You’ve “rudely” gone after guests on Have I Got News For You, calling former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s press secretary/director of communications Alistair Campbell a war criminal, for example, when he guest-hosted the show last year. Campbell, barely ruffled, eventually silenced your attacks by playing the bagpipes. The closest we can get to that here is when Sarah Palin walks through a carefully rehearsed Saturday Night Live sketch to try to show that she’s in on the joke. Which she isn’t.
It’s difficult for us to understand, you know. Jon Stewart interviews Tony Blair and doesn’t lay a finger on him. And I think, “That’s satire?” It isn’t, though. Obviously, it’s a chat show, and there are some other bits with it. But again, for us that’s very peculiar.
Jon Stewart is probably the closest thing America has to you, this smart-funny-attack-dog figure, but his targets are usually conservatives—and the people he’s really dug into, face to face, have mostly been conservative media figures, like Tucker Carlson and Bill O’Reilly, for example. Private Eye and Have I Got News For You have always seemed more equal opportunity when it comes to criticizing people.
Well, we had three terms of New Labour, with the Iraq War in the middle, so we were under no illusion that the right has a monopoly on “vice, folly, and humbug”—that’s the great 18th-century definition of what politicians get up to.
People say, “They have The Daily Show in America, why doesn’t someone do that here?” I think, this is very good and it’s often very funny, but it wouldn’t work here. Because, well, we don’t do it like that. We do it in a different way. I think it’s a mistake to imagine that people always do things in the same way.
Piers Morgan’s success in our respective countries has certainly happened in a different way. In Britain, he’s known as a tabloid editor who was fired in disgrace and recently cited by the Leveson Report as giving an “utterly unpersuasive” denial of his involvement in phone hacking. Here, he helms one of CNN’s flagship shows. Whose fault is he?
Oh, entirely yours. But I mean, again, he’s cottoned on to a very good cause—saying what appears to be blindingly obvious in a society that doesn’t want to recognize it. You know, it’s quite a good shtick, really. It’s difficult to criticize. And you can imagine how hard it is for me to say that!
[Hislop and Morgan are not friends. Hislop takes every opportunity to tear into him in the Eye, which refers to him as “Piers Moron,” and they exchanged heated words when Morgan appeared on Have I Got News For You in 1996. A few years later, Morgan ordered his reporters to dig up dirt on Hislop and offered readers money for any scandalous photographs of the “moon-faced midget.” They didn’t find anything.]
Who in America would make a good target for your kind of satire and commentary?
The trouble is that because Private Eye is quite parochial and I am, too, I don’t really know enough about the States. I remember when I used to work on a program called Spitting Image, which NBC very briefly in the ’80s bought a version of. [American audiences would know Spitting Image best as the puppets in Genesis’s “Land of Confusion” video.] For the NBC pilot, we sent a script in, and we got a call from someone who was vice president or one of those things at the network, and he said, “Are you guys suggesting the President of the United States is an asshole?!!?” And we had to say, “Yeah! Yeah!” That was sort of the gist of the script. Which didn’t go down very well.
Essentially, they should’ve got American writers to write it. People say, “Why don’t you do Private Eye in America?” And I say, “They should do it.” Because they know who’s lobbying; they know who the idiots are; they know the people who are sort of against gay marriage and have a string of rent boys. These are the stories that you know when you’re there. And we don’t know.
I remember meeting Harry Shearer probably 10 years before he was on Have I Got News For You [in 2012]. He’s incredibly funny and he seems to know what’s going on, so someone like him could do it. But he’s not a national figure, is he?
He’s probably best known here for doing voices on The Simpsons.