We need satire more than ever... so where is it? | Robin Morgan says TV should be using comedy to connect to voters turned off by politics © Michelle Huggleston Photography

We need satire more than ever... so where is it?

Robin Morgan says TV should be using comedy to connect to voters turned off by politics

I grew up watching topical comedy on TV – Mock The Week was the gateway to watching live stand-up comedy, but before that, I remember watching Have I Got News For You with my parents as quite a young child, laughing when the audience laughed, despite not understanding why, and my parents presumably looking at me, thinking: ‘Why is our nine-year-old cracking up over a gag about Peter Mandelson?’

But here we are – in the run-up to a general election, with barely any topical comedy on TV (41 per cent less comedy in general was made last year, compared to the previous 12 months), and with more people turning away from the news, describing it as ‘depressing, relentless and boring’ (which reminds me: my tour is on sale, get tickets now!).

We need topical comedy on our screens – in the past few years we’ve lost Mock The Week, The Mash Report AND Late Night Mash and Frankie Boyle’s New World Order. And I get it, times are tough in telly. Not much money. Shows need to be repeatable. But these shows did used to be repeated, on Dave, and I’m sure the episode of Mock I was on was repeated a few months back (thanks for the £20 residuals!)

Radio is, of course, flying the flag for topical – The News Quiz, Scotland’s Breaking The News, Wales’ What Just Happened? (which I host – the most recent series is on BBC Sounds), and of course podcasts like The Bugle are hugely popular. 

But with so many people turning away from the news in general, surely topical comedy on telly is a way of reaching through to people who may not normally engage with politics. 

In a functioning democracy, we should we able to hold power to account, and punch up to those in charge. If this sort of thing isn’t widely accessible, what happens? Where do people get their information from? ‘X (formerly Twitter)’, as it has to be described? No thank you. 

Do I have a personal stake in wanting more topical on telly? Of course. My first writing credits were on shows like these, my first radio show was on a show like this, and I am still hugely proud to have been one of the 132 comics to have appeared on Mock The Week. 

But these shows also have been such a springboard for new talent – making your debut on these shows is a huge deal. Mash and New World Order provided opportunities for so many comics, as well as in the writing rooms.

So what can be done? Maybe these sort of shows should exist slightly out of the sphere of traditional comedy – they shouldn’t have to play by the same rules as a non-news-based show. News and social media travel at lightning speed – traditional TV can’t compete with that – so why should it? Make them in depth, make them smart.

If we don’t have topical comedy on our screens, then we risk losing swathes (great word) of the public from being aware of what’s going on.

At the start of each What Just Happened? recording – I ask the audience who likes comedy – a cheer – and who likes the news – a grumble. But they’re there – listening to jokes about the news, something they’re indifferent to, because it’s comedy. It’s easy to think these shows are fluffy and don’t matter, but they do. 

Of course, there are also the times like in the final WJH? that I suggested Sir Ed Davey’s latest mad campaign stunt was to make love to a cow (which didn’t make the final edit - furious!), so let’s not take ourselves too seriously – but you know what I mean. 

Worldwide, 39 per cent of people say they sometimes or actively avoid the news, compared to 29 per cent in 2017. Comedy is a way of reaching these people. We still have political panel shows like Question Time – so why aren’t we keeping comedic versions of these going? 

No one’s inviting a friend over, saying: ‘Shall we fire up the iPlayer and pop on Question Time?’. Worst night in ever. 

But the way the world is going: we need satire more than ever. And not just so I can get some more sweet, sweet residuals. 

Robin Morgan: The Spark will be at the Edinburgh Fringe from August 12 to 14 then tours until December 8. Dates. His comedy special Snip Snip, Bitch is available on YouTube

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Published: 28 Jun 2024

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