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A funny show on BBC3? How revolutionary

Far from being the usual liberal lecturing, a new satirical sketch show actually manages to stir up some laughs.

David Bowden

Topics Culture

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Right: I’m a busy man, so we’ll get this out of the way. The Revolution Will Be Televised? Always nice to see a Gil Scott-Heron reference but, come now, that’s a lazy title for a TV show. It stars two professional pranksters called Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein? Hmmm. Featuring an irreverent satirical swipe at everything from greedy bankers to the Daily Mail? Uh oh. Is it on BBC3? Oh sweet bastard buggering hell.

To say that The Revolution Will Be Televised was something of a pleasant surprise hardly even qualifies as a back-handed compliment. It would’ve been classed as a ‘pleasant surprise’ simply for not featuring Marcus Brigstocke, and frankly I count every second I spend not being lectured to by Brigstocke as pleasant. Utterly unlike those ‘awareness-raising’ political pranksters such as environmentalist group Plane Stupid, no decent person’s holiday was disrupted by the antics of Prowse and Rubinstein. It’s always nice when no one gets hurt.

But The Revolution Will Be Televised was surprising because it was funny. Not ‘funny’ in what passes for much political comedy, which largely consists of Footlights graduates writing columns in broadsheets about the stupidity of people whilst USING CAPITAL LETTERS TO SHOW HOW FUNNY THEY ARE. (F Scott Fitzgerald once claimed that exclamation marks were the equivalent to laughing at your own jokes, BUT I GUESS CAPS LOCK HADN’T BEEN INVENTED etc etc.) Not ‘funny’ in the Rory Bremner or Mark Thomas sense, where we’re simply encouraged to laugh rather than clap or nod our heads to right-on tirades. Not even funny in the ‘topical sketch show’ sense, which usually involves comedians rehashing polished one-liners and simply inserting the names from what’s been in the news.

I mean funny in that it had a sense of humour. At its best, it was packed full of the kind of absurdist stunt-making that used to make Trigger Happy TV essential late-Nineties comedy viewing before Dom Joly got bored of shouting into a giant telephone while listening to Elastica. Prowse and Rubinstein are fine comedy performers, in the mould of early Sacha Baron Cohen. If you could forget the politics, this was one of the better sketch-show comedies you’ll see on TV this year.

For instance, one of their sketches was built around the monumentally banal issue that foreign embassies in London don’t pay the congestion charge, even though they are supposed to. So they posed as parking inspectors going round to collect on tickets totalling £3.6million. Naff politics, maybe. But the exchanges between real diplomats (or, at least, embassy staff) and the ‘parking inspectors’ – both parties in their puffed-up petty authoritarian positions – were priceless. One diplomat threatened them darkly with consequences if they didn’t buzz off. When pushed on what he would do, he paused, and in all seriousness announced: ‘Well, first I’m going to write a note to my superior…’

Likewise, the two founded a campaign where they posed as chuggers attempting to claim taxpayers’ money back by doorstepping bankers. They called their campaign GIVE US BACK OUR FUCKING MONEY YOU CUNTS. Even the bankers they asked found that one amusing. There was some very good-natured silliness behind it all: posing as Conservative and Lib Dem MPs, they gatecrashed the Lib Dem conference, where the trendy Lib Dem tried to come out to the LGBT stand, and the Tory tried to get Vince Cable to fetch him coffee.

Actually, perhaps inadvertently, even some of its pot-shots weren’t all that bad. Yes, it kicked off with a sub-The Day Today piece, following a journalist called Dale Maily giving shrill right-wing coverage of Occupy St Paul’s. Blah blah Daily Mail blah blah. But in styling him as a war reporter ‘embedded with the hippies’, it also reminded you of the absurd overexposure this camp of crusties, bored students and lost souls got from the serious media outlets.

Similarly, the pair pounced on red-carpet celebrities, switching from fawning celebrity chat show to firing questions about the European debt crisis or the state of Africa, to general horror and bemusement. There was something undeniably entertaining about suddenly demanding that celebs give us their views on complex political questions, given how easily they’re prepared to lend their support to political causes.

It wasn’t perfect by any means: it was difficult to escape the air of this being Chris Morris for tweenagers. The politics may have been one of low horizons, but with Prowse having worked with the likes of blogger Guido Fawkes and the Taxpayers’ Alliance in the past, there was at least an unusual freshness to it, reminding you that it’s much easier to smile once you’re unburdened by certain left-liberal pieties. The Revolution Will Be Televised isn’t big, not particularly clever and certainly not radical. But it will entertain you, which for BBC3 is pretty damn near revolutionary.

David Bowden is spiked’s TV columnist.

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