Как известно, главным победителем выборов стал избранный на должность лондонского мэра консервативный политик и журналист Борис Джонсон (Boris Johnson), у которого (прежде всего, из-за его участия в ряде телевизионных сатирических передач, да и шутить он горазд при каждом удобном и неудобном случае - в итоге стал чрезвычайно узнаваемым политиком) сложилась репутация несерьезного человека. В то же время главным проигравшим оказался премьер-министр Гордон Браун (Gordon Brown) - человек и политик преувеличенно серьезный, чтобы не сказать угрюмый. Лейбористы строили контпропагандистскую кампанию против избрания Джонсона именно на том, что нельзя выбирать на столь серьезный пост "клоуна", однако это оказалось неэффективным. Крейг Браун удивляется, что ряд поддерживающих лейбористов популярных комиков выступали против избрания "шутника" именно потому, что он шутник. Шутники же, как указывает цитируемый автор, бывают разные, в том числе и могущие должным образом делать серьезные дела. И публика, как показали итоги выборов, такой взгляд разделяет.
Впрочем, Джонсон и его советники предприняли особые усилия, чтобы вести свою кампанию в серьезном режиме - говорят, что из речей Джонсона все его фирменные шутки железной рукой вычеркивались. В то же время старания пиарщиков и спичрайтеров премьера смягчить его образ с помощью юмора - с тем, чтобы сделать его образ более человечным привели, кажется, к противоположному результату. Неорганичные для сурового премьера юморные домашние заготовки (что особенно проявляется в еженедельных перепалках с лидером оппозиции во время Prime Minister's Question Time в Палате Общин) только усиливают ощущение его прогрессирующей слабости и непопулярности. Маргарет Тэтчер (о сложных взаимоотношениях которой с юмором рассказывается в начале колонки) это понимала вполне.
Ну и высказывание любимого Честертона, приводимое автором в конце его колонки, невредно вспомнить: "the opposite of funny is not serious: the opposite of funny is not funny". Так что, может, и Джонсону не стоит становиться преувеличенно серьезным ради имиджевой серьезности как таковой...
Send in the clowns to public office
By Craig Brown
In John Campbell's excellent biography of Margaret Thatcher, there's an intriguing glimpse of her aides attempting to inject her with a sense of humour before the Conservative Party Conference of 1990.
The Liberal DeВmocrats have unveiled their new logo, which is a yellow "bird of freedom". In response, Mrs Thatcher's speechwriters have written a line comparing the bird to the dead parrot in the famous Monty Python sketch: "This is an ex-parrot. It is not merely stunned, it has ceased to be, expired...." and so forth.
It raises a laugh, but in a footnote, her political secretary John Whittingdale recalls: "the Prime Minister had not even heard of Monty Python.
'Are you sure this is funny?' she asked anxiously. She had to be shown the video, at which she set herself very professionally to master John Cleese's intonation. But she was still doubtful. 'Monty Python?'... 'Are you sure he's one of us?'?"
Politicians have always had an uneasy relationship with humour. For most of them, it's like an obnoxious member of staff billeted upon them from above: they know they are obliged to employ jokes, but they're never quite sure why.
Those without a sense of humour - and in this respect, Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher are like peas in a pod - find it desperately hard to counterfeit one. These days, there are few things more tense-making than having to watch Gordon Brown struggle through one of his scripted witticisms at Prime Minister's Questions.
In his enchanting new memoir Cold Cream, Ferdinand Mount remembers what he calls "the full horror" of the Thatcher speechwriting sessions, complete with Jeffrey Archer regularly promising the Prime Minister a wonderful joke that would absolutely make her speech.
The joke, neatly typed on cream writing paper, would then be brought over by Archer's chauffeur in his Jaguar.
"Five minutes later, he rang. 'Jeffrey here. What do you think of my joke?' 'It's wonderful, Jeffrey, the Prime Minister will love it.' In fact it was unusable, being too stale even for the undemanding standards of a party conference..." But the electorate, too, has odd, unresolved feelings towards the marriage of politics and comedy.
In the early days of Brown's premiership, everyone called him dour because he didn't smile or tell jokes. Yet he was popular. Over the course of that summer, his advisers gave him a crash-course in how to smile and tell jokes - and suddenly everyone went off him.
The reverse road, from funny to unfunny, is every bit as rocky. The day of the mayoral election, The Guardian ran a piece headed "Don't choose the clown!" in which a raggle-taggle collection of 34 different people - among them Vivienne Westwood, Bianca Jagger and Alan Rickman - queued up to say, in an oddly self-congratulatory way, just why they wouldn't be voting for Boris Johnson.
It seemed that Boris's joke-telling skills were the principal reason. "I'm happier with giving Ken another chance than I ever would be letting a joker like Johnson in," said someone called Ty, billed as a hip-hop artist.
"He's someone you'd want to invite round to dinner and laugh at - not someone you'd want in charge of London," said Dave, 24, a graphic designer. "London deserves something more serious," said the author Blake Morrison.
"Running London is an incredibly difficult job, and it seems blindingly obvious that one doesn't want a comedian doing it," said Diana Melly, widow of George. And so on.
Perversely, some comedians - Arabella Weir, David Mitchell - chose to denounce Boris for being a comedian. "Lovely to see other comedians getting work, but four years is a bit long for a comedy routine," declared Mitchell, without saying why.
From the sound of them, you'd have thought that Ken Dodd or Harry Hill were standing for Mayor, though I for one would vote for either of them like a shot, regardless of their views on bendy buses, etc.
I might even have been tempted to vote for Brian Paddick, purely on account of his strong facial and vocal resemblance to the comedian Chris Barrie, who starred as the goofy, management-speaking boss of a leisure centre in that very funny 1990s sitcom The Brittas Empire, but, alas, I don't have a vote in London.
By and large, politics has a detrimental effect on comedians, and vice versa. Politics aspires to rationality, comedy to irrationality. The politician must stop before he goes too far, whereas the comedian must go too far before he stops.
Most of the off-colour remarks by Boris Johnson, dutifully reprinted in The Guardian on Thursday, were originally written as jokes, to be sieved by the reader through various layers of exaggeration and irony and caricature before finally coming to settle.
For instance, his oft-quoted remark about piccaninnies: "It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies."
This would have been read at the time for what it was: a joke about the comfort Monarchs and Prime Ministers take from patronising the people of the Third World.
When Boris wrote, in the same article, of Blair's impending trip to the Congo, that "no doubt... the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird", he was employing the comedian's trick of parodying someone else's point of view.
Six years on, and transposed into the fun-free arena of politics, the very same words emerged shorn of nuance so that the po-faced could tut-tut to their hearts' content.
It's odd that comedians such as Ricky Gervais can make jokes involving foreigners or the disabled or paedophiles and everyone - even the most politically correct - will be happy to take them in the spirit intended.
Yet a politician, or politician-to-be, can make a much milder joke and the very same audience will immediately switch off their irony sensors, throw their hands up in horror, and shriek: "But that's not funny!"
Small wonder that Boris felt the need to run a joke-free campaign, in the hope that everyone would take him seriously. One imagines his advisers as the opposite of Mrs Thatcher's, hatchet-faced men grimly striking out anything that might be too amusing from his speeches.
"Boring Johnson" is his new nickname in Private Eye; "My Five Boring Pledges for a More Boring London by Boring Johnson" runs a headline.
But now that the dust has settled, we must hope that he will be let off the leash to joke away. As GK Chesterton once pointed out, the opposite of funny is not serious: the opposite of funny is not funny.