Today I had the pleasure of being that expert on the news that has no idea what they’re talking about. You know the one? They’re asked all sorts of serious questions and they squirm slightly over a video link, and repeat themselves fifteen times while trying not to sweat profusely? Well, I played the role of that person superbly today. Were I applying to play that part in a film, it would’ve been the audition that got me the job. Unfortunately it was live TV. On an actual news show. So I won’t be expecting Hollywood to come calling anytime soon. Or anyone else for that matter.
I think it’s fair to say that after 12 years of doing stand-up comedy, I still haven’t really got a clue what I want to do with it. I know that I like writing satirical stuff. I spend a large amount of my days reading news stories or watching the news, so it’s what I’m interested in and therefore what I think about a lot. Makes sense to jot a note or two down about it. In my head I want to do what John Oliver does in the US. I want to perform cutting edge interesting stuff. I’d like to be asked to be on Newsnight and the like to put forward my thoughts. But the problem is, I still don’t understand much of anything. Nor do I manage to keep up with everything as it’s bloody exhausting and – much is the selfishness of news and actual life happenings – it keeps happening. All the time. So there’s always something else to be informed about. Add to that that it means constantly updating material, or like I will be next week, struggling what to say to international crowds, and suddenly I realise I’m just making everything harder for myself.
Some would say that comedians don’t need to know all the information or be on top of everything to write jokes about it (and Robin Ince has written a brilliant blog on this already) and that’s sort of true. Except that in today’s age of social media pedants on everything being recorded somewhere, somehow, it feels like you do. Firstly to work out what your own stand point is to make the joke from. I often feel I need to know both sides of any story before I know what my angle is. Secondly, you have to do this to work out the joke that isn’t already being done on Twitter or elsewhere. Often this means the joke I tweet goes hugely unnoticed and no one cares, but it means it’s my joke and my angle and will probably work live, so it’s fine. And thirdly, as someone who likes to be at least vaguely informative in my stand-up, it’s nice to add some context to whatever it is you’re blabbering about.
But how do I keep informed on everything? Just in today’s news you have:
Steel plant closures – I have no idea how important the steel industry is in today’s world. I know job losses are awful and it’s something to do with cheaper imports from China. To really understand it all I’d need to read up on the steel industry in the UK, and that’s an afternoon I’m not sure I fancy.
Chinese state visit to the UK – There’s so many issues here including human rights, the privatisation of our energy and industries and the UK’s relations to the US. So already that’s foreign policy, globalisation, ethics and that’s before we even get into energy and the ignoring of renewables and all the while I have to resist the urge to get hungry because I keep reading ‘Chinese’ everywhere and that’s how my ignorant brain works.
IRA ‘army council’ – No idea. I was a child during the ‘troubles’ and apart from the time my school friend was trapped in Wood Green shopping centre when a bomb went off, I mostly remember people having odd voice overs on TV that made me wonder if they were boring kung fu films. Since then I’ve visited NI several times & tried to read things but my sieve brain has only kept so much. Again, what I know about it all you could fit, well anywhere. It’s such a small amount of knowledge it’d just tuck in wherever.
And I haven’t yet got to the Canadian elections (I think that’s a good result?), the boring Labour Lord Warner resigning (no one cares) and mostly I just want to watch the new Star Wars trailer over and over again. So it’s tough to keep on top of everything (small violins play now please) especially when your job isn’t just to report or have an opinion on them, but to make them funny as well.* But I’ve been taught to say ‘yes’ to offers of work, in the hope they might bring more offers of work. Some of these things I’ve learned to then say ‘no’ to ever again – doing comedy in between bands, doing comedy outside, doing comedy in a room where no one wants comedy, performing at a kids birthday party etc etc etc – but mostly I’ll jump at the chance to do anything in my field of work I can.
Yesterday I was asked if I’d offer some opinions on the news story that the CPS said to the Swedish authorities that it ‘would not be prudent’ to ask Julian Assange questions in the Ecuadorian Embassy where he’s been hiding for 3 years. I know very little about this so I read the article, looked back through previous jokes I’ve made about Assange, did a little bit more reading and headed off. I was given the subject late last night. This morning I got up and did the research. At midday I sat down in the studio to do a video link, where suddenly it transpires it will be live. Then through the ear piece I’m asked several questions, none of which relate to any of the gags I’ve thought of, so I crow bar them in where I can, all the while, sounding like an idiot. Despite being introduced as a ‘satirist’ all the questions are pretty serious ones about international jurisdiction and criminal accusations. So I wing it as best as I can, I chuckle after some of my own jokes which highlights how much the news anchor isn’t chuckling even more, then I say thanks and leave.
The people in the studio seemed to like it. It’s likely that no one saw it that’d care. But in the back of my head I’ll be thinking about how I knew nothing on live TV all day today. Though at least it’s nothing that won’t be comforted by watching the new Star Wars trailer 15 more times.
*I realise no one’s either asking me to do this, demanding it of me, or in fact paying me for it which renders most of this blog slightly void. It is all my own stupid need to shout at people in rooms that started this. I’m the worstest boss ever.
All things Tiernan Douieb related are at the not updated enough www.tiernandouieb.co.uk if you’d like to come to my shows and ask me questions I don’t know the answers for too.