Is Simon Brodkin Funny?


Theresa May’s conference speech raised an important question this year. Is Simon Brodkin funny?

The prankster, also known as Lee Nelson, (the persona he adopts for television), offered her a P45 from Boris during the speech. It was, at best, a weak joke, reliant upon the embarrassment it caused for its humour.  Brodkin has staged a number of such high-profile stunts. He threw dollar bills over Sepp Blatter and handed out Nazi golf balls at a Trump golf event. Most of the comment that he caused related to Mrs May’s security rather than the humour of the prank.

There is nothing new about Brodkin’s act. Dennis Pennis had an identical routine, handing a Magnum ice lolly to Clint Eastwood and claiming it was the most powerful ice lolly in the world amongst other set piece pranks. The humour is derived from the reaction of the high-profile victim, which is often underwhelming. It also relies upon the premise that the audience is in on the joke which the victim is unaware of.

So, is it political satire, and therefore worthy of our respect?

Mrs May’s recent performance does lead to questions about her future which the P45 alludes to. In many ways Boris was also a victim of the prank. He looked mortified and unhappy that the prank involved him, for obvious reasons. But is that enough to elevate the prank to the level of satire?

Probably not. For one thing the prank seems tame in comparison to the more shocking displays put on by the far-left outside conference. Their hanging mannequins from bridges with the words “Hang Tories” emblazoned below them are far more shocking than Brodkin’s P45. The spitting and hurling of abuse outside the gates makes Brodkin’s act seem almost polite by comparison. If it is satire it is watered down.

In addition, both the target and the prank seem strangely conventional. There is nothing really original about the premise of the prank. It merely apes the commentary in the media that constantly speculates about Mrs May’s future. If it proved anything it was the level of restraint that the British Police bring to securing political events. One wonders whether an American version of Brodkin’s routine would have ended up with the comedian being shot for his troubles.

The questions it raises about security will largely go unanswered. Party conferences are by their very nature loosely staged events. Brodkin had the necessary pass to attend conference and, in a hall of as many people, it is impossible to ensure nobody moves in an unexpected manner at any point. It is impossible to appear on stage in front of a live audience without leaving open the possibility that someone from that audience might make it to the stage.

In many ways the reason that Brodkin’s prank exists at all is the current belief that saying anything unpleasant about Tories is a substitute for saying something funny. Current yah boo sucks comedy on radio and television falls into the trap set by alternative comics that shouting ‘Thatcher’ is the same as being amusing. It is impossible to imagine a similar prank being played at any other party conference with the possible exception of UKIP. Brodkin was not challenging any preconceptions when he did what he did, he was merely playing along with the current zeitgeist.

There is much about Mrs May’s premiership that can properly be satirised. It is hard to see how Brodkin’s act really achieves much in the way of satirising her. His prank merely stood in the way of a serious analysis of her speech, which appeared to take an Ed Millibandesque tone, concentrating on council housing and capping energy prices. In the end Mrs May’s coughing fit was as disrupting as Brodkin’s prank itself.

Overall then we can say that it is a sorry time for political satire if Brodkin represents its current state. His juvenile humour is, sadly, not funny. In this way he commits the cardinal offence of any comedian by just not getting a laugh. Given the high-profile nature of his stunt it is a shame that it was unfunny. Maybe the time has come for comedians to look at themselves and see if they are doing their jobs properly. Lampooning politicians falls flat if no one is laughing. Time for a new approach? Possibly.