From The Daily Show to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, American television is full of satirical swipes at the state of the world today. Now the BBC hopes to offer something to British audiences longing for similarly sardonic humour.
Presented by the standup comedian Nish Kumar, The Mash Report, which starts on BBC2 on Thursday 20 July, aims to combine the politicised wit of a topical news show with the more deadpan news parodies on the Daily Mash website to create something that nods to America’s late-night giants, while having a clear British voice of its own.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” says Kumar, 31, about his biggest gig yet. After spending a decade building up a reputation as a smart, self-deprecating standup – and becoming an internet meme in the process – Kumar has won plaudits for his ability to blend the political with the everyday, a talent that won him a role on Radio 4 Extra as host of the topical news show Newsjack in 2015.
“If I’m absolutely honest, I never thought I’d get the gig on The Mash Report,” he says. “I thought I might get to be one of the correspondents and contribute to the show in that way, but even though it’s basically been my dream to sit behind a desk and deliver a political monologue, I never really believed I’d actually do it.”
He agrees that The Mash Report could not have come at a better, or more turbulent, time. “I think there’s definitely an appetite for a satirical news show. When we shot the pilot I was surprised both by the size of the audience and by how broad it was, there were people of all ages. I think the news is so crazy right now that people really want something that looks at everything that’s going on and sends it up.”
The comedian Rachel Parris, who also appears, agrees. “I think the general election proved that young people in particular are desperate for engaged political content,” she says. “There’s a definite appetite for a show that reflects how out of control everything feels.”
Are they worried about the inevitable and possibly unfavourable comparisons with The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight?
“I’ve already seen some comments on Twitter on those lines,” says Parris. “But that kind of criticism is always going to exist. All we can do is make the best show that we can.”
Kumar is similarly relaxed. “The Daily Show is the gold standard of this type of comedy, so obviously comparisons are going to be made and there’s no point in getting defensive about that,” he says. “Like everyone else, we love The Daily Show but The Daily Mash has its own voice. Anyone who has seen my standup knows that I have my own point of view and tone and I would hope that together those things add up to something that’s very much its own thing. We’re following our own direction.”
Chris Stott, the show’s executive producer, agrees. “I think there’s a joyfulness and warmth to our show that perhaps the American shows lack,” he says. “That’s not saying that we won’t go after political targets or pull our punches – it’s more that we are not a purely political show but one that looks at all aspects of modern culture.”
“We take the piss out of everyone,” says Tim Telling, the head writer who is also the editor of The Daily Mash. “The thing about the website is that a lot of it is about those parts of Britain that most of us live in where you do shit jobs and feel vaguely dissatisfied and a lot of the humour comes from that. We have no sacred cows. No matter what side of the political spectrum someone is on, if they do something stupid then we’re going to comment on it.”
Both men stress that Kumar was the obvious choice for host. “I always imagined Nish as host because I’d seen his standup and knew that he had the right combination of warmth and edge,” says Stott. Telling agrees. “He’s very engaged, very passionate and intelligent – it’s a perfect fit because we couldn’t have had a host who was apolitical. The role needs someone who is passionate and engaged with the world and Nish is.”
For Kumar the key is one of tone. “When you look at Jon Stewart or John Oliver, what really works is that you always know what they think and where they stand on a subject but you don’t associate them with a particular political party,” he says. “The best satire has a clear philosophy without belonging to a specific organisation. There will be people who say that the BBC is biased and of course the show is likely to attack the government because they’re the party in power, and they’re incompetent, but we will and do skewer anyone. We’re not going to hold back. When the other parties do stupid things, we’re not going to ignore it.”
The show will be shot the day before it airs – do they worry about being out of date, given the speed at which the news is currently moving? “Ask me again on Thursday,” says Kumar, laughing. “I mean Donald Trump’s son just tweeted him into impeachment, so who knows where we’ll be by then.”
That Was the Week That Was (1962-63)
Hosted by a 23-year-old David Frost, TW3 pioneered TV satire before being cancelled after only eight months over fears it could compromise the BBC’s impartiality during the 1964 election.
Spitting Image (1984-96)
In its heyday, ITV’s puppet show was one of the most popular programmes on television, drawing up to 12 million viewers and turning its sharp and often vicious eye on everyone from Margaret Thatcher to Steve Davis and the Queen.
Have I Got News For You (1990-present)
Now on series 53, it is the longest-running satirical show on British TV. Guests who cancel have been replaced with inanimate objects: Roy Hattersley’s chair was given to a tub of lard, and Nicky Morgan’s to a leather handbag.
The Day Today (1994)
Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci’s spoof of current affairs shows included such memorable moments as Morris’s bombastic newscaster goading Australia into declaring war on Hong Kong.
Brass Eye (1997)
Morris followed The Day Today with this scathing attack on sensationalism in the news media, in which real public figures were interviewed about fake news stories so successfully that MP David Amess even asked a question in parliament about fictitious drug “cake”.