PMQs sketch: Japanese joke torture as humiliating as ever

Once you realise Prime Minister’s Questions is just a rip-off of a Japanese humiliation game show, it almost becomes worth watching

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It’s a pity no one watches daytime telly because there’s some great stuff on if you know where to look.

My current guilty pleasure is this mad thing they’ve got on BBC2 every Wednesday lunchtime. I don’t really get what’s going on but it’s clearly a rip-off of one of those Japanese humiliation prank game shows. They’ve got these two people, a man and a woman, and they make them stand up in front of a big rowdy audience and say funny stuff about each other, even though neither of them can tell a joke to save their lives.

It’s never easy to tell who wins. I quite admire the man, who stubbornly refuses to enter into the spirit of things and just turns up each week with yet another never-ending list of stats on the NHS which he is determined to get the bottom of come what may.

But it’s the woman that you keep coming back for. Every week it’s her that renders you a tensed-up quivering mess, hands over your eyes, peeping through the gaps between your fingers, wanting it to stop but unable not to look. That’s not to say that she’s afraid of some meaningless numbers on operation waiting times either, but at least she gives it a go.

And boy when she does, you know about it. You can feel the dry crackling of attempted comedy coming with all the subtlety of an Australian forest fire. Her eyes narrow. Her mouth visibly twitches. Her entire face screws up like a mother sparrow that not only knows that it’s eaten a fox turd instead of a worm, but that it’s also about to regurgitate it into the mouths of its babies.

Last week, after an MP called Cat Smith had described Labour losing the Copeland by-election by a mere 2,000 votes as an “incredible achievement”, the woman was of the view that this sentiment in fact, “sums up his [the man’s] leadership”.

“Innnn-crrredible,” she said, rolling its every inflection as if she were the ring announcer at a heavyweight boxing match. The massed ranks behind her stared furtively at the ceiling, willing the blood to rush again from their faces, unable to understand why they suddenly couldn’t move their legs. Could it possibly be a dream?

The air rushed under the gaps below doors. Heads were buried under cushions. Agonised groans stifled. Somewhere in the distance came the sound of a rag and bone man’s cart, trundling up a country lane.  

Eventually the producers will reinvent the format. Some week now, they’ll just roll them both in wet sugar and catapult them into a wasp’s nest, or sellotape their hands together and pull down their trousers, but I like it just the way it is. Same time next week.