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.
I suppose that’s how you do irreverence in America, through animation. It’s on Family Guy and South Park and all of which are, to a British audience, pretty outrageous in terms of what they can get away with saying. I can’t imagine human beings would be allowed to say any of those things.
Our libel laws are a bit more relaxed than yours. [Hislop is known as “the most-sued man in British legal history.”]
But I remember the Michael Jackson/Blanket episode [South Park’s “The Jeffersons”]. I can’t imagine, you know, had you had humans doing that instead of, it would’ve been allowed to go out.
Any American journalists/comedians/satirical anything you admire?
I remember reading Spy when it came out and thinking that was very exciting.
I think Spy was the closest thing we’ve had to Private Eye.
Yeah, when Graydon [Carter and Kurt Anderson] launched that, it all seemed very funny and sharp and rude and all those things. So I don’t know whether there’s an appetite for it. I mean, the only thing that comes over here in any consistent way is people saying Jon Stewart’s brilliant. And that’s taken as standard. It’s like people saying “The West Wing’s brilliant, it’s the best political program that’s ever been made.” And I’m just thinking, this is a liberal fantasy about what a president might be like. I prefer my politics ruder. The British wouldn’t make West Wing. That’s not how we think politics works. We genuinely don’t buy into that. So I think it’s partly expectation.
Are Americans just too polite? Or maybe we just pretend to be too polite?
Maybe you’re polite; maybe you’re just nicer. It’s perfectly possible! You’re certainly much more positive; you’re prepared to see more good.