I might possibly have over-reacted a bit last night, seeing Andy Parsons making a joke about how Gordon Brown opens his mouth at the end of every sentence. That’s not to say I think I was wrong exactly in reacting in that way, just that I shouldn’t have been surprised.

This is what I wrote on another bit of the internet when I watched another episode about six weeks ago. I’d just seen the round where Dara O’Brien reads out a number or statistic and the contestants have to identify which news story it relates to:

The number was “one million” and Frankie Boyle said something like “What number do you get if you take all the people in Scotland who care about cricket and add one million?” and everyone laughed and someone said something and everyone laughed and then someone else said something else and everyone laughed again and then someone, possibly Andy Parsons, said “Out of the royalties from ‘They Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab’, how much money has Amy Winehouse spent on rehab?” and even though that’s not the name of the song, everyone still laughed. Then Russell Howard said “By what percentage would the situation in Afghanistan improve if the US handed George Bush over to the Taliban” and again everyone laughed.

Eventually, the answer was revealed and “one million” referred to the amount of money that the News Of The World has paid out so far to stop details of the phone tapping scandal emerging, and suddenly, I was shocked. I suddenly realised that this was a new series. This is a recent story. This episode was filmed in the last two weeks or so.

So then I thought “Hold on, they just did a joke about Amy Winehouse going to rehab. And Russell Howard did a joke about handing George Bush over to the Taliban. So, was Russell Howard suggesting that there still, in July 2009, remains so much residual hatred of George Bush that if the US handed him over, that would assuage their feelings of hostility and the situation would instantly improve? That all of that anger is purely focused on George Bush as an individual and not on the US in general? And that was the point Russell Howard was making? That’s quite a complex idea to try to get over in a one liner, and I’m not sure it’s really true either. But what else could he have meant?”

Surely it couldn’t be the case that Russell Howard, as a professional comedian and regular panellist on a topical news quiz had simply reached for a lazy, safe punchline and blurted it out, not caring whether or not it made sense. This is a man who sells out Wembley.

Anyway, as I was thinking all this, they all carried on talking about the News Of The World phone tapping scandal and whether or not the scandal had a name yet – you know, like “Watergate” and “Sachsgate” – and someone suggested “Stargate” and then Hugh Dennis said “They should have called the story about Jacqui Smith’s husband ‘Masturgate'” and then I turned the TV off in disgust.

They weren’t even talking about Jacqui Smith, Hugh Dennis just thought that “Masturgate” was so funny, it was worth mentioning, even though the programme was broadcast in July 2009 and the story originally broke several months earlier. Hugh Dennis is actually a regular on two topical comedy shows on the BBC, so he should have had plenty of opportunity to mention the joke at the time. His other show, Radio 4’s The Now Show was on its 27th series in March and April this year. He could have mentioned it then. Of course, had he done so, it would have only reached a smaller audience, but does Hugh Dennis really believe that “masturgate” is such a funny joke that it’s worth storing up for four months so it can reach the audience he thinks it deserves? It’s the sort of joke that if it had been made at the time on Twitter, it might have been retweeted by a couple of people. It is not a masterpiece.

I’m guessing the reason Hugh Dennis wasn’t able to make his “masturgate” joke on The Now Show in March or April is that in March and April, he was busy making jokes about things which had happened three or four months earlier. This would explain why in August this year, they were still making jokes about MPs’ expenses and “duck houses”. As we can see from this Google Trends graph, the phrase “duck house” peaked in May 2009, just after Sir Peter Viggers’ expenses claim was made public:

Looking in more detail, we can see that mentioning “duck houses” would have been funniest between the 20th and the 23rd of May 2009:

If we allow for recording dates and deadlines, we can extend this to the end of May. After that “duck house” does not have enough search volume to show laughs.

The Now Show isn’t on at the moment. The slot has been filled with I Guess That’s Why They Call It The News. This series has taken a dramatic approach to avoid the problem of contestants making outdated jokes on an otherwise topical programme, by apparently asking all the contestants to avoid making any jokes whatsoever. Instead, contestants simply speak in full sentences, and occasionally the audience laughs out of a sense of courtesy.

On Mock The Week last night, Russell Howard did a joke about John Smeaton. The joke was so out of date, Howard couldn’t even remember Smeaton’s name.

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