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Matthew Norman

Matthew Norman: Forget the punchline and the joke's on you, Kelvin


Seemingly unconvinced by his boss Rebekah Wade's bullish Cudlipp Lecture (of which more below), Kelvin MacKenzie looks to diversify.

As Pandora has reported, Kelvin has taken his first step along Ken Dodd Drive with an open mic spot at a London comedy club, which he says went slowly downhill after a promising start.

One assumes this can only be because he risked untried material rather than reprised the contents of his Sun column. Take his latest effort, in which he left inadequate recovery time after some quickfire Anglo-French wordplay ("the French have a good expression for the causes of the economic slump... raison debt") before launching a secondary assault on the ribcage with such sub-Denis Norden aperçus on life after turning 50 as "You learn never to take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night"; and "Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either".

Yet the coup de grâce came in a nearby item with the approving observation that Vince Cable didn't enter the Commons until 54, Kelvin calling for an MPs' age qualification of 40.

On reflection, perhaps Kelvin's comedy stylings – a joke about senescent amnesia juxtaposed with a clarion call to respect maturity; the self-parodic genius being, of course, that he can't remember what he's written 10 minutes after writing it himself – are too subtle for a live audience.

Then again, given his fabled struggle to recall from hour to hour whether he regrets his Hillsborough coverage or stands by every word, maybe he wasn't joking at all. Before accepting a booking at Liverpool's Comedy Central and unleashing his tickling stick on what might prove a spirited audience, he should simplify the act. A long and tattifilarious riff about early onset Alzheimer's is fine in principle, but not so hot if you forget the punchline.

Girth of a nation

The Daily Mail's girth fixation becomes so alarming that there simply isn't room in this section to catalogue every article from last week about slebs being too fat (Mutya from Celeb BB; Steve Wright) or too thin (the post-partum Natasha Kaplinsky). I will leave it to professors of journalism to locate the borderline between journalism and a full-blown OCD. And I won't dwell on the irony inherent in the bemused sympathy with which the Mail reported how a mother found her anorexic daughter dead, because there can be no stronger link between the cruel and incessant highlighting of body fat and that horrendous disease than between the Mail's championing of false research about the MMR jab causing autism and the dangerous epidemic of measles.

Switched on to grown-up radio

Congratulations to the Today programme on a sharp rise in its listening figures. The conventional wisdom cites interest in Obama and the desire to hear grown-up coverage of the economy for this, but a surge of items in which Jim Naughtie displayed his knowledge of garden birds and their songs cannot be discounted. Also enjoying a rise in numbers is TalkSport. Doubtless it would have been more vertical had I not done a few presentational stints there myself, but it is useful enough all the same. The figures for the mid-morning show are particularly good, the audience growing by 55,000, or a little over 10 per cent, since the contentious departure of a presenter whose name for now escapes me.

Taking sides on Gaza

Succour for the beleaguered Mark Thompson comes from two welcome sources. Jon Gaunt is so impressed with the D-G's typically courageous refusal to broadcast that Gaza appeal that he leads his Sun column with congrats before issuing the ritual demand for the end of the licence fee. Meanwhile, Mad Mel Phillips performs the same sleight of hand, using praise for the wisest decision the BBC has taken since commissioning a second series of Tittybangbang as the launch pad for a typically thoughtful polemic on the corporation's outrageous partisanship. Mark must be prouder than ever. What a bang-up job the man is doing.

Exclusively yours – eight times

Never has the competition for Daily Mirror Exclusive of the Week been so ferocious. Last Thursday alone brought 10 cracking scoops, and while I could count only eight on Friday it is to one of this octet, aptly enough, that the prize goes. To speculate on how the Mirror came by the exclusive "8 Babies! I thought I had it hard", in which one Julie McCaffrey spoke of raising new-born triplets, would be to risk letting daylight in on magic. So let's just wish Julie, currently on maternity leave from her job at the Daily Mirror, all the best with her babes, and leave it there.

Original thinking, Rebekah

Finally, as promised, to Rebekah Wade, whose Cudlipp Lecture was such a powerful rebuke to those of us tempted towards pessimism about the business. Although conceding that things aren't easy right now, a cheery Rebekah made the thrillingly fresh observation that people have been writing off newspapers for centuries.

This is a brilliant point. After all, it's not as if we're experiencing the first violent cultural shift away from the printed word, is it? If we were, we might be in a spot of bother. But we're not, so everyone should relax. And when Rebekah tells us that the way to secure that future is through the commitment to original journalism, who can fail to be stirred by that?

So we thank her for the morale boost, and would ask the PCC to be gentle as it investigates the apparently fictitious Sun splash, lifted wholesale from a news wire, about the targeting of Sir Alan Sugar and other prominent British Jews by Islamic extremists.