Newsnight Scotland: Susan Calman and Satire


  By G.A.Ponsonby
I tuned into Newsnight Scotland on Tuesday to be confronted by what appeared at first glance to be a subject many of us at Newsnet Scotland have been lamenting of late – the lack of high quality political satire in Scotland.
It’s simply non-existent within main stream media outlets and only by delving into cyberspace does one find evidence of the fast growing underground satire movement – of which the hilariously funny BBC Scotlandshire is an example.

Scotlandshire lampoons BBC Scotland with a riotously funny parody of our ‘impartial’ state broadcaster.

Our own Paul Kavanagh excels in his unique take on Scottish politics and National Collective has ‘The Scottish Daily Scare’ which caricatures the genre of the Unionist scare story – also known as ‘news’.

They all of course have two things in common, the first being that they offer a pro-independence satirical take on Scotland’s constitutional debate.  The second is that there is little chance of their unique brand of political humour featuring on BBC Scotland, or indeed any broadcast outlet.

All three can trace their origins back to blogs like pseudepigrapha which had hilarious spoof Scotsman front pages and the Universality of Cheese that mixed comment and satire in order to stab a potent comedic dagger at the heart of establishment Unionism.

Sadly, and predictably, Newsnight Scotland wasn’t remotely interested in discussing the lack of satire.  The real reason for the programme was a broadcast by a comedienne Susan Calman.

Ms Calman, who is Scottish, had appeared on an episode of a Radio 4 show where guests discuss news events of the week.  Nothing much wrong with that, but Ms Calman’s contribution – we are told – didn’t go down well with some Scots who let her know in no uncertain terms how they felt.

Newsnight Scotland played a clip of Ms Calman, which was accompanied by some melodramatic claims regarding complaints she had received.  According to Gordon Brewer the perpetrators were all Cybernats – were they? We don’t know.

The problem with the whole item was that it conflated two different subjects, the clear lack of ambition within Scottish broadcasting regarding satire and the reaction to a mediocre performance by a Scottish comedienne on BBC radio.

Susan Calman’s contribution on ‘The News Show’ raised laughs, perhaps due to the fact that her material was tailored to her audience which was home-counties middle England.  A few cheap gags that traded on the Scottish stereotype probably improved her bank balance by a few hundred quid and raised her profile.

Satire it was not, unless parroting anti-Salmond soundbites in a ham-Scottish accent now constitutes satire.  For real satire Ms Calman would have lampooned all parties who once saw the euro as an attractive currency, including the Lib Dems and Labour.

The misnaming of John Swinney as ‘Sweeney’ by the show host was in keeping with the general ignorance of Scotland and the jokes were pretty mild in comparison to other BBC broadcasts.  Have I Got News For You added to the gratuitous jock-bashing weekend by claiming we export “tramps” and that we could effectively “bugger off”.

Ms Calman’s appearance on The News Show wasn’t her first foray into the world of Scottish politics and what Gordon Brewer refers to as ‘satire’.

Here are two more clips of the comedian appearing on the BBC where yet again Scotland and independence featured prominently.

It doesn’t take a genius to see a theme with Ms Calman when she appears on the BBC in front of an English audience as the clips demonstrate.  To be fair she doesn’t restrict her ‘satirical’ rapier wit to the SNP, Scotland also receives a generalised slap now and again from this queen of satire.

Susan Calman isn’t that funny, but good luck to her in carving out a career as a guest on the TV talk show circuit.  But to suggest that her brand of comedy is ‘satire’ is the real joke here. 

Making political points against the SNP and ‘separation’ and dressing them up as a joke is not satire and it never will be.  Nor is claiming to be objective when you are clearly pro-Union, as evidenced by a recent appearance on Alexander Armstrong’s show ‘The Big Ask’.

Turning to the offensive messages Ms Calman received after her performance, nobody condones the clowns from both sides who inhabit cyberspace and attack one another regularly, but people who post offensive messages are not representative of anything other than themselves.  It could have been worse though, satire cost the host of the Universality of Cheese his job.

A real satirist might develop some material that sought to highlight just why there are no main stream media outlets backing independence and why the BBC insists on loading its shows with pro-Union contributors – even it seems its comedy shows.

How this ended up being discussed on Newsnight Scotland is a bit of a mystery, on the day that Lord Ashdown intervened in the row over the Ian Taylor donation to Better Together one would have thought that the latter was more deserving of coverage – another topic for a satirist surely.

But whilst we’re on BBC current affairs shows and cheap laughs, here’s a recording of a BBC show ‘Any Questions’ that had many of the targets Susan Calman has aimed at and provided just as many chuckles from the English audience. 

Is it also satire Mr Brewer?