As an American in Britain, I have found one of the most endearing traits of Britons, and people living in Britain generally, is their ability to laugh at themselves. They don’t take themselves so seriously that they can’t see “what fools” we “mortals” can be.
So how sad to learn in today’s paper that “Mock the Week” – a BBC satirical comedy show that has run for 17 years is entering its final series. In the show, the moderator, Dara O’Briain, enables a group of comedians to poke fun at topical news stories, politicians, celebrities, and events. The jokes most often amuse many while inevitably offending a few.
O’Briain’s opinion piece in The Guardian (6 August 2022) focused on the degree viewer comments often interpreted the balance of jokes as biased, being orchestrated to support some political or cultural camps over others. Dara argued that there was no plan other than to let comedians bounce off the news and humour the audience. As he put it: “we just wanted a laugh”.
17 years is a very good run for any TV program, so I don’t want to make too much of the approaching end of this series, but I can’t help but see the show as one symptom of a healthy democracy. Academics have written seriously about relationships between comedy and democracy – but not me. Nevertheless, it is obvious that tyrants seldom have a sense of humour. They can’t laugh at themselves. It is too great of a risk to their authority.
In contrast, you can see – at least anecdotally – that a nation that can laugh at itself is a healthier and more equalitarian climate for democratic processes and discourse. Let’s hope that the spirit of Mock the Week carries on in other formats. O’Briain himself made a joke of the end of his stint on this program, saying he was “available for television work”.
So thank you, Dara, and your colleagues, for helping us to laugh at ourselves and keep our democratic spirit alive and well.