Comedy update

Private Eye at the V&A, the Onion's UK arrival and Atkinson hints at Blackadder 5.

Satire news

Private Eye at 50 exhibition at the V&A

In celebration of 50 years of Private Eye, this free exhibition will look at how the British magazine combines humour with investigative journalism. It will include original artwork of the publication's finest cartoons, from long-running strips to caricatures. Plus, the magazine's editor Ian Hislop has selected 50 of the best front covers, one for every year that the magazine has been published.

At its best Private Eye is bold and scathingly satirical. Take the 4 February 2011 cover on the phone hacking scandal, where "Murdoch answers critics" with his hands clasped: "I overhear what you're saying." Another outstanding cover was that of 22 July 2011. It used the tabloids' conventional style to triumphantly bellow "Gotcha!" over photographs of Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.

The Onion News Network's UK debut

The Onion News Network will have its UK television premiere in November on Sky Arts 1 at 11pm. The mock-news channel was created in 2007 and shown on the Onion's website. Its presenters include Brooke Alvarez (Suzanne Sena) and Tucker Hope Todd (Alan Crain.) The news programme often features personal advice by Alvarez, such as "How to Look Good for the End of the World."

Founded in the late 1980s, the Onion's humour ranges from straight-up satire, such as "Future U.S. History Students: 'It's Pretty Embarrassing How Long You Guys Took To Legalize Gay Marriage'" to more wacky and surreal jokes: "Justin Bieber Found to be Cleverly Disguised 51-Year-Old Paedophile."

One of the Onion's often provocative headlines recently caused a stir on Twitter. It tweeted, "BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building", which was later linked to this story: Congress Takes Group Of Schoolchildren Hostage. It led some followers to believe that it was a real news story, and controversy ensued about whether the Onion had gone too far. Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist of Social Media Desk, who tweeted extensively about the Arab Spring, sounded aggravated. He tweeted: "Wondering if NYers would find it as funny if @TheOnion had made a similar joke about an attack on Wall St and lower Manhattan." By contrast, English comedian and actor Peter Serafinowicz tweeted: "God I love @theonion!"

The Onion's hostage piece clearly had an absurdist tone:

Obama, holding his head in his hands [said] "I know Speaker Boehner personally, and I know that he and his colleagues will not hesitate for a second to kill these poor children if they don't get their way ... Trust me, this Congress will do it".

New television comedy

Rowan Atkinson hints at Blackadder 5

Rowan Atkinson, star of Mr Bean and Not the Nine O'Clock News, has said that there may be a fifth series of Blackadder. With each of its four series set in a different historical context, the sitcom ran between 1983 and 1989. This exciting prospect was raised during Atkinson's chat with ITV's Daybreak about his role in Johnny English Reborn, a spoof spy film.

If the fifth series does happen, it will be interesting to see whether Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Robinson and Miranda Richardson will star again. Atkinson commented: "It would be nice to get them all back together."

Arrested Development back with 4th season

Fans of the Emmy-award winning American sitcom Arrested Development have reason to celebrate; five years since it was last on our screens, its creator Mitchell Hurwitz has announced plans for a new series to precede the film spin-off. The sitcom focuses on the life of the formerly rich Bluth family.The cast includes Jessica Walter, Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi and Michael Cera. Although the sitcom never achieved especially high ratings, it has a devoted fanbase.

Life's Too Short: Gervais and Merchant's new comedy about a dwarf

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, Life's Too Short is a fake documentary about the daily life of actor Warwick Davis
(Return Of The Jedi, Harry Potter.) In the new six-part series scheduled to air this autumn, Davis plays a fictional version of himself, a self-absorbed and underhand character in charge of a talent agency called Dwarves For Hire. Davis is always trying to take advantage of others, including his own clients. The show's premise is that Davis takes part in the documentary to raise money to pay his taxes. Check out some clips of Life's Too Short here.

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff: Robert Webb stars in Dickensian comedy

Gareth Edwards, producer of That Mitchell and Webb Look and Mark Evans, writer of the Radio 4 comedy Bleak Expectations, are creating a four-part comedy set in Victorian London. Robert Webb is leading the cast as Jedrington Secret-Past, a successful seller of eccentricities. His wife Conceptiva will be played by Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd.) The Dickensian comedy adventure will screen first in a Christmas special, followed by three episodes due to air in early 2012.

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On the trail of Keith Jarrett's melodies

Lose focus for a second and you can quickly drop the thread of Jarrett's complex improvisational techniques.

“So, this is a piano,” said Keith Jarrett, sitting down at the one that had been placed centre stage for him in the Royal Festival Hall on 20 November. Blowing on his hands to warm them, he acted as if he had never encountered such an instrument before, raising a chuckle from the hundreds of fans who had turned out to see the man in the flesh. For 40 years, Jarrett has been giving concerts like this – alone with the piano, playing his improvised music to a room full of rapt devotees. Notoriously grumpy – and now as well known for his tirades against cameras and coughing audience members as for his early days playing with Miles Davis – he has an almost eerie focus onstage, relieving the tension only very occasionally with his barbed observations about the excellence of the instrument, or the shuffling in the auditorium.

Jarrett gave us a series of short pieces, each rendering separate and distinctive musical ideas. He began with an intricately woven flash of notes in both hands, criss-crossing the melodies that were by turns dark and haunting, or light and dancing. At particularly complex moments, when his arms were crossed over and the notes were flowing from his fingers faster than anyone could imagine them into existence, he leaned his ear down towards the keys, as if physical closeness could help his ideas more swiftly become sound.

A couple of folk-inflected ballads followed; heart-achingly sweet melodies picked out above rumbling, sour arpeggios. Like Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist best known for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Jarrett can’t help adding vocalisations as he plays, which are all the more evident in his quieter compositions. He rose and fell from his stool; we heard his guiding hum along with the melody, as well as the odd strangled shout, yelp and grunt. He might insist on absolute silence from the audience but his own noises seem completely uninhibited as the music spins around him.

Although notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude to his fans, Jarrett was mostly restrained in this outing, allowing himself just one short, sweary outburst about killing a “f***ing camera”. At the age of 70 and with the power to sell out his concerts in just a few hours, you do wonder how much of the persona is genuine and how much of it is just giving the audience what it expects. A case in point came near the end, when he yielded to clamouring and gave a surprisingly simple and straightforward rendition of “Danny Boy”, an encore that long-time fans know well.

Given that this recital was under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, there was surprisingly little in Jarrett’s programme that could easily be identified as jazz. One piece, full of brisk rhythms and chunky chords, gradually revealed itself to be based on a modified 12-bar blues structure and another had haunting overtones surely pulled from the classic American songs of the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this musical ghosting becomes a major preoccupation when you see Jarrett live. It is too easy to distract yourself in trying to follow the auditory trail he has laid for you – was that a bit of Debussy, or Bach, or Glass just then? – and lose the thread of what he plays next. The improvisational technique might have more in common with jazz but now, 40 years on from his bestselling live recording The Köln Concert, it’s difficult to characterise Jarrett’s output as anything other than contemporary classical music.

If it needs a classification, that is. At one point, I became convinced that a particular piece was a Jarrett riff on Beethoven’s Bagatelle No 25 in A Minor – or Für Elise, as it is more commonly known. I was sure it was all there: the extended opening trill, the rising arpeggios in the left hand, the melody cascading from treble to bass and back again. Except, by the time I surfaced from my musing, there was no trace of Beethoven to be heard. A clashing, almost violent melody was dangling over a long drone in the bass. If you try too hard to pin down Jarrett’s music, it moves on without you.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State