Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Boris Johnson - Don't underestimate the power of funny

Boris has been popping up a lot in the news lately with all the excitement mounting around the Olympics.

It's all looking good, spectacular, in fact.  Building of the 2012 stadium is on time, within budget, and eye-poppingly impressive.  And we thought we were hopeless at this kind of thing.  Remember the Millennium disaster?

But I digress, it's Boris who's the issue.  He who has been prominent in the Olympic countdown; he, who has been madly pedalling about the city promoting those Paris-inspired dangerous-looking rent-a-bikes; he of the impossibly thick blond thatch that requires constant ruffling to stay out of his eyes; he of the strange dictum, hilarious facial expressions and comic, well just comic being...  He merely has take to the lectern and you're stifling a laugh.  There's something of the Eric Morecambe about him.  And, whatever you think of his politics, frankly, it's refreshing.

The UK political scene has been so lacking in humour of late, so devoid of personality.  Where the Labour party was funny it was contrived, spun, over-controlled and try too hard.   Cameron is of a similarly over cautious and bland approach (occasionally in PM QT resorting to sarcasm and childish 'Calm down dear' mimicry to get a laugh). Although you knew Blair clearly had it in him his sense of humour outings were carefully managed .... the most memorable being the 'You fink I'm bovvered?' Comic Relief sketch, amusing in the extreme, but doubtless monitored closely by TB's PR.  The sad truth is he was altogether just too earnest to be funny.

There's no scripting Boris though, oh no.  He's nothing if not spontaneous, which of course leads to the odd reckless, heinously inappropriate gaffe, the stumbling, the veering off message etc, but it's his unpredictability, his pompous vernacular, his shambolic bluster that makes him funny.   Like it or lump it, it's in his veins, and conveys a certain honesty.  Plus, of course, we're told by those who know him that the comic front belies a raging intelligence, vaulting ambition and profound seriousness underneath.   I met his mother once, the artist Charlotte Johnson Wahl, who was at pains to point out that her eldest is 'very serious you know, despite what people might think'.  Maybe it's all a ruse?

But, that aside, the truth of the matter is this.  The Mayoralty is up for re-election next year and there's a chance that Boris may not get to open his beloved Olympics, instead forced to hand ye flamin' torch over to arch rival Ken.  I have a feeling it won't happen, that he'll stay in.  Because there's a little bit about his comedy that infects, and that's what people want more of right now, amidst all the gloom.

It's a shame for Ken, because we're all well aware what a phenomenal job he did as predecessor in terms of making things happen.  But don't underestimate the power of funny alongside a smattering of competence (2012).  After all, Boris having been handed the baton, is yet to break anything.  Plus, it seems he's careful (even long-term strategic..?) to set himself apart from Cameron (citing the hacking saga) and in doing so, end up less tarred with the same brush that daubs the failings of central government.

It was summed up for me in a newspaper the other day which observed how, on one of his many promotional outings, about which I can't remember, a group of teenage boys gathered around The Blond to have their photo taken.  It seemed wholly unlikely that an anarchic group of kids would consent, never mind volunteer, to having their photograph taken alongside Britain's most bumbling toff. When asked why they did, they replied with a shrug, 'Cos he's funny, isn't he?'

Come 3 May 2012, I suspect they'll be an awful lot of Londoners thinking the same.

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