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Scrolling down FB I saw this on a friend’s post: “Stop comparing it to the rise of Hitler. We are in a different age. Social media, tv and information is readily available. We are not going to wake up one morning and want to ethnically cleanse the earth.”

Neither did the Germans, of course.

They wanted to restore order to their country in the aftermath of a huge economic shock. They wanted to right the wrongs they felt were done to them after the end of the First World War. They wanted motorways and Volkswagens and huge Olympic ceremonies, and to be respected in the world again. They wanted to take their country back from the liberals and put on a show of strength. They wanted to take back control. They wanted to make Germany great again.

And, in order to do it, they were willing to overlook some anti-semitism. And then some more. And then some more.

Of course there were virulent antisemites in the party, but there were also those who liked most of the package of what Nazism offered, and ignored those bits they didn’t like. I’m rereading Victor Klemperer’s diaries and he tells a story about how they are having friends over to dinner who say, knowing Klemperer is Jewish, they’ve joined the Nazis. They are educated, employed academics, personal friends with Jews who feel “Everything has gone wrong. Now we have to try this.”

That’s why it’s important to keep our eyes open now.

When politicians offer strength, and confidence and religious bars to citizenship and ends to freedoms of movement and religion and the media is full of hateful rhetoric for religious or racial or marginalised groups, and when hate crimes rise and there are fascists on the verge of being elected across the world, when the nationalists and nativists and far-right are on the march, let’s be careful.

Even if we really, really want that Volkswagen.

(Politicians Telling Jokes is an occasional series devoted to politicians telling jokes. The first is here.)

Jeremy Corbyn opened with a gag. After a fractious conference, an attempt to unseat him, and the publication of a book the central comic premise of which is that Jeremy Corbyn can’t tell jokes (The Little Red Book Of Corbyn Jokes which is very, very good and something you should definitely go and buy), he opened with a gag.

Let’s see how he did.

The answer is surprisingly well.

The first thing that works about the joke is the context. After a year of seeming awkward, earnest and humourless, the challenge was to change that perception.

It’s was also a self-deprecating joke about one of his most notable recent cock-ups, and having the confidence to do it so soon after a leadership election is a good move. By making a joke of it, he’s deprived Theresa May of the opportunity to do a similar in her speech next week, as well as defusing the issue. It was a good joke made at the right time.

In terms of delivery, he’s improved hugely since last year. He genuinely seems to understand the structure of the joke and is prepared to give a long pause before he trundles on to the punchline. Again, it seems hugely confident.

Which is where the writing lets him down.

We all know what the joke’s going to be at 00:09. He knows it, the audience know it, they’re laughing. He could quite easily have stopped there and let a gesture do the rest.

Instead, however, he gives a punchline that neither raises the stakes or changes the imagery to get a bigger laugh, nor flips it to make a political point.

For me, the biggest disappointment is the repetition of the word “hall”. First, it’s a terrible word to try and get a laugh from, an echoing, empty syllable that’s all aspirated and labialised without any nice, crunchy consonants to cling onto.

It’s also displeasingly vague. “Foyer,” “narthex,” “vestibule”. None of these work contextually, but all are funnier words for “part of a hall”. Picking a specific place would have worked, especially if it reinforced some of the facts from the story. Even “They’ve told me there are 800 seats in first class” would have worked. It would have added a surreal element, but the idea of a Labour conference having a first class section is a nice one and gives you room to play.

So, can we get more specific or just more funny? The simplest fix, I think, would be just to make it “They’ve told me there are 800 seats up the back.”

It’s a nice final consonant to end on, avoids the repetition, gives you a nice rhythm to attack at the end, and is slightly more conversational.

Leave your suggestions for better punchlines in the comments below.

(Natt Tapley teaches this stuff with TTW Training)

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We’ve got a show coming up. Ahem.

It’s traditional at this point to write a thing about how it’s going to be the best show in town that night, and you should drop everything to go and see it. But I can’t write that. Because we’re not the best show in town that night.

We’re not even the best show at the Leicester Square Theatre that night.

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Playing in the main house, when we’re in the Lounge is Barry Crimmins. If you haven’t heard of Barry, go and watch Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary about him right now. It’s on Netflix. you have no excuse.

See?

He’s going to be amazing. If I weren’t in a show approximately thirty feet below him at the time, I’d definitely be going to see his show. Because it’s going to be brilliant, and angry, and a life-affirming experience.

So, we’re definitely not the best thing on there that night.

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And then Bridget Christie’s on. She’s almost guaranteed to be better and more thoughtful and more worth telling your friends you’ve seen than us.

