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18 March 2015updated 25 Jul 2021 4:00am

For god’s sake stop putting comedians in charge of governments

By Milo Edwards

Last week in the Ukraine, a country where, if you haven’t been following the news since 2014, everything is normal and fine, the actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president. Now I’m all in favour of comedians finding themselves a stable income, but I have my reservations.

Zelensky started his performing career in the genre known in the former Soviet Union as “KVN”, which is a kind of comedy league competition played in teams who stand on stage in suits and do heavily scripted dialogues à la Morcambe and Wise but is both a lot worse and, somehow, even more 1970s. Zelensky’s most recent and popular creative project, though, is more intriguing: he starred in a TV sitcom about a schoolteacher who became, er… the president of the Ukraine.

First of all, a big hand to the writers: this is quite the end of season twist. Second of all, is that how it works now? A guy plays the president in a TV show and then he becomes the president? The world has so run out of able politicians that we’ve gotten to, “Well, he seemed to know what he was doing on the telly”.

I think, fundamentally, comedians shouldn’t be put in charge of things. I’m a comedian and I feel like I shouldn’t really be in charge of my own life: I recently ate all three meals in one day at Greggs. I am not fit to set monetary policy. Although, to be fair, eating all your meals at Greggs is pretty economical if nothing else.

That isn’t to say that I couldn’t do a better job than the current lot, but that isn’t a competence issue. Rather it’s just that my objective wouldn’t be “Burn the social fabric of Britain to the ground”. I would, instead, muddle through with a sort of benign incompetence. If the current Tory government is The Road by Cormac McCarthy, my reign would be much more like a lesser-known Roald Dahl book about a small boy who loves crumbling infrastructure. 

But people do seem to have an obsession with celebrities becoming politicians, as though they would have any idea what they were doing. Just because you know and like someone, doesn’t mean they should run a whole country. Ronald Reagan was a famous actor and then became president of the US, and he spent most of his time in office trying to build a space laser to melt the Soviet Union. Have we learned nothing?

Evidently not, because Donald Trump, the guy off of Home Alone 2 and The Apprentice, is US president, being assisted by his sons who look like cursed meat-scarecrows. And there’s a part of me that loves it: he’s more or less like any other Republican president except he keeps saying the quiet part loud and then going off on a ramble mid-press-conference about a stripper he almost had sex with in 1994. He is in some ways the politician we as a planet deserve.

Yet still there are people who want Oprah or Kanye to be US president, and Kid Rock is actually running for the US Senate. Kid Rock! He’s not even good at being Kid Rock.

It’s all as though we think the solution to one incompetent celebrity might be another incompetent celebrity. And I feel like comedians are the most at risk of being seen as contenders, because good comedians can often point out what’s going wrong in a simple way that makes sense to people.

The trouble, is that doesn’t mean we have any solutions. I could stand over a plumber who opens the wrong pipe and blasts raw sewage all over my apartment and say “Woah, where did you learn to plumb? Clown College!?” but that does not mean I’m in a position to take over and do a better job. I can’t do manual labour. I have no skills. For a school woodwork project I once made a sign for our house and failed to fit all the letters on it. It hung outside our kitchen door for some time until it fell apart due to the frankly shoddy workmanship.

In the same way, comedians can sometimes be an important part of the political ecosystem as we can help to crystallise what’s bad or weird about the current status quo in a way that might energise regular people and invite positive change – but we shouldn’t be administering that change.

People who run countries should be people who’ve devoted years of their lives to mastering the necessary skills, understanding the issues, and building a compelling policy platform. You wouldn’t want that to be left to sharp-tongued amateurs, in much the same way that you wouldn’t want to watch Liz Truss do an hour of stand-up. Although, Liz, if you’re reading this, that is something I would absolutely personally watch, let’s make it happen.

So please, next time you’re voting in an election, cast your vote for someone with relevant experience and good policies, no matter how intriguing Anthony from Blue’s campaign is.

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