Rory Bremner's International Satirists, Radio 4
The Alps, Radio 4
When it comes to cynicism in satire, the Brits win hands down
Sunday 14 March 2010
I went right off Rory Bremner one Saturday morning a while back when he was on Radio 2 with Mark Lamarr, who was standing in for Jonathan Ross.
They played the Johnny Cash version of John Lennon's "In My Life", and Bremner came over all sniffy. "I prefer to hear the correct notes," he said, or something similar, which I thought was missing the point in spectacular fashion. I gave him another chance, though, with the first of a three-parter on satire in different countries, Rory Bremner's International Satirists, in which he talked to the Dutch comedian Hans Teeuwen.
Teeuwen – for whom life suddenly got serious in 2004 when his friend Theo van Gogh was shot dead by an Islamic nutcase for daring to suggest that Muslim women get a bum deal – comes from the Dutch cabaretier tradition, which has lots of music and poetry and storytelling. They do satire, but not like the British. Liesbet van Zoonen, a media studies professor (and what a lovely job), made the comparison: Brits are sharper, meaner and more cynical. Dutch satire "is not meant to bring politicians down – that viciousness you find in British comedy. I've never seen that in the Netherlands". I must say, it made me feel proud of my comedic countrymen.
Teeuwen, who says that putting politics into his act would "break the spell of surrealism and fantasy", is likened to Bill Hicks and Andy Kaufman; on the evidence in the programme I'd say more the latter. A routine about his father trying to teach a rabbit to speak seemed to leave the audience baffled. "You have to keep on a little longer," he told Bremner, "then someone breaks and they take the rest with them." I'm not sure how well served he was by the clips chosen; the funniest line was: "I had sex with a water buffalo a few weeks ago. Never again. What put me off most was the feeling of indifference I felt coming from the animal."
There weren't many laugh-out-loud bits in the first of Misha Glenny's three-part exploration of The Alps – "an icy semi-circle of teeth biting off Italy from the north". But it was interesting stuff, not least the revelation that they are actually a bit of Africa, formed by the crashing together of tectonic plates, ripples from which collision can be seen today in our South Downs.
Though the Alps form a barrier between northern and southern Europe, Glenny made the point that their passes act as funnels for trade: Venice, for example, wouldn't have become the commercial powerhouse it once was without the Brenner Pass, across which silver flowed from German mines. But they did divide Europe as well: in 1494 the French king Charles the Affable dragged 40 cannons over the peaks (well, his men did), and found in Italy "a refinement of civilisation unknown to the north". He liked it so much he conquered it. As for Napoleon, Jacques-Louis David pictured him negotiating the peaks on a magnificent white charger. A nice bit of painterly spin: he actually made the trip sitting on a mule.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 All Blacks Aaron Cruden misses New Zealand flight after drinking session, has brilliant excuse
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': TV reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 Clothes store Joy angers mental health campaigners with Twitter exchange on bipolar disorders
- 5 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Downton Abbey series 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
New Tricks: Dennis Waterman to leave drama after a decade of crime-solving
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'