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Oh, and Will bloody Franken’s on. One of the most naturally-gifted character comics you’ll ever see will be on a stage close enough for you to touch his mad brilliance.

So we’re possibly the fourth best show at the Leicester Square Theatre this weekend.

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Except that Aatif is excellent, too…

God, this is depressing.

Not that ours isn’t brilliant. It is. It’s a life-affirming hour of Wombles, Rumbelowses, ruminations on the philosophy of lookaliking, OHP shadow theatre, and a lots and lots of jokes.

It’s also short enough that you can see it and then go on and do something else.

Like seeing one of those other shows.

Buy your tickets here!

 

Defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word!

Mrs Thatcher said that at the beginning of the Falklands War. Which was brave, because in most situations, as you’re going into a war, you’d at least want a leader who knew the meaning of basic military terminology.

We can only imagine her wild confusion on learning the Argentinians had suffered huge defeats.

She’s been dead for years now, and yet – here I am – still yammering on about Thatcher, uselessly thrashing at her corpse with the pathetic fronds of what passes for wit in this benighted ago.

I’m doing another show about her at the end of the month.

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I told a friend and they asked me why I was doing another show about Thatcher. I said I didn’t think I did that many shows about Thatcher. They pointed out that every show I’ve done since 2009 has featured Margaret Thatcher in some form or another.

I even did a seance for her.

They wondered if it wasn’t a bit creepy, if I wasn’t just making money out of the misery of a demented, helpless, vulnerable old lady. I think that’s what she would have wanted.

But yes, from The Thatcher Seance to the recounting of her final minutes in The Bowler Debates, she’s always been there, hovering, like a vulture. Like a vulture with less compassion than other vultures.

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In everything I write, in everything I do, it seems like the big problem we’re addressing is Thatcher. A dead woman who hasn’t been in power for a quarter of a century.

And yet we’ve got someone trying out their best Thatcherisms at PMQs. We’ve got a Labour Party ready to split, ready to be led by a Welsh nonentity that no-one really cares for…

It’s like she’s reaching out from beyond the grave, demanding we pay her theatrical tribute, refusing to die until we’ve exorcised her from ourselves.

But it’s not like anyone even comes. Last time we did this show we had six people at one performance at The Hen & Chickens.

It’s enough to make you want to stop flogging that dead person.

It’s enough to make you give up.

But then I remember.

Defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word…

Book your tickets for Margaret Thatcher & The Buster Merryfield Resemblance here.

At the end of June, I wrote a passive-aggressive poem about Southern Rail and put it on the internet. Then BBC South made a video of it, which got more than 2 million views and it’s been on Radio 4’s You And Yours, and all sorts of local news programmes. People keep coming here looking for it, and I’ve just realised that they won’t find it if they do.

In case you haven’t heard it, here’s The Ballad Of Southern Rail


 

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Some friends and I have just set up a training company, to teach business people (and others) how to speak in public. We’re a television presenter, an actor, a comedian, and someone who teaches people to win pitches for a living who are tired of seeing people whose job involves speaking for a living doing that job less well than they should. Also, we want them to give us pots of cash.

In that spirit, then,  here are 4 tips for Theresa May, to help her improve her joke-telling style.

When she launched her leadership campaign, you may have heard that she told a “hilarious joke”. It was certainly a well-written joke, but was it hilarious?

The squelch and crunch on “nearly new water cannon” is delightful, the set up is well-weighted, but a joke (in this context) consists of both content and performance, and her performance of the joke could be bumped up with a few simple steps. I think it’s fair to say that her delivery is a disgrace to the words she is uttering and she should never be allowed near a joke again. Unless she heeds the following tips…

  1. At least try to pretend that you’re happy to be telling a joke. At 00:29 your demeanour changes entirely. The breathing becomes quicker, you start looking down at notes to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing, your tell-tale lower mouth discomfort-twitch becomes more pronounced. Breathe. Relax. You’re about to tell a joke. What’s the worst that could happen? It could bomb and the nation’s media could turn on you for ill-considered flippancy thus scuppering your hopes to become Prime Minister, and leaving your career at the mercy of one of the people you’re standing against. But APART FROM THAT.
  2. Don’t gabble. This is related to the point above, and is one of the nervous tics that being confident in telling your joke will help resolve. You almost kill this joke by running over “last time he did a deal with the Germans” which are all important words that help “three nearly new water cannon” land. Without that phrase it’s a much weaker gag. We can all see in your eyes that you wish you weren’t having to tell this joke, but you do. You’re standing there, so give it every chance of life by making the whole thing audible.
  3. Eye contact. In the first 29 seconds, where you’re not telling a joke you look down twice, both times at the ends of sentences of phrases so it seems natural. In the ten seconds you’re telling the joke you also look down twice, this time in the middle of sentences, which makes it look like you’re thinking about bailing on the joke. Don’t Commit to it. And try to keep the desperate pleading for a response out of your eyes when you look up at the end.
  4. Revel in your joke. Well done. You’ve told a joke. In this case the laugh seems slightly delayed, probably because it wasn’t a context in which people were expecting a joke and your body language didn’t cue them to the fact that you had told one. But once they are laughing, let them laugh. Seem to enjoy it. Don’t crash the laugh by rushing on when you have a second in which to enjoy it. After all, you might not get many of those in the months and years to come…

