In 2007, The Daily Mash debuted as a parody of a traditional news website. It published both straight up silliness with headlines like “I Am the Greatest Thing of All Time, Says Bacon” as well as satirical takes on both British and world politics (“No Hard Feelings about That Austerity Thing, eh? Say Tories”). Naturally, it drew comparisons with The Onion. When it was announced last year that the team behind The Daily Mash was moving to television with a satirical news show called The Mash Report, comparisons to another American comedic genius were at the ready: would this be Britain’s version of The Daily Show?
The show’s makers came prepared, though; host Nish Kumar said, “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 … Like everyone else, we love The Daily Show but The Daily Mash has its own voice.” Executive producer Chris Stott explained, “I think there’s a joyfulness and warmth to our show that perhaps the American shows lack” (Sarah Hughes, “The Mash Report Hopes to Put a UK Spin on US Topical Satire”, The Guardian, 15 July 2017).
That said, the show is clearly influenced by The Daily Show. Obviously, you’ve got a man in a suit and tie behind a desk discussing the big stories as silly mocked-up images appear beside him. He then cuts to some reporters pretending to be on location before bringing on a special correspondent who has gone out and filmed an awkward interview with someone who doesn’t realise he’s from a comedy show. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?
The special correspondents are indeed the most direct Daily Show copy. Andrew Hunter Murray of No Such Thing As a Fish fame and American comic Desiree Burch investigate a topic and interview unsuspecting people. The reports are quite informative — Burch’s interview with the founder of Justice for Men and Boys who said the #MeToo movement was a bunch of angry women trying to destroy men was particularly revealing — though it went a bit pointless when she went undercover as a white man to really experience oppression. Murray’s better at playing the “real” reporter, using his youthful, nerdy look and improv comedy background to his advantage. He’s handled being called a “bourgeois pillock” and “fuckwit”, while making real points about Brexit, arming the police, and the Christian right’s support of Trump.
However, there are some differences between the two shows. Taking a nod from other American late night shows, episodes of The Mash Report have begun with longer opening monologues from Kumar. These work well, given Kumar’s stand-up background which has always had a political angle. He’s also been the host of BBC Radio 4 Extra’s Newsjack and had his own show Radio 4 show, Spotlight Tonight with Nish Kumar, which took “an in-depth look at the week’s biggest news stories”. Head writer Tim Telling said Kumar was “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” (ibid. Hughes at The Guardian).
Another difference is pure Daily Mash: the headlines. Throughout the show, Kumar cuts to the news desk, fronted by comedians Ellie Taylor and Steve N Allen. They deliver quips as headlines not always related to the current news, like “The biggest wanker from your school is living in Dubai now” and “Women have told everyone to just fuck off” (and my personal favourite Daily Mash line: “Teenage love poet wonders what rhymes with boner”). A few come with short explanations or interviews. They punctuate the show well, whether the jokes are based on reality or simply revel in absurdity. This is partly due to the solid delivery of Taylor and Allen, who manage the mock seriousness needed to pull off the silliness.
While the show definitely leans left like The Daily Show, there’s a conservative voice on The Mash Report — a real one, not a Jordan Klepper-like spoof. Geoff Norcott is a Tory, or as The Spectator called him, “Britain’s first ‘openly conservative’ comedian.” Norcott said, “It’s funny meeting TV types. They say, ‘We really want to hear alternative viewpoints.’ And I’m thinking, ‘By alternative you mean majority'” (Lloyd Evans, “What’s It Like Being One of the Only Right-wing Comics Around?”, The Spectator, 3 Feb. 2018).
Norcott has tackled issues like the Labour Party, protests, and ‘snowflakes’. His jokes are amped up obviously (like proposing that the NHS should save money by not treating the elderly, saying, “Look, you’ve had a good go here, but I think you’re done now”), and the banter between him and Kumar works pretty well. Kumar continually tries to clarify and question Norcott — definitely a Daily Show technique — but he doesn’t necessarily beat him. At one point, Kumar asks Norcott for one piece of constructive advice for the Labour Party, and Norcott responds, “Just be honest about who Jeremy Corbyn is — just say yes, he does want to leave the EU and we know he’s just an old Trot who likes pissing about in the allotment, knitting protest banners, and blaming Thatcher because his telly doesn’t work.” This isn’t to say other parts of the show don’t also take the left to task, but in Norcott’s sections, it’s the most direct.
