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Thursday 5th May 2005

I love the bizarre situations that my life occasionally gets me into. IÂ’m up in Leeds and was doing a couple of gigs to try out new material before my appearance in Bradford tomorrow. As we were having dinner before the gig the promoter got a call and was asked if he would like to come to BBC Leeds later on to appear on a radio show about the election. He said I was with him and so we were both invited along. I imagined that this was going to be a light-hearted and irreverent look at the serious political event, if they were inviting funny people along. It sounded like a laugh and would beat watching it on telly back at the promoterÂ’s house, so we bought a bag of beers to take with us and then got on with doing the shows.
We arrived at the BBC at about 11.30pm and the first result was already in. In studio 1 there seemed to be a very serious and dry discussion about the event going on, including an MEP for each of the parties and a couple of very serious and somewhat dull statisticians who I could see were almost coming in their own pants at the excitement of making projections based on the exit polls. Whatever rings your bell.
I assumed that we would be in studio 2, where a slightly younger and cooler looking bloke was working at some machine and had almost thought that IÂ’d crash the serious discussion as a joke. But for the moment we were stuck outside waiting for someone to tell us what to do.
I wanted a beer, but we had no bottle opener, but I cleverly managed to get the top of a couple of PeroniÂ’s by expert use of a BBC stapler. I did accidentally cut a big gouge in the edge of one of the BBC desks with the second one, but no-one saw and I covered it up quite well and so no-one will ever know it was me. After two sweaty gigs I was in a naughty, party mood and could only guess what kind of mischief I would get up to, unexpectedly released on to the BBC Leeds airwaves.
Then a man came to tell us the plan. As it turned out we had been booked as comic relief to try and lighten up the turgidly dull atmosphere in studio 1. I knew instantly this would not work. Firstly they were mainly concerned with the local constituencies and I obviously knew nothing about that. Secondly they were talking about the election, and I knew very little about that either. And wasn’t remotely interested in it. I had hoped to just be flippant and take the piss out of Peter Snow and any amusing middle names that the major candidates had and maybe if I got drunk, do my “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” gag.
There was a scurry to find us some seats as a pre-prepared package was played in and we traipsed into the room carrying opened beers and a big bag of more beer. The MEPs and the presenter and the statisticians looked at us with scarcely disguised contempt. They were taking their job very seriously and we looked like we would be trouble. Even now the vote was over they were all desperately trying to score points off each other. You would have had no trouble identifying which candidate came from which party. A well meaning middle aged lady in a pink jacket with colourful buttons reeked of Liberalism, a balding man with specs who asked where his beer was was almost a parody of someone with a foot in both the Old and the New Labour camps and a horrible weasly man , with a sneery face and a bent over immigrant instead of a chair represented the conservatives.
When they insulted each other the person who had supposedly been slighted would pull an exasperated surprised face, a bit like all the people around Hitler in “Downfall” or David Brent in “The Office” like they hadn’t been expecting the other party to criticise them. It was hilarious.
We sat there for about fifteen minutes before the presenter (who obviously didn’t want us there) even had the politeness to introduce us, and then all he said was “So Toby and Richard”(Thank God he didn’t use our full names – because he obviously didn’t know them- no-one would ever know we’d appeared on this show, just like no-one would ever know that I damaged that desk) “You’re here for some light relief, so what’s funny about the election?”
This is probably the worst way you could ever introduce a comedian and gave us both nothing to work with and too much to work with at the same time. I tried to make a joke that as the score in seats was currently 3-0-0 to Labour that if we projected this forward we could see that Labour were going to win every single seat in parliament. The other panellists sneered at me, “I’d like to know the name of your maths teacher if you think that,” said one of them, not realising that I had been hired to take the piss and that this was an attempt at humour. The statisticians who I was parodying liked it even less and looked down their nose at me. But as another seat came in for Labour and none for the others I continued with the joke – “See not looking so good for you now is it? Getting worried that I might have called it spot on, aren’t you?”
I then claimed that I could hardly bear the stress as this was undoubtedly the most exciting and unpredictable election of my life time. “Really, you can’t be very old,” said the presenter, again failing to see that I was attempting to use sarcasm to convey my true belief that the election was quite dull. And anyway we’d only just got there, so how did we know if anything funny had happened yet?
The discussion continued and we were roundly ignored so I just got on with drinking my beer and watching the stupid hypocritical antics of the politicians. Off mike they would discuss what was happening openly and honestly and say if they thought one of their candidates was losing, but then if they were on air they would spew out the usual guff. They were all such dull and unexceptional human beings, confirming the theory that anyone who wants to be a politician should not be allowed to be. The Tory had once been a chief whip and said he had his ways of pressurising people to do what he told him, adding that it was the happiest period of his life. You felt that this might only have been trumped if he had been able to work as a torturer for the SS.
An hour or so later the presenter tried to include me again. He called me Toby, which was the promoterÂ’s name, and ironically this was the one moment that the actual Toby had nipped out of the room. So I blathered on, a bit drunk by now, wondering if anyone was listening to the BBC Leeds coverage of the election that was taking itself so seriously and if so who? And would they be interested in what I thought? I figured that they wouldnÂ’t.
WeÂ’d finished our beer and it was clear we were surplus to requirements, so about 1.30 am we made our excuses and left. But it was a surreal and interesting experience to be randomly cast into this room that I should never really have been in.
I voted by postal vote this year. I decided to go for the Green Party as I couldn’t quite bring myself to vote for Labour, even though they were definitely going to get in in my seat. Aptly my Labour candidate’s surname was “Slaughter”. That pretty much says it all. But like everyone I knew that I wouldn’t want anyone else but Labour to be put in charge. So I was able to wash my hands of the affair like Pontius Pilate, knowing that this protest vote was going to make no difference.
ItÂ’s hard to be funny on demand about something so depressing.

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