In an interesting glimpse into the backroom construction efforts that go into these televised debates, it seems Labour have made scriptwriter Charlie Skelton an offer he COULD refuse in a last ditch attempt to boost Gordon Brown’s performance in the third and final debate next week.
A funny thing happened to me yesterday. I was asked to write jokes for Gordon Brown, for the final televised debate. An honour indeed, the chance to craft one-liners for a man so impossibly far removed from the capacity to express humour, that should he even attempt so much as a smile, the earth can be knocked off its axis by the sheer horror of the rictus that results.
So, should I help out? Attempt to forge a game-changing zinger that would nail the half-human Cameron to the wall, and whack some of the cocky smugness out of Clegg? And yet, to lift a finger to re-elect New Labour? I wasn’t exactly sure how to phrase my response, so I simply emailed back the nice lady with a link to Iraq Body Count and left it at that.
A little part of us dies whenever one of the party leaders attempts a joke. It’s not so much that we want them to behave like “serious people” doing a “serious job”, it’s just that we want to feel that anything “funny” they might say has bubbled up from within them, not been scripted, memorized and rehearsed to within an inch of its life.
The bizarre irony of Clegg dismissing Brown’s “bathtime with the boys” joke in last night’s debate by saying: “It’s a good line in rehearsal” – was that it was a pre-prepared putdown for a pre-prepared putdown. Could the humour get any less spontaneous?
The task of any comedian, on stage or on TV, is to make you believe that right there, in the moment, they are at one with their material. Whether it’s Barry Cryer dusting off a 30-year-old quip, or Frankie Boyle distressing some poor, unsuspecting audience with an idea scooped from the bowels of hell with a teaspoon, a good comic simply won’t let you see a distance between them and the joke that they’re delivering. And sad to say, but neither Brown, nor Cameron, nor Clegg, is a good comic.
And yet, so thirsty are the press for any sign of normality from this lot, that when a joke comes juddering out, it’s usually held aloft as a brilliant gem: “This isn’t Question Time, David. It’s Answer Time.” Pow! Shazzam! Gotcha!
Lord help me, the delight on Gordon Brown’s sort of face when he managed to bumble that humdinger across the stage, it was so poignant. “I remembered it! I said it! I got all the words in the right order! They said I couldn’t do it, but I did it! I rule! I so totally rule!”