
BBC Two boss Patrick Holland says: “I am delighted that we are announcing this new topical comedy entertainment series from Princess. It is whip-smart, hugely timely and driven by some great new talent. I’d like to thank all the teams who contributed to the different pilots. The standard was exceptionally high, but we were drawn to The Mash Report’s blend of great satire allied with the surreal. It feels really innovative.”
It doesn’t take a genius to understand what the BBC’s Patrick Holland means when he says that The Mash Report is “hugely timely”. This is basically code for “Oh my god, what a dystopian age we live in now that Brexit is upon us, the Evil Tories are still in government and Donald Trump is president of the United States! Now more than ever we need a condescending new establishment-approved comedy show to fight back against the populist menace on behalf of the elites and put those Leave-voting troglodytes in their place”.
I hoped against hope that it would not be so. I did not want to be proven right – which is partly why I refrained from writing about the show until a couple of episodes had aired. But I can now officially say, having watched The Mash Report so you don’t have to, that it lives down to the very lowest of expectations.
The first anti-Brexit joke occurred three minutes and forty seconds into the show, after the opening pleasantries by host Nish Kumar (who channels John Oliver rather than Jon Stewart in overall tone). Now, one can’t be too angry about this one, aimed as it was at Boris Johnson, a man who is deserving of endless mockery. But still, this first jab confirmed some early suspicions and set the tone for what was to come.
The first identity politics joke – “I’m the first Asian comedian hosting a prime time comedy show, and now we’re coming for all your jobs! This is PC gone mad” (cue inexplicable delirious screaming from the audience) – occurred four minutes and fifty seconds into the show.
There then came a joke about the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the context of Brexit, pleading for director Danny Boyle to come and take over the Brexit negotiations. As footage of the ceremony played, Kumar intoned “This is the last time any of you will be happy!”. Yes of course, because watching North Korean-style propagandists prance around in nurses’ uniforms deifying a failed socialised healthcare system is deliriously fantastic, while seeking to reclaim democracy and self-determination, and make political leaders properly accountable to the UK electorate again, is just awful beyond measure.
There was then a short interlude while The Mash Report made fun of David Davis’ name, while Boris Johnson was implausibly described as having the “political outlook of a Victorian man”. Seriously? Have the Mash Report writers ever seen Boris Johnson? Clearly not – but they are in no short supply of lazy, sixth form-style anti-conservative put-downs.
In the same week – particularly given that much of the show is given over to quickfire, Have I Got News For You-style picture caption jokes – the Mash Report could have spent thirty seconds making fun of this hilarious cover of The Green Parent magazine:
God help that baby, particularly because the socially conscious father seems to be preparing to attempt to breastfeed (#SomeMenLactate). But no. The Mash Report – and the BBC in general – know exactly who their core audience are, and which demographics must be coddled and protected from offence at all times (yes, trendy green types very much make the list). The Mash Report already knows exactly who to flatter and who to insult mercilessly without fear of blowback for the naked bias on display.
Later in the show we are introduced to the show’s “religious affairs correspondent”. Already you know exactly where this is going – and indeed, precious minutes were spent laughing at the most unhinged of US evangelical Trump supporters and interviewing a rather loopy-looking Church of England minister who claimed that Jesus would have voted to Make America Great Again.
But perhaps I am being unfair. Even though this first outing was spent skewering Donald Trump and the American religious right, I’m fully confident that in future episodes we can expect all faiths (and none) to come in for equally barbed and scornful criticism. Right? Naturally if Hillary Clinton were currently president, the Mash Report would be mocking the Left’s overenthusiastic zeal for abortion and eagerness to make incursions on religious freedom.
One might have thought that a brand new satirical current affairs show could have something to say about the way that politicians and misguided apologists dither and prevaricate while Islamist extremists mercilessly butcher and wound innocent people going about their daily lives. But no – tumbleweeds. Let’s just bash a few crazy evangelical Christians and call it a job well done. That’s surely the only job of a religious affairs correspondent on a national late night comedy show.
