Forget about The Mash Report or The Nightly Show – The Last Leg has already perfected the late-night satire format

Alex Moreland
Contributor

American television is dominated by the late-night host – from Letterman to Colbert, from Noah to Oliver, from Bee to Corden, it’s a format that’s replicated over and over again on American television to great success. Programmes like Full Frontal, Last Week Tonight and The Daily Show all, in their own way, contribute to and influence the national discussion – videos go viral and thinkpieces gain traction, in a genre that commands real attention.

In turn, then, there’s an obvious desire to replicate the format in Britain, as there always is when something succeeds. We’ve already seen ITV’s attempt earlier this year; The Nightly Show owed a lot to its America cousins, not least a name which it took directly from a recently cancelled Comedy Central offering. That might well have proved an omen, as ITV’s effort launched to mixed success; the popular conclusion appears to have deemed the show an oddity if not a failure, and if it ever does make an unlikely return, it’s clear enough that it’ll be significantly retooled for its second round.

A few nights ago, BBC Two debuted their own offering – The Mash Report, a satirical news show which teamed rising comedian Nish Kumar with the Onion-esque website The Daily Mash. The programme boldly proclaims, “In the era of Theresa May, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Donald Trump, the jokes will surely write themselves” – and then proves that, actually, they probably do need someone to write the jokes. Any jokes, really, would do.

If that sounds harsh, well, yes, it is – and perhaps it underscores why it’s difficult to write about comedy, given that humour is so subjective. No doubt there were many who found it funny – the audience certainly seemed to, the point that you’d forget there wasn’t a laugh track if the camera didn’t regularly return to them (perhaps for that reason). But an overreliance on lowest common denominator humour didn’t help the fledgling programme. Penis jokes are only funny if the thing you’re describing actually is phallic; you can’t just invoke genitalia for a cheap laugh every couple of minutes. In the end, all the show managed to do was prove the greatest weakness of The Daily Mash’s internet home – it’s the headlines that are always funniest, not the articles themselves. “Middle class family traumatised by journey on megabus” is funny; breaking it down into a two-minute spiel, complete with toilet jokes, is decidedly less so.

To be fair, this sort of programme is a difficult one to perfect, so it’s not surprising to see The Mash Report stumble out of the gate – but it does stand out, because we’ve already seen Channel 4 make it look easy with The Last Leg. In many ways, it’s the best possible answer to the American late-night show; it’s often sharp and biting, but maintains a real warmth to it. It’s held together by the talents of Adam Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe, a trio with real comedic rapport together – it’s inventive, polished, and effortlessly funny, but often genuinely informative too. It really does demonstrate how to do the late-night format right on British television.

Still, though, it’s worth noting what Jack Bernhardt wrote in the Guardian recently – that The Last Leg is only as good as it is because it was granted the time to grow and develop and settle into a groove. The same might well prove true of The Mash Report; given time, they might abandon the low hanging fruit, and go for the more biting satire they promise. It’d be great if they could – after all, in the era of Theresa May, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Donald Trump, there’s certainly a need for it.

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