Planet Earth (NewInt) – When the news seems ridiculous and shocking, we need competence to fill faith gap it creates, writes Chris Coltrane.
This dispatch comes from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, aka The Destroyer of Dreams.
I’m here with my new stand-up show, ‘Socialist Fun-Times’. In fully communist Scotland, a country I am deeply in love with, a show with a name like that is a ludicrously easy sell. Especially because the few rightwingers that live here tend to disappear for August. I like to think they flee because they’re scared that the influx of art might make them fundamentally question their incorrect belief system. Sadly, in reality it’s because they can rent their house out for three times the monthly mortgage payments.
Anyway, it’s probably for the best that they leave. After all, 99 per cent of art is not made for them. Rightwingers get 50 Cent, Geri Halliwell and Phil Collins; the Left gets everything else.
Sometimes you get accused of preaching to the converted at an arts festival, but frankly I’m proud to preach. Some people specialize in changing people’s minds. My talent, if I have any, which I absolutely do not (see previous columns for proof, plus this one), is to take lefties that feel lonely and sad, and top them up with the hope of a socialist utopia. I do this in exchange for vast sums of money.
Edinburgh has been very kind to me this year: included in The Scotsman’s list of the 21 Best Ever Jokes At The Fringe was one of mine. Best ever! Weirdly though, there was no Peter Cook or Stephen Fry: the list only went back about 10 years, which coincidentally is when corporations started sponsoring the official list of top jokes. What are the chances! Well, regardless, I guess it’s official: I’m funnier than Peter Cook.
I’m glad I have at least had one joke that stands the test of time. World news changes so quickly nowadays that I’ve had entire drafts of my show that I’ve had to just delete. It’s genuinely difficult. It’s the kind of struggle that I imagine doctors and fire-fighters and aid workers have to deal with, though obviously my struggle is more painful, and real, and valid.
It’s also hard to make jokes about the news when it’s already so absurd. Modern news comes pre-satirized. Of course, we’ve always had tricksters and absurdists. Dick Cheney lying about Iraq. Tony Blair becoming peace envoy for the Middle East. But 2016 feels unique for the unstoppable Katamari of stupid. The mere act of telling an audience what Trump has said is enough to shock them so much that any follow-up joke just bounces off them. It’s like trying to impress someone who has just seen a ghost by telling them you won a tenner on a scratchcard.
I genuinely worry about what this is doing to the world. I think that when the news seems perpetually ridiculous, when politicians seem permanently incompetent, people lose all faith in the system – a faith vacuum that the far right often swoops in to fill. We need competence more than ever. In the next few generations, climate change will force humanity to face any number of existential crises. Instead, we have a US presidential candidate who claims he’s fit for the job because he has a massive penis. The most unpredictable man in politics might soon have his fingers on the nuclear buttons. My only hope is that his hands are so small that his tiny baby fingers won’t have the strength to actually push them.
This report prepared by Chris Coltrane for New Internationalist.