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Nick Pickles is
Director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother
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Matt FordeIn recent years we’ve been somewhat spoilt for
political comedy – from The Thick of It
to new Yes, Prime Minister, while the
likes of Rory Bremner and John Culshaw have continued to deploy their skills
post-Coalition.

Another trend has been the rise of the
political theatre, with Steve Richards of The
Independent
’s Rock and Roll Politics
and Matt Forde's The Political Party
both taking to London’s stages.

I finally had an opportunity to see what all
the fuss was about when I caught the
latter’s evening with Jack Straw
, who, by happy coincidence, had just
published a new paperback edition of his book.

Mixing politics and comedy is not an easy
task, I will be the first to admit. It takes a man far braver than I to get up
on stage and try to make people laugh with jokes about ten-minute rule bills
and some Labour frontbencher most of the country would struggle to pick out in
a lineup.


The evening kicks off with a stand up
section, with Forde riffing through the latest comings and goings in
Westminster.  A novice’s introduction to
PMQs follows, with the audience introduced to the battle noises of Wednesday
lunchtimes – for the Tories it’s a matter of sounding like a posh Liam
Gallagher, for Labour it’s Tony Blair with a cold. Audience participation
ensues.

As the show I saw was soon after the Patrick Mercer episode,
it was no surprise to hear his name crop up early on. What did surprise me was
the routine that followed about Early Day Motions. Given the scandal at the
time was about APPGs, I assumed that this was a slight detour, however the
entire section of the gig then followed to be based on the premise that Mercer
had been filmed discussing EDMs.

There were some other jokes about EDMs being
like Facebook groups, and something about floppy-fringed prats looking like
Nick Watts, but my notebook somehow managed to miss the big punch line. This
may be in some way related to there not being one.  Something about the Shawshank LibDemtion and
Chris Hunhe already being out did raise a laugh or two, but as some of the
people sat near me remarked, in half-an-hour of comedy it’s not a good sign if
you’re left debating whether there were one or two good gags.

Forde, so he told the audience, did two years
in public affairs, and his Wikipedia
page
names him as a former political advisor for the Labour party. The
shame was that the first half of his routine was underwhelming as stand-up
comedy, before you take into account the basic factual error of the APPG/EDM
mix-up, and the second half felt like a job interview for a former Labour
advisor trying to become a current Labour advisor.

Whether it was Straw’s assertion that the
Tories “lent” Labour government, and that it was “much harder for Labour” to
win power, to Straw’s branding of Hans Blix as a “charlatan” or even that TOWIE
is “all true” (“of course I watch it”) the entire event felt one-sided. I
wasn’t expecting Paxman, but equally if I’d wanted to hear Jack Straw gently
coddled through his political past I’d have gone to a Labour party fundraiser.
(If it was free. And not a Labour party fundraiser.)

I asked Forde what was harder – coming up
with gags for the Westminster politicos in the audience, or trying to not wind
up your guests too much? His response: “Not winding my guests up. I have to
bite my tongue sometimes because the interview part of the show isn’t about me.
I'll ask big questions but it's not an interrogation, so I let plenty of things
go unchallenged, which in the end makes for a better conversation as the guest
will relax more and reveal more.”

An honorable sentiment perhaps – providing
biting your tongue doesn’t cross into a free run, which for most of the evening
it felt like Straw enjoyed. In
fact, the only surprise from the interview with was that it is still possible
for such a high-profile politician to get such an easy ride.

The Political Party is a pleasant enough evening and a polite middle
ground for political geeks to enjoy a laugh or two at the Lib Dem's expense
with friend less embedded in the Westminster Village, but I’d hestitate to say
that anyone wanting big laughs or an insightful interview will leave satisfied.

As I left, I was handed a flyer for Steve
Richards’ rival event. Apparently The Spectator described it as “excellent” and
the Guardian “Unmissable”. I didn’t see any flyers promoting the next round of The Political Party, but if they were to
seek out my humble opinion the only word I would offer up would be “average”.

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