TTW Training is available to whack your business leaders’s words into shape here

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This all feels a little redundant now.

I was going to say this felt like a pretty simple choice between principles and practicalities.

I was going to say that the principle of less-opaque government, closer and more responsive to the people it serves was a good one, and an important one.

I was going to say that when a decision will have a material impact on your quality of life, it’s entirely valid to choose to vote based on that rather than on principle.

I was going to ask how the people who boasted of watching Suffragette with their daughters were going to explain the fact that they were trying to make sure that the votes the Pankhursts fought for meant less and less.

I was going to ask the warriors for freedom from the tyranny of the state how they could justify leaving the only organisation that guarantees the free movement of people and things across state borders,without state interference.

I was going to point out that small businesses producing ebooks and digital products – the sort of low-overhead businesses of innovation we should be encouraging – were being killed by the VATMOSS rules, which lowered the VAT threshold to, effectively, zero for anyone selling  a PDF of their self-published novel within the EU.

I was going to point out that a couple of weeks of Brexit speculation had wiped more off the FTSE than years of EU membership would have cost.

I was going to cast a disparaging side-eye over intelligent people who claimed there was no difference in how democratic the EU is compared to how democratic the United Kingdom is.

I was going to cast a disparaging side-eye over people complaining about a ‘democratic deficit’ who have never once complained about the House of Lords or a monarch who vetoes bills she doesn’t like before they even get to the House of Commons.

I was going to point out that you’re not reclaiming your sovereignty when you intend on giving it straight to an actual sovereign.

I was going to explain that a bigger constituency means that your vote is worth less (something the same people I’d have explained it to seemed to understand when the Tories were planning on ditching 50 MPs and making each constituency bigger).

I was going to explain that I’d never really found any compelling argument that Britain was the ideal-sized unit in which democracy should reside.

I was going to bemoan the fact that the RemaIN side seemed dull and technocratic and seemed to accept the EU as a necessary evil rather than making a positive, European case for a more-hopeful future.

I was going to bemoan the fact that the Brexit camp had the inescapable whiff of a mid-life crisis, its rhetoric a tubby husband who resents having to go to work all day whilst living with a wife who’s gone off him and children who barely notice him. A man who, holding his stomach in in the mirror, remembers when he had a full head of hair and there was that girl at that party and once he spent a whole weekend smoking weed and listening to Derek and Clive and he’s sure he could have all that again. A man who believes that moving out and finding himself a flat and making a new start and really having a proper conversation with the girl in the sandwich shop will sort his life out once and for all.

I was going to make the case that no one has mentioned the fact that British foreign policy was, for hundreds of years, the maintenance of a balance of power in Europe. We meddled, we made alliances, we got involved in wars, just to make sure that the French and the Germans never made an alliance of which we weren’t part. We recognised – Wellington recognised, Churchill recognised, every statesman for centuries recognised –  that a united Europe, with Britain on the outside is the most grave threat to its existence. And we are preparing to give up our foremost foreign policy aim for no distinguishable benefit. Not only that, we’re doing it because we’re afraid there will be more integration, a common foreign policy, a common defense policy, the very situation we could both prevent and ameliorate the worst effects of if we were in the EU. To give away a United States of Europe of which the UK isn’t a part seems foolish, short-sighted and potentially suicidal.

I was going to point out that Tony Benn and Bob Crow all made solid, left-wing arguments for leaving the EU.

I was going to point out that they were both dead, and instead we had Farage and Johnson and Gove.

I was going to say that pointing to all the good things the EU has done for us which we wouldn’t have had otherwise is implicitly mistrustful of democracy and your fellow citizens. It is a failure of the left that they have not made the case compellingly enough that the people of Britain haven’t demanded them at the ballot box.

I was going to say that pointing to the pressure on public services and blaming it on immigration was simply a canard, and a dangerous one. The provision of infrastructure is the job of government and if there aren’t enough hospitals or schools it’s not the fault of the people in the hospitals or schools, it’s the fault of a government that prioritises reducing inheritance tax over building schools, and building HS2 over building hospitals.

