So where’s the UK's equivalent of Jon Stewart? We desperately need one

The Thick of It is great. So is Have I Got News for You. But when it comes to prime-time, knee-jerk invective, we just can't compete

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If you have eight minutes and 24 seconds to spare today, go to YouTube and type in “Jon Stewart” and “47 per cent”. You’ll be rewarded with the American satirist’s precision-tooled take-down of Mitt Romney’s comments about tax-dodging Obama voters. “George Romney was on welfare,” riffs Stewart. “So according to Mitt Romney’s own logic, Mitt Romney could not win the vote… of his dad.” Boom! – as Stewart likes to say. Now type in “Nick Clegg” and “Autotune”. If you haven’t seen it, the Deputy Prime Minister’s apology for tuition fees has been set to an uplifting dance beat and remixed into an insincere, robotic warble. It’s hypnotically hilarious.

Both clips are rapid responses to current events, cooked up in the hours after the original gaffes. Both are brilliant. The difference is where they came from. ElectroClegg went viral via the satirical website The Poke. So far it has had just under half a million hits. Stewart's Romney rant went out on his Daily Show, the longest-runner on American channel Comedy Central, screening at 10pm, four days a week, 42 weeks a year, averaging 2.3 million viewers.

Where is its UK equivalent? There is no shortage of talent for satire in this country. A new generation of stand-ups, such as Josie Long and Andrew Maxwell, are engaged, enraged and doling out political punchlines every night of the week. This week Peter Cook's dissident hotbed, The Establishment, launched a new club night. The Poke and The Daily Mash lead a crowded field of online parodists.

And yet there is no regular home for satire on television. The Thick of It is wonderful, but sitcoms, however classy, can't compete with an exhilarating, prime time, daily dose of kneejerk invective. Have I Got News for You and Mock the Week are slaves to their panel-game format while The 10 O'Clock Show has failed to take off – probably because it screens once a week, when programmers feel like it.

Perhaps there is no Daily Show because programmes like Newsnight already do a fine job of holding the powerful to account.

The new Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle discovered that first-hand with a baptismal grilling on Today this week. He has made promising noises about more female presenters, creativity, women's sport. I would add commissioning a UK Daily Show to his to-do list. As the events of this week, from Clegg-gate to Plebgate, have shown, we need it now, more than ever.

* There's no such thing as a free lunch. Waitrose, of all retailers, should know that. And yet this week, the high-class supermarket tried to crowdsource a bit of cute buzz when it asked members of the public to finish the sentence "I shop at Waitrose because…" and post their responses on Twitter. A couple of shoppers played stereotypical ball – "Because you say 'Ten items or fewer' not 'Ten items or less', which is important" – but it took less than an hour for the hashtag #WaitroseReasons to become the battleground for some good, old-fashioned class warfare. "Because I hate poor people". "Because their colour scheme matches my Range Rover". "Because Clarissa's pony just will not eat Asda Value straw." Ouch.

Or maybe not. It could be that Waitrose has hit upon advertising gold – an irritating campaign a la Marks and Spencer's "This is not just…", which inspires easy mockery and thus widespread repetition. This is the same company that produces those beautiful, tear-jerking John Lewis adverts on a near quarterly basis, after all: it's hard to believe they blundered their way in to this social media trap.

One response – "Because I was once in the Holloway Road branch and heard a dad say 'Put the papaya down, Orlando!'" – has now spawned its own sloganT-shirt. Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch, after all. Waitrose should give each of its helpful tweeters a houmous flatbread and a coconut water to say thank you for a job well done.