Like the late Frankie “Titter ye not” Howerd, Al “Pub Landlord” Murray and Roy “Chubby” Brown, Boris “Prime Minister” Johnson is a turn that really only thrives with a live audience. The prime minister of mirth, as he admitted during his virtual speech to the Conservative Party conference, feels at his best when he has an audience to play off. In such a setting, the prime minister can get his timing right, judge his mock fluffs and the length of a pause, and deliver such carefully crafted laugh lines as “Captain Hindsight and his regiment of pot-shot, snipeshot fusiliers”.
It was once remarked that Michael Heseltine, a party favourite of a previous age, was the only man who knew how to find the G-spot of the Conservative Party conference; Johnson is one very few to be able to tickle its funny bone. Yet success in either endeavour requires the recipient of such attentions to be present. Alas, a word the prime minister has turned into a bit of a catchphrase, he must play to an empty house.
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