I was going to say that the example of the Lisbon Treaty, whipped up to avoid referendums on a new constitution after France and Ireland rejected a new constitution, but consisting of most of the same things a new constitution would,  showed how resistant it was to reform.

I was going to say that given the structure of Article 50, which will make the two-year negotiation process as difficult as possible for any country that wants to leave, and before the conclusion of which no trade agreements can be negotiated, reforming the EU from within and exacting concessions from within (Thatcher’s rebate, Major’s EU opt-out, Blair’s Schengen exemption, Cameron’s rejection of “ever-closer union”) is much more likely to succeed than attempting an amicable separation.

I was going to note the irony of being suddenly lectured by those who had previously been fiscal conservatives on a trade deficit being a good thing because “they want to sell things to us.”

I was going to say that this wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as evidenced by the fact that – for many people – it’s the second time in their life they’re getting to make this decision.

I was going to say that question is not “Is the EU in its current form a good organisation?” but “Do you – right now and under these circumstances, on a fixed timetable – think Britain should invoke Article 50 and start the process of leaving the EU?”

I was going to say that you have to vote for the campaign you get, not the one you wish you’d had, and a vote for something carries an implicit approval of its campaign.

I was going to point out that the Vote Leave posters had finally shoved me firmly into the RemaIN camp. The nudges and winks and sly undertones of arguments and posters about Turks were appealing to the worst in human nature, a campaign of undisguised race-baiting and division, and one in which I – in good conscience – could not reward with my vote.

I was going to point out that saying you wanted to leave the EU because we didn’t want “our noses rubbed in diversity”, the fact that the background for the Vote Leave website’s header is MIGRATION in tabloid type, and the outright lies told about the proportion of migration that is from within the EU (more than half is from outside) was turning this from a campaign about the way in which we’re governed into a nasty, septic flirtation with nationalism.

And then yesterday happened.

So I think we have to face up to what the practical implications of a Brexit vote are.

Very simply, if we vote to leave, that will have immediate, practical consequences, and to pretend they will not happen or do not matter is to wash our hands one too many times in my view.

Simply, a victory for the Leave campaign with strengthen the in-party positions of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

Both Johnson and Farage are in the middle on an inter-party struggle for power.

Farage is desperate to keep control of the party, away from the more libertarian positions of the Carswells. He is unashamed about stoking racial tensions to cement his position (he doesn’t like hearing foreign languages on the train, he doesn’t want his nose rubbed in diversity, and he doesn’t want Romanians moving in next door), to the point where he will happily stand in front of a poster that recreates Nazi propaganda to stoke fear about refugees. He’s had to fight off challenges from within the party (and demoted Suzanne Evans because he disagreed with her), but a vote for Leave will cement his position atop the UKIP dunghill for the foreseeable future.

(Here’s a quick reminder: UKIP Welsh Assembly Member Neil Hamilton walked around the Reichstag giving Hitler salutes when he visited as an MP and also gave speeches to Italian neo-fascists in the late 1960s.)

Whether or not Boris “grinning piccaninnies with watermelon smiles” Johnson would make it to the party membership vote for party leader we don’t know, but we do know that his position has been immensely strengthened with them by his visible leadership of the Leave campaign.

We also know that he doesn’t mean what he says. His own great-grandfather was Turkish and he made a very effective documentary about Turkey’s role in developing the idea of civilisation and why it should be allowed into the EU.

Now he rails against the swarthy Turk, beefing over here with his hairy forearms to do unmentionable things to our green sward. And being a venal and empty spouter of whatever’s convenient isn’t perhaps the worst thing in the world, except that in this case he’s deliberately stoking the most dangerous of tensions (without any belief in their truth)  for political gain.

And, of course, on day after the referendum, Donald Trump will arrive in Britain. If we’ve voted to leave he will claim it as a great personal victory: “It was always my opinion. I have some great opinions. Let me tell you, opinion-wise I’m a very wise man. I know all the opinions. Huge opinions.”

This referendum has been characterised, on the whole, by the things we don’t know: the economic effect of leaving, how EU citizens living here now would be affected, what the process would be.

But we do know this:

A vote to leave will have the immediate, practical effect of putting two of Britain’s political parties, and a great round of coverage on American television networks, into the hands of men who are unafraid to flirt with fascism, nationalism, and racism.

So I’m voting to remain. And I hope you will, too.

 

 

In the intro to this, Ian McMillan says: “In ten years’ time we’ll remember this play.”

I’d forgotten about it until I turned up an old CD when clearing out the shed. So, for Natt completists, here it is…

 

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