Mitch Benn and the art of satire...
It really is the best of times and the worst of times for satire, laments musical satirist Mitch Benn who plays Shoreham's Ropetackle on Friday, May 11 at 8pm.
“It’s the best time ever because there is so much to talk about,” Mitch says, “but it’s the worst time ever because it is just stuff that you really wouldn’t want to talk about!”
Mitch resists the suggestion that satirists absolutely love it when we pass through difficult, troubled times.
“If the passport to my children growing up in a safe and happy world is that I have got to think just a little bit harder about coming up with satire, then that is a price I am very happy to pay. Don’t forget that satirists have also got to live in the world that they poke fun at. We are stuck in exactly the same world.
“We are living through, shall we say, interesting times, but we are all still stuck in the same world together. This is certainly a very fruitful time for satirical comedy, but I would really rather it wasn’t!”
But isn’t satire about trying to change things for the better?
Mitch isn’t so sure.
“I don’t know if comedy is a concerted effort to change things or just a visceral reaction. I don’t know whether Peter Cook was actively trying to bring Harold Macmillan down with Beyond The Fringe or whether he just found Macmillan so ridiculous that he could not resist doing a silly impression.
“It might be that satire is just a reaction to silliness. Our response to the ridiculous is to laugh at it. Our response to people that take themselves too seriously is to try to rip their trousers off. It is not necessarily a valiant quest to expose hypocrisy and undermine pomp and pretentiousness. It’s just perhaps the natural way we react to it.”
And that’s why Mitch believes laughter is always legitimate – even when faced with truly-worrying developments. As he says, in parts of the world we are now seeing the re-emergence and rise of genuine Nazism.
Mitch advocates the response the British took in World War Two when a film of marching Nazis was rolled forwards and backwards to the tune of the Lambeth Walk (search Propaganda Film That Outraged Hitler – The Lambeth Walk on YouTube).
Mitch sees it as exactly the right approach. The creator of it was sentenced to death in his absence by the Nazis. It had its effect on them.
“We can and we should laugh at these people. People say you shouldn’t laugh at these things; you should take them seriously. But I think you should laugh and that you can still take them seriously. You can poke fun at it while still recognising the seriousness of it.
“And I think that is actually one of the most admirable things about the British character, that we have an instinct to do exactly that. We are just very good at taking the (mickey), and I think that is something that we should be really, really proud of.”
Mitch has been on the road since February with the current show, an extended version of his Edinburgh show from last year: “Obviously it has bedded in, but it is evolving all the time. You can’t help it. Anything that you do live will depend on the venue, on the crowd, on the mood of the people when you get in there. Sometimes you get a very contemplative crowd and you can’t just hit them with rock ‘n’ roll straight away.
“What I am doing probably bridges the gap between being a stand-up and doing a one-man show. It is still stand-up in the fact that the response is generated by the audience.”
For other stories by Phil, see: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2