The Week on Radio: When Hardy turns softy

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The Independent Online
The big problem about being an angry young man - or, indeed, woman - is knowing what to do when you're not so young any more. Occasionally, a young man will stay angry, like John Osborne, who well into middle age seethed at a pitch that few of us rarely achieve even momentarily. For most, though, as the imperfections of world and self seep in, it's easier just to mellow. And this seems to be what's happening to Jeremy Hardy.

Not very long ago he was one of the tetchiest comedians around, incandescent with loathing for the political right and contempt for the complacent centre; the last series but one of Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation supposedly provoked more complaints than any other programme on Radio 4 that year. A right-wing Labour government ought to have stoked him up to new frenzies.

Power and How to Get It (R4, Wed) contains its share of anti-Blair jokes - among the issues he promises to tackle in this series is "How a Tory politician gets to be leader [significant pause] ... of the Labour Party"; but the whole thing feels dispiritingly off the boil.

Partly, this is because Hardy is disconcerted by the business of interviewing. A little too much of the programme consists of disclaimers and confessions of incompetence - so that when John Nott, defence secretary during the Falklands War, tells him that the war did this country a great deal of good, we hear Hardy in voice-over apologising for failing to put the obvious follow-up question, viz, what good was that?

But this itself is a symptom of how Hardy has lost his edge. He is no longer propelled forwards by indignation; lacking that momentum, many of his jokes hang limp in the air - quips are stuck on to a topic, rather than developing from it.

I'm in danger of overdoing the disappointment here: he is still funnier and far more politically astute than most other contemporary comics; but this is below par.

Fortunately, there are still comics with reserves of fury to draw on. Chris Morris, the darkling prankster of On the Hour, sacked from his Radio 1 solo show after announcing the deaths of, inter alia, Jimmy Savile and Michael Heseltine, is back, as chilly and acid as ever. His new project is called Blue Jam - one of his less appealing trademarks is a tendency to come up with phrases (another was "infinite misery jumper") that sound like early Seventies progressive rock groups.

Blue Jam (R1, Thurs) is not especially funny (Morris's strength is that he will pursue an idea or a mood to excess and beyond, but the result is often too harsh or too odd to make you laugh). But it is hypnotically fascinating, and formally the most radical thing I have heard in years: a tightly edited mix of music loops and samples, over which Morris and chums perform weird and even vicious sketches (a doctor cures every ailment - including genital sores - with a big kiss) interspersed with a selection of incongruously mellow records.

If it's funny you're after, though, stick to On the Town with the League of Gentlemen (R4, Thurs), a surreal sketch show set in a dead-end northern town and featuring such characters as Bob/Barbara, a taxi-driver caught in mid-sex change, the masturbation-obsessed Uncle Harvey (who rebukes his nephew for spending too much time with "Madame Palm and her five lovely daughters") and an incompetent vet with the catch-phrase "I've got some rather upsetting news".

At first hearing, it is nothing out of the ordinary; but it has the same cumulative effect as The Fast Show, coupled with a pleasingly grotesque sensibility and an underlying awareness of human unpleasantness that makes it seem not just funnier than the Jeremy Hardy series, but politically more astute.