Michael Moore, The Palladium, London

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The Independent Culture

"Let's go get rid of Bush and Blair!'' is Michael Moore's parting message at the end of this "talk". Someone who hadn't seen the rest of the show would be forgiven for thinking that it had been an evening of rabble-rousing demagogy. Moore risks irritating people by taking on such airs. The tone of parts of his two bestsellers, Stupid White Men and Dude, Where's My Country?, and of previous shows he's done veers dangerously close to emotional manipulation. As satirist-cum- activist, he steers a tricky path between wit and arrogance.

Happily, tonight he steers it well, playing to his strengths as a humorist. He starts with the classic stand-up strategy of attacking the most entertaining issue of the day - Prince Charles - by responding to heckles about his lateness with: "Well, there are rumours, but I can't tell you what they are." He then attempts to tie up the Orange sponsorship banner - contrived, but amusing.

Michael Moore can resort to very basic humour to grab his audience: "Bush is an idiot!" he exclaims at one point. But this crass declaration gets a huge laugh, and leads into what is actually an astute, if not original argument that Blair's support of the attack on Iraq is more reprehensible than Bush's.

Moore's talent is in steering popular indignation or derision at world leaders towards more intelligent analysis, while using what is largely the language of the pub: "I have racked my brain here, trying to work out why Blair did this..." One may wonder how false this naivety is, but it is effective.

At other points, the weakness of Moore's political attitude shows. He is essentially a moderate hoping for a democratic victory at the next presidential election. He doesn't think the British centre-left should be so scared of the Tories: "They're not coming back, OK!" But he can't answer a heckler's remark that "plenty of people still vote Tory, they just don't come to your shows!".

Continually invoking his own success as evidence that most Americans agree with him, he appears excessively optimistic. Lucky, then, that he's got great comic timing and a fine absurdist sense of humour. Denmark should "lose its right to be Scandinavian" as punishment for supporting the war. Howard Dean is "not that liberal - he supports the death penalty".

Moore is often accused of being smug or hypocritical. But he's not pretending to be anything he isn't. Highly media- savvy, he knows popularity in today's world depends on brand identity, and makes much of his own persona accordingly. His appearance as a fat American in a baseball cap is part of a strategy that says, "you don't have to be a wacko lefty to be up in arms about this stuff". It may irritate middle-class Brits, but it's clearly working.

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