In 2015, The Atlantic magazine posed a rhetorical question that addressed a seriously funny issue: why the British are better at satire. As the magazine is American, it’s obvious the point of comparison was Americans.
Now, Americans have a very different sense of humour to the British. It’s slightly more obvious, perhaps even childlike in a sense. As American and (naturalised) British journalist Michael Goldfarb put it back in 2018, “Through their humour Brits understand that ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is an ironic comment on the rising panic we all feel, not, as Americans do, an operational directive to be followed literally.”
It’s true. Americans generally don’t get irony. And they’re not particularly subtle either.
That said, I can imagine Stephen Colbert, the American comedian who hosts CBS’s ‘The Late Show’, going with something I heard on BBC domestic radio on January 8. (Mr Colbert, incidentally, studied philosophy at college.)
The ‘News Quiz’ on BBC Radio 4 offered probably the sharpest take on events in Washington, D.C. on January 6 and after. It was, remember, 48 hours after Donald Trump had incited an insurrectionist mob to march on the US Capitol. In the following two days, Mr Trump had first assured his supporters of his “love”, then reneged on that and threatened them with legal action (“you will pay”), and finally tweeted that he and his MAGA warriors would have a “giant voice” long into the future. So any comedic news programme anywhere would have to be nimble and fleet-footed to keep up with Mr Trump’s constant shapeshifting from insurrectionist leader to desperate office-holder to militant politician.
The BBC ‘News Quiz’, a show written by Andy Zaltzman, did this, in spades. Here’s the link for those who’re able to hear it. I know it’s not always possible without a BBC account, but if you can, start at 08:17.
The presenter says the following:
“Donald Trump’s heroic efforts to set a new Guinness world record for the longest continuously running tantrum, like a sourdough starter of resentment…no signs of ending and he’s proved himself again to be both a coward and a despot, so if you will, a Chicken Ceasar.”