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Mock the Nation
September 2009

The free availability of hard-core pornography on the internet is changing relationships between men and women in ways we have barely begun to talk about, but it is also changing television. What should executives do with the knowledge that sections of their ever-fragmenting audience are watching images they could not have found in the greasiest Soho basements 20 years ago? Once they would have ignored them, but now that television's power is waning, it must run after every viewer it can find. It cannot give them porn — not yet, anyway — but with Mock the Week it can reassure the onanistic that they're good lads, really, just having a harmless laugh.

BBC 2 describes the show as satire, but it is not satirical in the usual sense of the word. The chairman, Dara Ó Briain, a buttery-faced man with a smugly malicious manner, presides over panellists without a political idea in their little heads. The viewer can never say, for instance, that Frankie Boyle, the show's star, hates the thought of a Conservative government and is determined to find the barb that will pierce David Cameron's defences, or that any of his team-mates are determined to punish Gordon Brown for what he has done to Britain. They do not want to scratch, let alone wound, those with real power over our lives, which is probably why the BBC gives them free rein.

The best way to picture Mock the Week is to imagine six men, with a low-grade but undoubted comic talent, late at night in a pub. Drink has dissolved their inhibitions and each is determined to push the others aside and prove he is top dog. The blatancy of their competitiveness sets them apart from other TV comics. Status anxiety torments performers in all panel games. But you never see Ian Hislop look resentful when Paul Merton comes up with a good joke on Have I Got News for You, or rush out his gags so he can be sure that he can get them on air. No veneer of conviviality hides the contestants' jealousy on Mock the Week. They don't laugh at each other's jokes. They visibly struggle for money and fame as they interrupt each other and race to snatch the microphone in the middle of the studio. As tense and mirthless as saloon-bar fighters in the moment before the first punch is thrown, they will do anything to establish their superiority. 

Boyle is the show's strutting cock. A gaunt, aggressive, slit-eyed Scotsman with a neurotic determination to be heard first and always, he seems to have grasped that the critics will hail him as "edgy" if he courts the porn market. 

Here he is in action. The show has a round called: "If this is the answer, what's the question?" Ó Briain announces that the answer is "40 years" so the question is..."Is it ‘For how long would I follow Beyoncé up an impossibly long ladder?'" says Boyle without a flicker of a smile. "Is it what is the youngest my balls have looked?" says a fellow panellist, getting the hang of the show.   "Is it how long it takes me to knock one out to Loose Women?" says Boyle, back as snarling top dog again. (In case you have not seen it, Loose Women is a daytime show with middle-aged presenters.) "Depends who's on the panel, I fear, that average can swing quite a lot," smirks Ó Briain. "Oooh yeah, the week you were on was fantastic," a panellist tells Ó Briain. 

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tomasz.
June 1st, 2016
11:06 AM
"The viewer can never say, for instance, that Frankie Boyle, the show's star, hates the thought of a Conservative government and is determined to find the barb that will pierce David Cameron's defences, or that any of his team-mates are determined to punish Gordon Brown for what he has done to Britain. They do not want to scratch, let alone wound, those with real power over our lives, which is probably why the BBC gives them free rein." the irony being, of course, that 2016 Frankie Boyle is a much more dogged and committed critic of the Tory government than is pseudo-leftist Nick Cohen, who prefers to spend his time sniping away at the side he claims to be part of.

Rob
October 11th, 2009
1:10 AM
"Straight after this, she's going to be on live autopsy with Gunther von Hagens, and then she's back on our screens at Christmas being chased by the Ghostbusters" Oh my God, that made me laugh.

Scotsman
September 25th, 2009
4:09 PM
I find it mildly amusing that you can obviously use a Personal Computer but seem to have difficulty find the channel button on your television Mr. Cohen. Why not turn over and watch one of the legions of reality television programmes available, where you might catch such wondrous events as someone picking their nose whilst asleep. Leave us in peace with our racist crime of enjoying ourselves at home and not harming anything at all. I think perhaps you may have missed the very simple point whilst striving for meaning in your humourless conciousness. Oh and I think Lord Mandelson really is a Sith....

Paul Moylan
September 24th, 2009
5:09 AM
It is funny. At times really, really funny. I don't disagree that it is macho and hard for most of the women to fit on. It is funny though. It is not at all hard to see that Frankie Boyle is challenging conceptions of age with his showing how ludicrous it is to take Arlene Phillips off the air. His satire comes from pushing things to their logical conclusion. I think Frankie is one of the comic greats of this generation. I certainly don't think enjoying Mock the Week means people are facsists. I think the reverse is true. It means they are able often to have their smug views challenged as indeed mine have. They have also at times been challenged by Nick's ideas. I have been unable to watch Bremner for years as I found it completely unfunny. HIGNFY has struck me as smug for quite some time. Hislop just really pisses me off. I also enjoyed Charlie Brookers You Have Been Watching which had Frankie Boyle in a much more relaxed frame of mind but still cutting away at pretentious nonsense. Perhaps this article is a small example of just that.

Anonymousdshaw
September 21st, 2009
12:09 PM
I agree 100% with Nick. This is not about one show but is symptomatic of a growing attitude that is prevalent in the UK today. Rudeness or bullying masking as humour and freedom of speech. I see it amongst a public that thinks they have the right to 'mock'(or to be more accurate, ridicule and belittleenshrined in law); is this our answer to the US's right to bear arms, the right to take the piss? Just to be clear: a)it is not funny b)words can hurt c)and no-one has the right to force their views on anyone. BTW I am not an old fart, just sad to see how the nation famed for its manners has descended down the level of the school playground.

Steve
September 20th, 2009
8:09 AM
"what has Iraq got to do with a critique of a comedy tv programme?" well, roughly as much as the propensity of the British public to support the killing of innocent people - but that is after all what Cohen ended his piece on.

James Bloodworth
September 19th, 2009
7:09 PM
I usually enjoy Nick's writing, but this is the most pointless few paragraphs that I have read in a long time. The whole point of comedy is to offend people. The funniest things/people to laugh at are the vulnerable. Fact. Look at any (good) comedy and it's a similar formula: laughing at misfortunes or stupidity of others. If you don't like it don't watch it. We already have enough political correctness without even you being 'offended' by Mock the Week. Well, all I can say is: be fucking offended. See if the 3 million viewers give a damn. It's a damn sight more than read your pointless Observer column.

pete woodhouse
September 18th, 2009
2:09 AM
"A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill. and apparently can't leave comments without a grandiose pseudonym or going anonymous. what has Iraq got to do with a critique of a comedy tv programme? boneheads!

Tori
September 15th, 2009
3:09 AM
"I would pick this article apart line by line but, since I assume that the whole thing is a bit of a joke, that would be a waste of my precious time." Oh lawks a mercy! YOur soooo hard DK! I haven't noticed you actually landing any blows on your boggle eyed blog though. You don't think that you do, do you ? Really? I think it's a condition more commonly referred to as Kanye West.

Jez Sullivan
September 12th, 2009
7:09 PM
Interesting idea, to me though "Mock The Week" is simply HIGNFY for people with CSE's. Its dumbed down twaddle like much of the BBC. Blue Collar humour can be intellegent and cutting, but sadly not here.

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