Ditching Government For Comedy Was No Joke For This Former Political Insider [Opinion]

There is a long tradition of British comedy creating hilarious and provoking satire of the U.K. government and its political classes. Comedy TV shows like Not The Nine O’Clock News and The Thick Of It have effectively asked difficult questions of our governments and societies by making their viewers laugh first, then think.

Ayesha Hazarika, who will take her new comedy show The State of the Nation on a nationwide tour in 2017, is a little different to most comedy writers, performers, and satirists. She’s not a comedy outsider looking in on government, but rather an insider who’s left Westminster to tell us some hilarious but true stories of a life in politics.

“I was supposed to be in Number Ten, advising and changing the world through politics.”

Instead, Hazarika swapped the corridors of government power for the comedy stage in 2015.

UK Government Westminster, tower against blue sky
the comedy writer's former government workplace [Image by Ian Waldie/Getty Images]

Hazarika was never actually a politician in the UK government, though she did once attempt to become the MP for East Lothian. Rather, Hazarika worked behind the scenes. She wrote speeches for the former Labour Party deputy, Harriet Harman, and advised former Labour leader, Ed Milliband, among others, as they attempted to win the right to form their own government.

Some of those experiences informed her previous comedy show Tales From The Pink Bus, which had audiences roaring with “toe-curling anecdotes and good, old-fashioned gags,” according to The Independent.

These included the kind of extraordinary inefficiencies in government exposed by well-known comedy TV shows like Armando Iannucci’s The Thick Of It. This satirical comedy followed both a fictional government and their opposition party through several disastrous election cycles.

An example from Hazarika’s last comedy show illustrates this point. In an attempt to gain the support of Britain’s women to drive Labour into government, Harriet Harmon toured the U.K. in a pink bus with “Woman to Woman” emblazoned on its side. The strategy didn’t pay off, however, perhaps because the attention to detail was focussed in the wrong areas.

“It was this well-intentioned but absurd thing. We couldn’t even decide what colour the bus was: some said pink; some said magenta.”

Harriet Harman on the pink bus that was the focus of Hazarika's last comedy show [Image by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images]

Since 2015, the world of government in the U.K. and around the world has shifted decidedly away from Hazarika’s preferred left-wing politics. As a political commentator as well as a comedy writer, she has been vocally critical Labour’s current leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Hazarika has accused Corbyn of being surrounded by “yes men,” saying that he’ll “never improve if all he gets is an ego massage” from his own team. She has even called him “useless” as she supported Owen Smith’s “coup or non-coup, whatever you went to call it” in 2016.

Yet she has also called on fellow party moderates to “put their shoulder to the wheel” and support Corbyn’s attempt to become the next ruling party of U.K. government. It should be noted, in a comedy aside worthy of the writer herself, that she has described the “Corbyn machine” as both an “amazing experiment” and a “fiesta of incompetence.”

Beyond U.K. government, Hazarika’s new show The State Of The Nation attempts to consider politics as it is in 2017. This takes in the first months of President Donald Trump’s time in office in the U.S., as well as the shifting landscape of European governments in a post-Brexit Europe. Hazarika sums up this political environment, which has challenged even the very best comedy satirists to out-satire.

“Every day something new and mad happens.”

This echoes her 2016 assessment of the state of politics shortly after the Brexit vote.

“Politics has gone on a mad bender. One of the benders where, the day after, you feel it wasn’t that great a night out.”

Jeremy Corbyn smiles at the camera as he is applauded in front of Labour signage
Jeremy Corbyn, a regular focus of the comedy writer's political attention [Image by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images]

So, what should audiences expect from this government advisor turned comedy star as she heads out across the U.K. to tell them The State Of The Nation?

As it turns out, like all good comedy satire, her observations about government are anything but throw-away. There is a clear and serious message that Hazarika wishes to offer from her experience in two privileged positions: first within the government and now on the comedy stage.

“I want to talk about how we continue to make the same mistakes in politics, regardless of what party we’re in. The people with the most power in political parties are still not listening to ordinary people…it’s the reason we’re in such a mess.”

What comedy audiences will learn from Hazarika’s new show will unfold across social media in the months to come. For the time being, the very fact that she has stepped out from the inside of government to find an equally valuable voice in comedy and political commentary is, perhaps, revealing in itself of the current state of our nations.

[Featured Image by MJ Kim/Getty Images]