Whoever it was that suggested Jeremy Corbyn open his appearance on Channel 4’s The Last Leg bedecked in white fur and dinner jacket, riding in a white Bentley with the words “cor blimey” emblazoned across the number plate must have been feeling pretty pleased with themselves when he actually agreed to it.
Much has been made of his appearance since his election as leader; this gentle parodying of the faintly ostentatious style of those chiefly responsible for it must have given the show and his supporters no small amount of glee. To those of us previously under the impression that he is, in fact, one of the least humorous men on Earth, this was a welcome surprise. I mean, it wasn’t actually worthy of laughter, but it did lead to a Corbyn-esque raised eyebrow.
Politicians and comedy shows are always a potential recipe for disaster (unless you’re Boris Johnson, in which case they can elevate your legend to dizzying heights, evidence of which can be found all over YouTube on Have I Got News For You). A previous guest of The Last Leg, former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, endured a torrid time, to the point where one felt, by the end, on his side; there was only so much suffering you could watch before it became too much.
Only a few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders gave a good performance on Real Time with Bill Maher; at the same time that Mr Corbyn was dealing with a rather suspicious, nervy depiction of him in a documentary by Vice.
Last night’s show was an opportunity to do for Corbyn what Real Time had done for Sanders: demonstrate that the “normal guy” message being pushed to the public was more than just a message.
The problem, really, has been that Jeremy Corbyn just does not come across as a particularly amused man. “Why on earth are you on our show?” asked host Adam Hills, bewildered.
He didn’t always look comfortable; the way in which he spoke about Tony Blair, or his refusal to electrocute an audience member for the amusement of the general public, demonstrated that he didn’t quite “get” the show, or why he was there, but in fairness, both attitudes displayed are ones I find difficult to disagree with. Tony Blair is unpalatable, and electrocuting members of the public is only funny when that member of the public is Tony Blair.
He was chastised by fellow guest Russell Crowe for refusing to talk to David Cameron during the Queen’s Speech, went to great lengths to explain many of his political positions in rather loftier tones than the programme required, and, seemingly, didn’t clock that most people find his interest in manhole covers and trains just a little odd.
As much as I disagree with him on his politics, I can respect his refusal to compromise so many of his positions for the sake of cheap laughs.
There was, however, a moment where he was asked why, having been Eurosceptic his whole life, he was now backing Remain; his unconvincing answer was accompanied by a sudden outbreak of blinking, reminiscent of Jeremy Hunt when interviewed by Jon Snow. He seemed at times, suspicious, wary, and with hobbies like trainspotting (and, indeed, drainspotting) who can blame him?
The few occasions, however, when he seemed to let his guard slip, and let a glimpse of a human being shine through, were worth sitting through the awkwardness.
The first was, when asked what percentage of watching Labour MPs he thought were hoping he’d cock up, he suggested, with a twinkle in his eyes, “about half”. It was a genuine moment of honesty, of self-deprecation. It wasn’t, however, the best bit.
There came a part in the show when, in an effort to make Mr. Corbyn laugh, his hosts, Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe, presented him with a series of stills and videos they’d found on the internet. You could almost see Corbyn’s soul die a little inside, when he was forced to laugh at puerile footage of a small child bashing its head from side-to-side as it made its way down a slide.
I doubt these are the sorts of things he finds funny. Truth be told, they weren’t funny, but you could almost sense that he felt he had to chortle along like a loon, lest he confirm the allegations against him that he really is a crusty old bore.
Then came an image of David Cameron clutching a pig, and something really quite beautiful happened.
The audience howled with derision. The hosts guffawed at how witty this plant was. At home, those watching giggled their approval. Jeremy Corbyn, however, stopped laughing. At least, he stopped the forced laughter. He tried to keep a straight face. Deep down, he knew that this wasn’t what he should be laughing at; that it was a cheap shot against an unpopular political opponent, and that mocking it was not prime ministerial. Yet even deeper down, in the pit of his being, he could not help it. His mouth contorted into a barely suppressed smirk. His eyes lit up, and their sides crinkled.
In that lovely moment, this unamused old man betrayed himself.
Even he finds the idea, no matter how hard he tries not to, no matter how inaccurate it may be, of the Prime Minister caught en flagrante with the severed head of some unfortunate porcine mammal utterly, devastatingly hilarious. Just like the rest of us.
In that moment, I liked him, just a little bit. Perhaps he really is a normal chap, after all.
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