An invitation to lunch with the nation’s leading provider of wit and proper journalism! And in aid of the home-free too! I simply had to be there. I entered the ‘Red Room’, assuming (hoping) I would be the only woman in attendance. At something like this there’s nothing worse than the sight of a younger and wittier member of the fairer sex.
I could not see his Lordship anywhere, only a sulk of Guardian journalists and Twitter personalities. Would these illustrious avatars flourish IRL? A hush descended. The scuttling of feet on varnished floors heralded a great movement, as the sea of hacks parted. A tiny silhouette appeared in the doorway. Every gaze in the room was fixed upon it. For here he was… The Right Honourable Lord Poshlip.
Flatterer: ‘My Lord you are a giant of satire!’
Poshlip: ‘Aha! A woman. We don’t get much unsolicited material from women.’
Me: ‘Oh! I do hope I am not here to fill a quota.’
A check-shirted, corduroy-bottomed man informed me he was ‘ecstatically’ married before sitting down next to me. Proclaimed as ‘famous and funny on Twitter – but working on real life too’, he had recently secured a four-book deal ‘to take a sideways look at middle England’.
I assumed this literary success was the reward for the hours he had spent at the coalface of the content mines, aiming barbed tweets at left and right alike (though remaining silent on topics such as Jess Phillips and the Lib Dems). I sat there as he unloaded a torrent of opinions.
‘Really? You’ve NEVER received a sexist heckle? Heavens, I am surprised.’
‘Of course I’m in favour of gender balance. I’m only saying that when there are so few women of colour on the circuit, why are there suddenly so many on TV?’
‘Isn’t Ricky Gervais so brave and clever! I mean the way he just does that!’
‘Chewing Gum was just a black version of Fleabag. Why are female comediennes so obsessed with sex? I mean I’m not anti-sex, I just think women have so much else to offer!’
Another hack leant in wearing a thoughtful expression.
‘Martha! You’re a woman. What do you think?’
Fumbling for words, I gulped (some claret).
‘Well, I don’t believe audiences find strong, independently minded women particularly funny. The single lonely ones make us feel so much better. Would you not agree?’
‘Oh heavens no! But then since the birth of my daughter, I have been the most fervent supporter of female empowerment.’
‘Well you would say that, wouldn’t you.’
‘Oh.’ He looked at me in surprise, then embarrassment.
‘Well I’m sure I could introduce you to some people… they loved a sketch I did recently.’
I asked him to elaborate.
‘Oh just about Brexit and how Mill was right.’
Perhaps he was not all bad. ‘You mean on the tyranny of the majority?’
‘Oh no!’ He replied with a chuckle. ‘That only people with a degree should be allowed to vote!’
‘You’re nothing but a pack of blue-ticks’
I got to work on my roasted wood pigeon and frozen pear, while he continued with his line of questioning, asking me how I found myself there, considering I had never contributed to The Guardian. I am guilty of many things, false modesty is not one of them. I relayed that all I had done was send in a few distinctly average jokes and some commentary. He laughed and muttered something about quotas.
‘Well, feminism has its privileges, I suppose.’
I mumbled. I got another scolding for that.
We were discussing the secrets of comic success. How do you know when you’re doing it right?
‘It’s when you hear an enthused ripple of canned laughter.’
‘It’s the quiet murmur of consensus, with heads bobbing up and down.’
‘It’s the extent to which you upset Toby Young’.
‘Don’t be ludicrous, it’s about the number of complaints!’
The lunch was over. I made my way outside, where puddles were glittering in the light of the lampposts. I heard a swishing sound behind me. I turned to look, but it was only a reporter unlocking his phone. A rather serious expression lit up among the gloom.
It turned out to be Jonathan Pie. He had tried to get an invite, but the club had refused him entry. So he was doing a video about it, owning the departing guests ‘with facts and reason’. He began a five-to-eight-minute rant about the cosy mainstream media, liberally peppered with poorly chosen swear words. Finally, he came to his point.
‘Am I simply too controversial for the Eye?’ he asked.
‘Maybe you’re just not funny enough?’
Written by Dannie Grufferty, with illustrations by Matthieu Cossé.