It's not much fun when the good guys win - UK - News - The Independent

It's not much fun when the good guys win

One of the saddest books I ever read was written by a comedian. It was called Heartland and it was by Mort Sahl. Mort Sahl was one of those free-wheeling American comedians who came along at the end of the Fifties and were so relaxed and informal yet sharp that people said they were making it up as they went along. Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, Mort Sahl - that generation. Mort Sahl used to bring the day's newspaper on stage and make jokes about news items in it, which is about as topical as you can get, and did suggest indeed that he was making it up as he went along.

(Sahl once made a joke which he claimed was perhaps the first joke ever aimed at philosophy students instead of the general public. He said there had recently been an armed hold-up in a Californian bank in which the masked raider had pushed a note across to the cashier, reading: "I have got a gun. Act normally." The bank cashier had read it and then pushed back another note on which was written: "Define your terms." )

Because Mort Sahl was more politically aware than the other comedians, he delighted more in attacking the establishment of the time, General Eisenhower and all the stuffed shirts of the Fifties. His hero was Jack Kennedy, who represented a breath of fresh air, or would do if he ever got the chance. Well, Jack Kennedy did get the chance; he was elected to be president and the new day dawned and it was the death of Mort Sahl. Suddenly he was on the side of the boys in charge, which is a strange place for a comedian to be, and his career thereafter lost direction, and his humour lost its sharpness.

It got even worse when Kennedy was assassinated because Mort Sahl then became obsessed with finding out the truth about Kennedy's death. No longer was he invited on chat shows or TV shows generally, because instead of being funny, which was what they wanted, he preferred to have a serious talk about the Kennedy assassination. Invitations dried up, which is no doubt why he found time to write the book I mentioned, which is a sad book because he goes on and on about the Kennedy shooting in it, and doesn't say much about humour.

All this has been going through my mind recently because we in Britain, in our own small way, have reached a similar kind of watershed. Whatever else you thought about the Tories, they did make good bad guys, like the last days of the Eisenhower administration. It was easy, almost too easy, to dislike people like Howard and Hamilton and Portillo, and to feel queasy about the Scott report and the mishandling of the BSE crisis, and - well, you probably still remember it all. But now the good guys have ridden in on their white horses, and this is where comedians can be forgiven for taking a break, or at least for giving them a break. And although the Tories are officially off-stage now, the Tory party has kindly provided a diversion in the shape of their leadership contest, with Widdecombe and Howard slugging it out in one of the nearby booths, and young William Hague managing to look the oldest of all the contestants, which is all good for the gaiety of the nation.

Not all comedians have declared a honeymoon period, of course. The braver ones have taken their stance already. Jeremy Hardy on Radio 4's The News Quiz has been taking some hefty swings at Tony Blair since long before the election, as if a comedian's first duty is to attack those in power. That sounds admirable until you realise that it is no better or worse than the idea that an opposition's prime duty is to oppose. British politics is often criticised for being too confrontational, and it may well be that British comedy is too confrontational as well.

What might be interesting to know now is what kind of books British comedians will be writing when they get to Mort Sahl's age. Always assuming that Tony Blair is not assassinated, and that Jeremy Hardy does not become obsessed with finding out the truth behind it, and that Oliver Stone does not get the film rights - well, my feeling is that comedians are going to get so frustrated at living in a Britain where they approve of the government, or at least approve of the government more than they approve of the opposition, that they are going to want to get out.

Most of the comedians who can write novels have already written novels, but I don't think any of them has yet written a travel book. Up the Andes with Jeremy Hardy ... Down the Irrawaddy with Ben Elton ... Into Hong Kong as Chris Patten leaves, with Stephen Fry.

Stranger things have happened.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week