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(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)