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What’s Question Time Like and Why Have I Always Wanted to Do It?
Early into my career as a stand-up comedian, I won a competition for new comics. The previous year the prize was £1,000, a serious chunk of change for someone who at that point was lucky to get petrol money for a gig. Naturally, the year I won, the cash prize was abolished and replaced with a consolation 2-hour private comedy lesson with an industry expert.
When I turned up for the lesson, the first question she asked me was “Where do you want this to take you? What does success look like?”. Without thinking (and therefore without hesitation) I said “it looks like me appearing on Question Time”. An uncomfortable silence ensued, with much of the rest of the lesson spent on her trying to persuade me that comedy isn’t the route to what I want.
To my disappointment, I would later learn that this attitude and the beliefs that underpin it, is dominant in the British comedy industry. The people who inspired me to get into comedy like George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Rory Bremner were, as it turns out, a minority in an industry that would have quite happily forgotten they ever existed.
The industry view is that to have opinions as a comedian is divisive. Even the woke nonsense that most comics spout nowadays is more performative pandering than genuinely held beliefs. Mocking working class pensioners for voting Brexit or straight white men for… well, being straight white men, is done not out of some genuine political conviction but because it gets a cheap laugh and, even more importantly, because it appeals to the progressive sensibilities of the people who run the comedy industry and have the power to help or hinder your career.
As a result, political comedians and satirists with the audacity to express a unique view through comedy (which is what I naively thought comedy was all about) are treated as annoying eccentrics. In the words of the comedy teacher: “Stop trying to say something - comedy is just entertainment for drunk people”.
But as someone who grew up in Soviet Russia and who saw what happens to society when authoritarians like Vladimir Putin shut down satirical programmes which might deflate their ego, I refuse to believe that the sole purpose of humour is to come up with the best dick joke since the last one. I refuse to believe that the only way comedy can be done is to make other people feel good by mocking yourself for how fat, stupid and ugly you are. Even as a club comedian playing to rowdy Saturday night crowds I refused to pretend that all they want is sexual innuendo and clever observations about the latest reality TV garbage.
I crave comedy that makes you think as well as laugh and that’s what I tried to do:
And so, many years on from that invaluable lesson, a couple of weeks ago I found myself on Question Time after all. What was it like?
Well, like all TV, it seems much bigger and grander on the screen than it does in real life. At the end of the day, it’s a few people talking in front of an audience of a few more people. At least that’s what my brain kept telling me on the way to the venue and right up until the programme started.
Even though I was extremely calm before the show and during the warm-up discussion (they do one question that isn’t broadcast before the show begins), once it had started my mental calmness remained but by the time it was my turn to answer the first question my entire body had seized up. You likely wouldn’t have noticed but between contributions I had to physically force myself to breathe. Eventually these efforts succeeded and the rest of the programme flew by in what felt like seconds.
As a fierce critic of the mainstream media, I was somewhat reassured that the programme is clearly made by intelligent, well-meaning people. They’re all Anywheres, of course, and that is likely where the blindspots come from, but to an outsider like me, it is comforting to know that people who make Question Time watch TRIGGERnometry to find potential guests. Sure, for now, the slot they’re likely filling is from what a friend calls the Dial-a-Cunt List but at least there is some hope that this could change over time.
I was told that Question Time has a long-standing post-show curry tradition, which is likely one of the reasons my TRIGGERnometry co-host Francis agreed to tag along, but on this occasion, likely due to COVID regulations which they are still taking seriously for reasons unknown even to them, we were treated to Domino’s pizzas to his visible disappointment.
All in all, a worthwhile experience that I look forward to repeating if only to see which body part refuses to function next time.