Andy Zaltzman is a comedic and political underdog. Night in, night out, he fights the corner of those disenfranchised by the satire establishment. Those whom Punt and Dennis oppress weekly with their stiflingly beige observations; for whom Sandi Toksvig’s viking jokes demurely miss the point; for whom the 11 o’clock show is like a confused troupe of celebrity UN goodwill ambassadors, fearing for their limbs in the geopolitical minefields. Andy Zaltzman is as if a rapid-fire satire bomb had dropped on Mock the Week, a show which is, in all fairness, little more than a televisual monkey sanctuary (one where some of the primates should know better than to fling their shit, half of which is nicked from twitter anyway) and, emerging stumbling from the wreckage: a more coherent monkey, a politically razor-edged monkey, a relentlessly intelligent monkey, an oddly-spliced underdog monkey with frankly untelevisable hair.
The injustice of not having him beamed into our homes aside, on the planet of the satirical apes Zaltzman is king. Kingly in the scope of his surveyance of British contemporary political life: a regal measured hand dispensing satire underpinned by a firm and consistent analysis. He grasps the polity’s shape and colours in the manner of a thrilled but slightly cynical children’s entertainer – with unlikely energy, constant levity, a manic precision, and a wacky haircut indescribable to anyone that has never had their pubic hair caught in oncoming headlights. But for all this Zaltzman delivers a humbly democratic routine. With an undertow of impatience, he prods and nibbles the stale corners of middlish leftish consensus; he actually reads broadsheets rather than the television researchers’ precis.
Tonight he’s left stranded by a lazy audience; precisely two hands go up when he asks who would stand up to the government if they started killing people. On charity he crosses with Stewart Lee’s routine, on Libya, rioters, austerity he loses the broad and casual Edinburgh crowd. When he flies off into a fantasy dismantling of everything in this country in the name of austerity (including “the country’s poor, because foreign ones are so much more efficient”) no one’s sure when to laugh. A fantastic skit in which he listens to himself on the radio, extrapolating a bizarre satiric concoction of dogs holding office in the voice of a newscaster, then proceeds to read the “satire” he has feigned to have just written on his lap, a string of fart-stoppingly heinous puns, is broadly warmly received; even as the constant caustic left-field wit goes largely unnoticed.
The comedian Milton Jones once told me “the thicker the audience the higher the hair”. Zaltzman’s instantly recognisable jew-fro, his halo of outsidership, might have some relegating him to the kooky backrooms of wackiness. Which misses the point, that it’s perfectly possible to look like Sideshow Bobkes and be one of this country’s best working political comedians and satirists. Even a chimp can approximate laughter, it takes someone like Zaltzman to make it resound.