In The Simpsons episode “Homer vs. Lisa and the Eight Commandment” Homer laughs at some bland unfunny observational comedy on TV masquerading as a joke and says “It’s funny because it’s true.” The Homers of this world have kept average comedians on prime time television and their creative accountants in work for years. Most observational TV stand-up isn’t especially funny or clever unless it has a cutting edge; Charlie Brooker does have a cutting edge and uses the better medium of writing as a showcase for his talents, with observational material coupled with spurts of polemic that is consistently funny.
I Can Make You Hate is a collection of his Guardian columns from a period of three years, with a couple of TV sketches thrown in, neatly presented in chronological order. In the process we see Brooker carve out his own persona as self-depreciating mildly angry, nearing middle-aged man, which he recognises allows his broadsides to allow comedy to the personal insults he often throws around. And we also see the initial formulation of some of his ideas which he later developed with Black Mirror.
While Brooker’s character is central to his writing, his sometimes strange tastes doesn’t stop it being a very enjoyable read; he watches a lot of awful TV talent shows most discerning viewers wouldn’t waste a minute on, he references video games which are meaningless to non-geeks and he is one of those weird blokes who doesn’t like football. Yet still it is very easy empathize with him throughout and occasionally laugh out loud at his jokes.
Brooker has a nice turn of phrase and the book actually benefits from the reader imagining the words spoken in Brooker’s now well-known voice. Of course, with deadlines to meet not every column is of the same standard, with a couple feeling like fillers. Much of the early pieces are TV columns, but while we are in the golden age of television there is no critical analysis of high quality drama: instead, as Brooker admits when he decides to end writing the column, the style primarily mocking drivel. Which he did very well.
The book can also be looked as a pop-culture and politics crossover diary from the summer of 2009 to post-London 2012, a fitting ending when even Brooker, the non-sports loving cynic, was won over. It shows how regular popular news agendas often give as much weight to the trivial, the shallow, the overblown twitter storms as much as it does to the big issues. But in-between Brooker touches on the important matters of the period: the phone-hacking conspiracy, the 2011 riots, the 2012 Olympics and the apathy that allowed the opportunity of Proportional Representation to pass by almost unnoticed. Even now, as Brooker showed last week with this piece on Scottish independence, his observational humour can offer a different perspective on matters of substance.
Mel Gomes is the author of the e-book Glory Nights from Wankdorf to Wembley which documents the escape of travelling to watch sport. It is available to preview for free and download in full from Amazon and Smashwords. More details, including photos and links to reviews, here.
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