Opinion: How Do You Write Jokes About A Sad Story?

It’s Pete Sinclair that I feel sorry for. Among others of course. He is one of the writers of C4’s Power Monkeys and as if it wasn’t hard enough already to write a whole sitcom episode in a day, he now has to write funny jokes about a situation that I suspect he doesn’t find very funny. Caveat - I know Pete is sharp and clever so I’m assuming he supported Remain. That’s my educated guess, but I think this piece will make sense even if I’m barking up the wrong tree. 

At about 6.30am Pete tweeted: “And now to write Power Monkeys. This should be interesting.”  If Remain had won, even by a small margin, the script might have written itself. Farage could have been portrayed  drowning his sorrows with a few too many beers. Boris could have been portrayed as slinking onto the back benches. Ian Botham could have been seen looking very sheepish.

Instead the Leave lot won. I would speculate – maybe generalising a bit but you know what I mean – that the kind of people that watch Power Monkeys leant towards Leave and may not be in the mood for jokes. Losing is bad enough. The reality doesn't bear thinking about for them, never mind laughing at it. It feels worse than that often-quoted line by Tom Lehrer, who quipped that political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Blackadder Goes Forth dealt successfully with the carnage of WW1 but that was history, not that week's raw events. Topical comedy programmes can often run into difficulties when they come up with major news stories where there is no easy funny side. Only last week Mock The Week was pulled from the schedules on the night of Jo Cox’s murder. Presumably there was a feeling that this was no time for levity and gags about Brexit sounding like a name for a breakfast cereal. The Last Leg, which precedes Power Monkeys will probably have an easier job because it is allowed to be angry and serious as well as funny. And I expect it will be pretty angry and pretty serious tonight.

Going back a while there was an interesting anecdote on Alan Davies As Yet Untitled earlier this month when Sandi Toksvig recalled recording an episode of The News Quiz just after Princess Diana had died. The late Linda Smith apparently made a rather cutting line about the late Princess: “So thick and yet so thin”. Needless to say it was cut from the broadcast.

Good luck Pete. 

Power Monkeys, tonight, 10pm, C4.


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