Opinion: The News Is Beyond Satire, By Adam Bromley

Opinion: The News Is Beyond Satire, By Adam Bromley
Ex-BBC producer Adam Bromley has made a new comedy sketch show with comics Kris Dyer (of Nice Mum) and Julius Howe called Peer into the Past, which is available as a podcast. It is set in the distant future where a teacher is trying to educate students about the past, via the time telescope. This new audio comedy is mash-up of past, present and future. Karl Marx argues over the royalties from The Communist Manifesto. Guy Fawkes breaks under TOWIE interrogation techniques. Boudicca tries to leave a European Empire. The origins of cave painting are revealed. Julius Caesar shows his true gangster colours. Henry VIII is reimagined as Donald Trump. 
Check out the show via the website: www.peerintothepast.co.uk  


Politics today is often described as a ‘circus’ which seems unfair to circus performers. The last circus I saw were acrobats from Ghana: they were good value for money, finished on time and when they threw their co-workers from a 20 foot pole they caught them. Members of Parliament are compared to schoolchildren, which does British students a disservice since if they behaved as poorly as the current crop of MPs they would be expelled. If Parliament were a school, Ofsted would shut it down for serious failures of governance. In summary, politics in the UK is a joke, a bad one, and nobody’s laughing. In America, the situation is equally embarrassing with the President and his opponents behaving like spoiled children that need a time-out on the naughty step. 

The problem for people like myself, who create satirical comedy, is that current affairs is beyond satire. I produced Radio 4’s flagship news sketch show, The Now Show, for many years, winning a Sony Award for comedy. But if any writer pitched recent news stories as sketch ideas, I might well have rejected them as being too outlandish. The President of the United States suggests buying Greenland. The British PM might have to write a letter to the EU asking for an extension for Article 50, if he doesn’t who knows what happens next? Jeremy Corbyn is leader of Labour, Boris Johnson is leader of the Tory Party, Nigel Farage abandons UKIP and sets up a new Brexit Party – I’d tell the writer that the best jokes are based in reality not fantasy.

Cartoons are less bizarre than the modern news cycle. The Russian Embassy sends a chocolate cathedral to troll the British government over the Novichok attack in Salisbury, Labour pledges to negotiate a better Brexit deal then to campaign against it. Justin Trudeau, PM of Canada and poster boy for liberals worldwide, is caught on camera wearing blackface.

It is as if the ramblings of a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist became real. Satire relies on exaggeration for comedic effect but you can’t top the actual news. Donald Trump is the prime example of a modern politician who defies parody: a bright orange reality TV star who tweets outrageous statements in the middle of the night. He is a comedy character already, there’s nothing a satirist can generate that outdoes what he says on a daily basis. 

Three comedians are in a bar trying to create a sketch show. The first comedian asks ‘Why are we in a bar, this is the UK, not America. It should be a pub?’ The barman says ‘I think you should just get on with it.’ That’s how Peer into the Past came about: me having a pint with two comics. Technically not just one pint. Several. I think whiskey was involved at some point. Also I’d like to take this opportunity to call these two comics friends but as the barman emphasised, I should just get on with it. We realised that the only way to satirise the present was to switch our focus to the past: historical sketches.  

Henry VIII was a ginger-haired narcissist with a thin skin. Remind you of a certain world leader perhaps? Backstabbing in ancient Rome meant literally stabbing people with daggers – these days the weapon of choice is a press conference. Victorian mill owners liked to lecture their employees on self-improvement whilst ruthlessly cutting costs. Feel familiar? Boudicca led a revolt against a European super-state but was crushed by the establishment (Rome is the EU, Boudicca’s revolt is the referendum, okay, I’ll shut up now).

The best thing about ignoring the present to make jokes about the past is that it avoids the minefield of modern outrage culture. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned minefield or even outrage culture, someone on Twitter might take offense. Correction: someone on Twitter is always offended about something and they really, really need to tell you about it. RIGHT NOW. 

Humans are still the same hypocritical, delusional, pompous creatures they were fifty or even two thousand years ago, which is fertile ground for satire. Chances are that five hundred years from now, people will be the same flawed, contradictory mess that is the raw material for comedy. Peer into the Past is the result of our efforts to satirise the unsatirisable. We hope you like it.


Adam Bromley is a stand-up comedian and audiobook producer. He was a BBC comedy producer, primarily for Radio 4. Two of his shows won Sony Awards for comedy: Think the Unthinkable and The Now Show. 

To listen to Peer into the Past, visit the website: http://www.peerintothepast.co.uk/ and click on the subscribe link. Or search for Peer into the Past on iTunes. 



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