And yet despite these many failings there were a few genuinely funny moments in the Mash Report. The recurring feature parodying the way that 24-hour news networks are desperate to broadcast viewers’ observations sent in via social media was accurate and very well done. The show generally worked best when riffing on non-political stories, like the Love Island reality TV phenomenon. It was also good to see some of the familiar recurring Mash vox-pop names crop up – hi, Tom Booker.
But the format often felt awkward and strained, an uncomfortable hybrid between the whip-smart Daily Show-style interactions between host and correspondent in one moment and much more clipped, Have I Got News For You-style dry witticisms and fake headlines the next. Though the blend was new, ultimately there was nothing original in either style or content – particularly not the near-constant left-wing preachiness.
The closest that The Mash Report came from escaping the gravity of bien-pensant leftist groupthink was a segment entitled “Bursting the Bubble”, featuring rare conservative comedian Geoff Norcott. For a moment my heart filled with hope – titling the segment “bursting the bubble” suggested an acknowledgement that all that had come before was rather one-sided, and that maybe now things would change. But no. The mere fact that the bubble is left-wing while the exterior is right-wing says it all about the show’s deep-rooted bias. The country may be divided nearly 50/50 but the BBC and the Mash Report see fit to ghettoise conservatives into a four-minute slot at the end of the episode, much like Maybelle Stubbs’ monthly Negro Day on the Corny Collins Show in Hairspray.
And even Geoff Norcott proved to be something of a turncoat, choosing to play the role of performing seal for the ogling leftist audience rather than attempting to hit back and mock any progressive, left-wing shibboleths. For example, when discussing Our Blessed NHS, Norcott cited the fact that “people live” (rather than dying before old age) as a problem which vexes Evil Conservatives like him.
“The elderly, Nish – they should be dead by now. Just sitting it out, hanging on in there…” Norcott moaned to the show’s host, while the bovine leftist audience clapped gleefully as every single one of their anti-conservative prejudices were confirmed before their very eyes. How exactly is this “bursting the bubble”? If anything Norcott’s role in the Mash Report was more like Samuel L Jackson’s in Django Unchained, the obedient slave performing for Leonardo DiCaprio and hamming up the servile stereotypes as much as possible. The Guardian approves of his comedy act because he is willing to debase himself and play the Evil Tory stereotype. But any real conservative who watched Norcott’s first cringe-inducing segment on the Mash Report must despise the man. I certainly do.
What didn’t we see in the show? Well, there was nothing substantive about the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP or the Green Party for a start. Nothing about how so many of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner court have fallen over themselves to praise Venezuela in recent years, even as socialist policies pushed that country toward its current precipice. And you can be sure that all of these people will be largely protected from satirical scrutiny as the series progresses. If they are ever criticised it will be in the context of their ineptitude in thwarting the conservative agenda (whatever that may be) rather than because of the nature of their own beliefs.
But the show did go out with a bang, with a field report about a traumatised middle class family who – gasp! – had to ride the Megabus coach to London rather than travelling in the style to which they were accustomed. Again, nothing wrong with the individual joke – and to be fair, the Mash makes fun of Waitrose shoppers as much as they do people who buy their lunch at Gregg’s. But place it in the context of the overall show and the Mash Report’s emerging worldview is quite clear.
And so is the message about who this new comedy show is designed to amuse. Basically, if you are conservative, working class, a Brexiteer, a Christian, a social conservative, a traditionalist or (heaven forfend) a Ukipper then don’t bother tuning in unless you want to be the butt of every joke for twenty-six minutes, the only respite being the other four minutes where a two-dimensional cartoon parody of you cavorts in the guest seat, pastiching your sincerely-held views for the amusement of host Nish Kumar and his bovine left-wing audience.
In short The Mash Report is exactly as bad as I feared, and as you probably expected. What a letdown. What a squandering of comedic potential. What a great pity.
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