Taking a political slant on comedy can be a fraught business. Philip Parr spoke to two surviving examples of an increasingly rare breed: revolutionary socialist JEREMY HARDY and JIMMY TINGLE, voice of American liberal protest.
18 The List 17—30 May 1991
hen I phone, Jeremy Hardy can’t speak to me. Is he harbouring a terrorist? Is the revolution about to commence, Hardy at the helm‘! Is he in hiding after carrying out his oft-stated desire to see off Thatcher? I call back, expectantly, ten minutes later. ‘Sorry about that,’ says Hardy, ‘I just had to fix the baby.’ And the squeals from the next room suggest it was something of a rushed fixing.
Although a revolutionary socialist with leanings towards the SWP - ‘the Revolutionary Communists are a bunch of headbangers’ - the image of a caring, sharing parent is not difficult to conjure up. Hardy’s cherubic features, tweed jackets and cardigans have always enjoyed an uneasy alliance with his politics. Even ifhe didn’t live there, he would be the very model of a Surrey gentleman. His politics have always been more Sandinista than Surrey, but I wondered how he would describe them now we are in the post-Communist era?
‘Oh, they’re alright,’ he reports. ‘Terribly tired, but quite healthy. I was a member of the SWP, but only for a very short period of time. I’ve been a sort of fellow traveller, a Morris Traveller. I prefer not to belong to anything because it means you’re not limited.’
s. It I just went on "is stage and wittered ’ on about things that
aren’t at all related - to politics then I’d be a liar.’,
Hardy, however, is never afraid to take his politics up on stage with him. Occasionally, he can latch onto a topic and find it difficult to let go, even if the audience hasn’t laughed for ten minutes. It’s a fault that he acknowledges.
‘I sometimes feel myself being dragged on stage and making a speech, which isn’t what I’m meant to do at all,’ he admits. ‘I get awfully preachy at times. People come up to me and say, “Forget the politics, mate, and just do the comedy. We like the comedy,” as if it’s some bolt-on accessory that you can take or leave. It’s all very much part of me.
Part of what I am. lfI just went on stage and wittered on about things that aren‘t at all related to politics then I’d be a liar.
‘But there’s a problem with satire,’ he continues. ‘The disposable nature ofit means that you’re always just looking at the surface. I feel the pressure is to talk about the fact that John Major is boring, rather than the fact that he is completely evil and should die. Superficially, what comes across is not what a total bastard he is, but his bland, inane, gormless, expression. You’re there to get laughs and rally people around something that’s familiar and straightforward. There’s a pressure to be superficial, not from the audience, but from one’s own ambition to be liked.’
Of course, there is another side, or rather, another extreme to British political comedy.