Rory Bremner's International Satirists, Radio 4
The Alps, Radio 4

When it comes to cynicism in satire, the Brits win hands down

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.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power