There was a show in New York called The Secret Policeman’s Ball. It was to raise funds and awareness for Amnesty International. You probably wouldn’t know that by watching the version that aired on Channel 4, which was reduced to the usual showcase of their standard roster of comedians delivering old material about sex, technology and swearing that made zero mention of the reason they were there. It’s as if Channel 4 wanted to keep the reason for The Secret Policeman’s Ball a bit of a secret.
This used to be a night for Peter Cook’s savage satirical take-down of the Jeremy Thorpe trial. Now it’s Micky Flanagan talking about fingering.
Only by reading reports from those who were at the show at Radio City Music Hall did I discover there really was a sense of the old Amnesty fundraisers about it. Jon Stewart (who was featured heavily in the C4 trails and in fact appeared only to present a band, but let’s not go there for fear of my rage smashing through the computer screen) did a sketch about Kim Jong Un. A group of SNL regulars did a routine on dictatorships. Desmond Tutu provided a filmed message.
What did we read in The Independent? “In the end, the evening belonged to neither Britain nor America. Introduced by Liam Neeson, it was Zarganar, the Burmese stand-up comedian who has been jailed four times, for a total of 11 years since 1988, who drew the night’s only spontaneous ovation. On stage, he eschewed jokes and satire for a dignified reminder of the serious stories behind the evening’s laughs.”
What did we see of this moving, crucial moment that sums up The Secret Policeman’s Ball on Channel 4? Nothing. Not a mention, not even the slightest clue he exists. Evidently he had to make way for all three Coldplay songs and Jack Whitehall talking about the frustration of using an iPhone. You know, the real reason for the Amnesty show.