How a typical John O’Farrell column is, or rather was, laid out:
- Intentionally misleading introduction hinting about something topical yet heavy such as MRSA or international terrorism…
- …which turns out to actually be about something trivial, like the Lib Dems, or foxhunting
- Mock dialogue between imaginary protagonists which flogs this dead horse to tedious shreds
- Highly unoriginal observation – George Bush a bit fond of war, David Beckham not the sharpest tool in the box, Royal Family slightly on the German side
- Blindingly obvious “turn the concept on its head” joke – “Of course, we all remember when Hitler courted controversy by dressing as a Nazi”
- Dig at the Tories to prove he’s still right-on, eh kids?
- Talks about self for a bit in a smug self-congratulatory “I’m a satirist, this is what I do” tone
- End on a vaguely serious note and a question in a desperate attempt To Be Profound
Christ. It’s a bit like those segments on programmes like That’s Life! where the host would go “And now here’s John with an irreverent look at the week’s news”, with a flick of the eyebrows and an insincere grin that is a sure sign that whatever’s going to come on, it’ll be about as funny as root canal surgery.
Having long ago deciding to blank his horrible unfunny writing out of my vision I barely noticed him leaving the Guardian last year, but now he’s back. Whoop-dee-do. John O’Farrells’s launching a website with some crushingly awful name like NewsBiscuit.com and is given a free opportunity by the Beeb to relentlessly plug it as the saviour of British ‘net comedy, because apparently, according to John, there aren’t any funny sites out there.
Well, actually that’s bollocks. There are plenty of funny UK satire sites (or sites with a large UK contingent), but they operate in a variety of comedic forms and are much more decentralised than the “look at me, I’m being funny” column of old. As the web allows for all kinds of other visual representations, written satire on current affairs have had to share with other forms of media, such as photoshopping, animations, webcomics, audio and video. For someone who runs a comedy satire website, he is shockingly ignorant of internet humour; he thinks the Popbitch mailout is a humour newsletter, rather than a collection of gossip and links when the only real attempt at deliberate comedy is an intentionally bad joke at the end. He doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of the satirical content of community sites such as B3ta or Something Awful, or the current explosion in comedy podcasts, or productions hosted on YouTube (which he seems to think is an online version of You’ve Been Framed).
Of course, within this menagerie of different media, there is still find old-fashioned, written satire, but much of it is now spread over a wide range of blogs, rather than a centralised collection of sites. Dedicated satire sites do still exist of course, such as the Rockall Times, DeadBrain, The Framley Examiner or Social Scrutiny, but the bar is now much higher than it used to be. John O’Farrell’s problem is simply that isn’t much demand in the real world for the forumulaic, schoolboy-style rehashing of stereotypes that makes up his flaccid routine.
What’s worse is that the web reduces the separation between real-world demand and the producer. Nobody buys the Guardian for the jokes, so your boring column can carry on for years without it damaging reading figures or causing your editor any worry. On the web it’s different – if you’re not funny, you’re just not going to be read or linked to. You’ll just end being one of the million Onion wannabes that sit there, eventually abandoned and gathering dust. That’s the real reason why John O’Farrell can’t find anything he thinks is funny on the web, and why in one or two year’s time his site will be a half-forgotten relic.
Update: Tom has more:
And of course, what O’Farrell doesn’t realise is that his “plan is to get young talented humourists all over the world to send their stuff to me” is the antithesis of how the web works. They don’t need to send their stuff to John O’Farrell (sweet of him to offer, though). They can just do it themselves, and it might be superbly constructed comedy gold, or it might just be a picture of a willy drawn with MS Paint. That’s the fun. And if they do choose just to draw pictures of willies with MS Paint, well… it’ll still be funnier than NewsBiscuit.
Further update: Hahaha. That’s more like it.