Its hard to poke fun at politicians in an era when theyre held in contempt and every joke is policed for offence, say top television writers
It has become a commonplace to remark on the hyper-sensitivity of the culture; a person saying a vile thing can never be debated, but only no-platformed. A person who once debated another person who went on to say a vile thing thereby shared a platform. Often its hard to establish what was vile about the thing, because if you ask, you are giving it a platform. So once an issue has platform status, the platform acquires final authority and all you can talk about is the platform. Taken as a free-speech issue, it is quite two-dimensional (your right to say what you like versus my right not to be offended), and therefore boring.
Yet the steady build-up of unsayables has had an effect on humour that you only notice when the jokes are gone.
There used to be a place called satire where you could go when politics got really bad. Say you woke up in 1991 and John Major was still prime minister, there was Spitting Image. Or it was 1994, and you had a headachey, breathless, high-altitude feeling that the government of pompous sociopaths would never end: there was The Day Today. Or it was 2005, in a post-Iraq and post-hope landscape of rule by press release, endless meaningless gestures to assuage the forces of moral outrage that only became bolder: and there was The Thick of It. None of these shows was reactive in the classic sense: they were nothing like the USs Daily Show.
Its not that we never try to do headline-humour (10 OClock Live, The 11 OClock Show, Tonightly). And its not that we always fail Have I Got News for You worked, and continues to work on and off, a bit mysteriously, like a Magimix you bought at university that lasts 20 years longer than all your other small electricals. But our defining satirical tradition has always been rather different: tangential, playful, surreal, creating amplified hyper-realities that excel politics rather than reflect it.
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