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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Mark Strong Q&A: “I suspected playing a barrister was more fun than being one”

The actor talks David Bowie, studying law, and his favourite Simpsons episode.

What is your earliest memory?

Sitting in a pram in the sunshine in Myddelton Square, north London, waving at passers-by. My mum used to put me out in the street to keep me occupied, and she and various neighbours would lean on the windowsill and keep an eye on me.

Which politician, past or present, do you look up to?

Nelson Mandela stands head and shoulders above the crowd for his tolerance in the face of extreme suffering and his ability to unite a nation against all the odds.

Who was your childhood hero? And who is your adult hero?

David Bowie. His music and style were unique and he was the first to make me think about individuality and creativity. As an adult, Muhammad Ali, for the same reason – to thine own self be true.

What would be your Mastermind special subject?

My theatre knowledge is pretty good, and I particularly love the plays of Arthur Miller – but I suspect it would probably be Arsenal Football Club.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?

When Shakespeare, Marlowe and Ben Jonson were writing and performing their plays and the “Vagabond Act” of 1572 viewed travelling Elizabethan actors as such a threat that regulations were imposed. Sounds like a fun time.

What TV show could you not live without?

The Simpsons. A favourite episode has Homer at the annual Springfield Chilli Cook-Off, where he eats super-spicy chilli made with a dangerous Guatemalan pepper grown by mental patients. The pepper has a powerful hallucinogenic effect and Homer wanders off into the strangest regions of his mind to find his soulmate, accompanied by a spirit guide voiced by Johnny Cash.

Who would paint your portrait?

Lucian Freud for the warts-and-all harsh reality, or Caravaggio for the dark beauty and intensity of his style.

What’s your theme tune?

For sheer drama and danger, Montagues and Capulets from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Put it on your headphones and walk down the street and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Have you followed it?

A very special man named Sydney Stolerman once told me not to become an actor, as it was unlikely it would work out. He jokes to this day that it’s a good job I didn’t follow his advice.

What’s currently bugging you?

Injustice, greed, envy and intolerance. So-called leaders interested only in themselves. People unwilling to observe the social contract.

What single thing would make your life better?

Not being able to be contacted instantly anywhere in the world through modern technology.

When were you happiest?

I was pretty content at university. I had few responsibilities and was learning something I loved and partying with people I still love. But most of all at the birth of my children. An unbeatable feeling.

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?

I studied law so perhaps I might have made it to the Bar, though I gave up that idea when I suspected playing a barrister was probably much more fun than being one.

Are we all doomed?

Unless everyone gets serious about climate change and we stop electing world leaders who behave like paranoid teenagers, then undoubtedly. 

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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