How not to do political comedy

Marcus Brigstocke is a candidate for unfunniest man in the universe

For an agonising 14 minutes last Sunday Marcus Brigstocke was shown around Westminster and tried to make jokes (On Closer Inspection, 1 June, 8.45pm, Radio 4). Brigstocke was once content to come over as a person who had perpetually just left university; he wrote sketches for Radio 4's The Now Show about a character called Giles Wemmbley-Hogg - a sort of piss-weak amalgam of Bertie Wooster and Peter Cook's Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, pottering around the world on his year off recording naive observations on how similar Egypt is to life back in Budleigh Salterton. But these days he fancies himself a "professional cynic" and "political satirist" - and even attempted to make a citizen's arrest of John Bolton late last month at the Hay Festival, waddling around in the mud behind George Monbiot. Brigstocke is truly the unfunniest arse in the universe.

At Westminster, he was overawed, first by David Cameron, then by Nick Clegg, and even by Lembit Öpik. "Marcus, you are one of the shining lights of the BBC," licked Lembit. "Oh. You're too kind," purred Marcus. "Lembit is one of the shining lights of the Liberal Democrats. Let's go to the bus stop." At the bus stop, Lembit explained how hard his job was: "Twenty per cent of everything we do is virtually pointless . . . the rest is pointless."

Brigstocke fell silent. He failed to make even one bad joke, apart from what I think was supposed to be one about Hazel Blears ("She's mainly famous for being short and red-headed"). What did this programme think it was doing? Was it supposed to be a Borat-style, Louis Theroux-type journey of mockery? An example of a sabre-toothed satirist learning that his targets are human, too?

Overtly political comedians are never much cop. They are boring. Their prejudices are too certain, too set. They just stand there and unpack a pre-existing theory. I mean, need we go into Rory Bremner, Mark Thomas, Mark Steel, Rob Newman, Michael Moore, and that egregious mutton-chopped git, Morgan Spurlock? All purveyors of the kind of literal-mindedness that all great bastard comedy geniuses from Evelyn Waugh to Cook took joyous, light-footed pleasure in putting two fingers up to. The only person just about getting it right is the American supposed neo-con Stephen Colbert of The Daily Show.

Oh, the clunking emphasis of Brigstocke's delivery (nicked off Rowan Atkinson via Angus Deayton)! The sort that's meant to be withering. The kind that just assumes the audience will be complicit in the utterly bog-standard, unsurprising bit of wafty liberal observation that is coming out of his mouth. Funny people don't do this. Funny people do the last thing you expect. Funny people - Chris Morris, Eddie Izzard, Bob Mortimer, Bill Hicks - dart off in completely unexpected directions. They are fugitives. They assume the audience can and will catch up with them and derive their pleasure from doing so.

All Brigstocke does is preach to the choir. He is the poster boy for an effete, obsolete, undergraduate, Meccano-set humour that can be snapped together in short order. Absolutely nobody, apart from BBC commissioning editors, thinks Brigstocke is funny. He is, in fact, the very opposite of funny. He is the new Jim Davidson.

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Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.