Where’s the British Jon Stewart?

by Stephen Tall on May 5, 2010

I don’t think even our most politically obsessed reader would be able to complain about the quantity of election coverage over the past month. Quality’s another issue, of course – and yes I am looking at you BBC1’s This Week, with your ridiculous Abbott and Portillo pantomime.

But there is one area where this election has found TV severely lacking: intelligent political comedy.

True, there’s Have I Got News For You, still (amazingly) fresh and funny after 21 years on screen. But such has been the pace of this election campaign, that its weekly appearances have nearly always been playing catch-up in dated fashion.

The less said about Channel 4’s Bremner Bird & Fortune’s Daily Wind-Up the better: what I’ve watched has been stale, tepid and – crucially – not funny. Last night’s for example featured a long, rambling sketch in which Rory impersonated Charles Kennedy outside Lib Dem HQ for no apparent reason other than that he can do the voice.

Only BBC Radio 4’s The Now Vote Show has kept on top of the election in a way which addresses the issues, treats its audience as intelligent, and remembers to bring the funny.

But what British television has signally failed to do is re-create anything like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, which with sophistication and irony skewers not only politicians, but also the media’s clunky reporting.

If you’re not familiar with his show, click on this link to watch a recent segment where Stewart looks at the British election, and points out its absurdities.

As Charles Kennedy once observed, “Politics is far too serious to be taken too seriously”. This election campaign has scaled the heights of some incredible moments of game-changing energy; it has also slummed the lows of some gut-wrenching moments of black media propaganda. Yet nobody has been pointing a well-aimed satirical stick at this ant-hill for the past four weeks.

Tomorrow night will see Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell present Channel 4’s alternative election special: sounds great, and I’m sorry I’ll miss it. But how much better would it have been if they had been teamed up to put on a show during the campaign? Next time, please.

Or I might just have to write a stiff letter to points of View.