One obvious distinction between the two shows is their timing. Shortly before The Mash Report debuted in July 2017, Kumar published a piece in the Radio Times, addressing the idea of debuting a satirical news show in the current political climate. He wrote: “this political era presents a challenge to satirists. How do we add comedic value, when the behaviour of our political leaders seems already to verge on parody? We are living in an era of self-satirising politicians” (Nish Kumar, “How Can I Launch a Satire Show When Politics is Already Beyond Parody?”, The Radio Times, 20 July 2017).
It’s a fair point, though it possibly could also include the question ‘Why?’ as well. The day after the show’s launch, Shouting at the Telly wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun. Not even in topical TV news shows… this ‘new’ topical show feels strangely familiar” (“Too Much Topical TV?”, Shouting at the Telly, 21 July 2017). The show isn’t groundbreaking, of course; it’s just doing what’s been done well elsewhere. Unlike The Day Today in the ’90s, The Mash Report doesn’t challenge the media. Instead, it simply joins in.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After discussing the show’s “well-trodden path”, Shouting at the Telly acknowledges its strengths: “Format aside, some of the content was good. It had some great one-liners and the social media tweets were probably the strongest part of the show” (ibid. at Shouting at the Telly). Indeed, the social media section has been one of the best and most newsworthy parts of The Mash Report, thanks to comedian Rachel Parris.
In the first episode, Parris covered what was being said about the show on social media, a nod to The Last Leg‘s interaction with the public on Twitter that also poked fun at themselves and social media’s impact on culture.
However, her segments morphed into more commentary. Her persona of a bubbly, smiling, young lady makes her sweet, sarcastic delivery effective. In February, she offered a guide to public apologies after it emerged that the girlfriend of then UKIP leader had texted racist remarks about Meghan Markle. Parris highlighted the use of the “taken out of context” strategy, suggesting that the context of calling Islam “the cancer of this earth” was “probably just a whimsical discussion about what star sign each religion might be”. Then she role-played the Kevin Spacey-style “if I did that, I apologise” strategy:
Parris: Nish, I apologise for calling you a non-threatening beta male who’s tailor-made for the friend zone in last week’s show — if I did.
Kumar: I mean, you absolutely did.
Parris: Well, if I did, Nish, then I’m sorry.
Kumar: No, there’s no if — we have it on camera, it’s been broadcast, twelve million people have seen it on Facebook.
Parris: Nish, if I said that, I apologise.
Kumar: I mean, I don’t actually mind.
Parris: That’s good, because I didn’t actually apologise.
In less than 30 seconds, she’s made the point.
She went viral with her How Not to Sexually Harass Someone video before knocking one out of the park with her coverage of Piers Morgan’s interview with Donald Trump. She stressed how grateful she was for Morgan’s speaking for all of Britain: “He’s an everyman, Nish. He represents us all. He’s me, except he’s a man. He’s you, except he’s white. He’s everyone, except he’s not. And he’s worse.”
The segment began with her analysis of the interview’s staging. Behind her on the screen was a drawing of David Frost and Richard Nixon, showing the two men sitting face-to-face. This was contrasted with the staging of the Trump interview which “hinted at a greater intimacy between the two men”, illustrated with a picture of Trump, bent over on a chair with his pants around his knees, and Morgan’s face buried in his backside.
Morgan then tweeted the image with a complaint about the BBC’s double standards, which led to more and more retweets, guaranteeing that millions of people would see it. The Sun even published an “Everything You Need to Know About the Controversial Cartoon” piece that included a clip of the show as well as screenshots of the stage and Morgan’s tweet (with a helpful black line censoring the meeting of the two men’s cheeks).
Morgan’s delicate ego and fair-weather devotion to free speech clearly ensured more people saw the picture than had ever seen the show and probably even earned it some new fans. As to his complaint about whether they’d have used an image of two women in the same way, Parris said, “if there was a female President and there was a female interviewer who had conducted the interview in the same way … And that female President had signed off on laws which would affect the rights of women, and done all the things Trump has done. And if there was a strange feeling about those two women, if they enjoyed the same position of immense social and financial privilege that those two men do, then yes I think we would have drawn the cartoon.” (Rachel McGrath, “Rachel Parris Talks Piers Morgan, ‘The Mash Report’ and Sudden Internet Fame”, Huffington Post UK, 16 Feb. 2018).
Ultimately, comedy is judged on whether it makes us laugh, even when it’s not entirely original. The Mash Report is funny, and we really need funny, these days. At the end of February, BBC Two confirmed a new series will return later this year, thanks in part to the show’s online popularity and viral videos. Hopefully, it will continue to grow into its own and stick around until the state of the world improves or until we all die a fiery, hate-filled death. Whichever comes first.