Thank heavens for Jo Brand. At least she deflects attention away from Boris and Brexit for a moment. Sadly, this sorry does contain Nigel Farage, but only in a walk-on part with puffing.
The other day I heard a strange sound in the kitchen. The radio was on. But there was another noise. It was me shouting at the radio.
Iain Duncan Smith was expressing his admiration for Boris Johnson, and suddenly everything – this endless Brexit stalemate, the gruesome Tory beauty parade, Jeremy Corbyn’s ducking and dithering – was too much. I turned the radio off, took a deep breath and wondered the previously unthinkable: was Brexit putting me off the news?
It’s been a lifelong addiction and I started sniffing stories long before Michael Gove started putting white powder up his nose. I won’t be able to stay away for long. Just now I was scanning the headlines again.
Anyway, thanks Jo. Unlike many of the commentators rushing to condemn the comedian over her battery acid joke, I start from a position unhelpful to outrage: I like Jo Brand, she’s funny and smart, and has moved from being a funny and smart feminist rant merchant to being a funny and smart naughty old auntie (I can say old as we are about the same age).
The row over one line from a BBC Radio 4 comedy shows us just how silly these bursts of outrage can become. In the 6.30pm comedy Heresy, in case you are not up to speed, Brand told presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell that she reckoned people who threw milkshakes at politicians were “pathetic”. She said: “Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?”
This was throwaway line in a comedy panel show based around saying heretical things. It’s wasn’t a manifesto or anything. And Brand made clear that she meant no such thing.
But Nigel Farage, UKIP ranter and shit-stirrer turned Brexit Party ranter and shit-stirrer, spotted an opening and another chance to promote himself.
This was a disgrace, he thunder-clapped, the police should investigate her for inciting hatred, and so on. This from a man who said he would pick up a rifle in defence of Brexit, a proposition that was both sinister and a little bit Dad’s Army the Brexit Brigade as paid for by shadowy right-wing millionaires and a raggle-taggle of deluded patriotic punters.
The comedian Tom Walker was a smart choice of talking head for Sky News. This is the man behind Jonathan Pie, the perpetually outraged TV news reporter.
In person, Walker is a toned-down version of his shouty alter-ego: less despairing bellow, the same underlying good sense. He said we should consider two things: context and intent. The context was a comedy panel show; you can hear people laughing, Walker said of the offending clip; it is a comedian telling a joke on a comedy show. As for intent, he said: “Do we honestly think Jo Brand wants us to throw acid on politicians’ faces?”
Er, no obviously – although the BBC has now removed the joke from catch-up versions of Heresy.
Even Richard Littlejohn, that rider of any passing right-wing wind, sticks up for Brand in the Daily Mail, of all the unlikely places. Well, he doesn’t stick up for her exactly, as he clearly can’t stand Brand, and calls her a hypocrite and all sorts. But he does defend her right to make jokes on a comedy panel show.
In one sense, this story shows how a media furore can be built from a small incident plucked out of context and shoved under the magnifying glass of outrage. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.