I gave up on Comic Relief quite some time ago. To be honest it was never really very good. Good if you’re a nice person with no proper sense of humour, who is scarily easy to entertain, but not much good to anyone else. I wrote out many of my thoughts on Comic Relief a while ago and if I could be bothered to find it and read it back I’m fairly convinced I’d still stand by everything I said. The bottom line is that Comic Relief must, must, must work harder to be funnier if they want people like me to give away their money; I’m much more likely to donate to a charity if it doesn’t pretend to offer something in return, and then fail to deliver it – in this case the gift of laughter. I am pleased however, to see that Comic Relief has finally seen a tiny bit of sense and stopped sending celebrities to Africa, the concept alone being appalling from the very first day they started.
This idea that all you need is for a rich, famous person to cuddle a starving African child to make everything better was always an absurd one. There has been a call to rid the world of the “white saviour” category for a few years now. Apparently Stacey Dooley was heavily criticised for some crass appeal video she made in Uganda last year, though frankly I wasn’t that bothered because I didn’t hear about it and therefore didn’t see it, and I also don’t know who Stacey Dooley is or what she does for a living; I’m also quite happy to live on in ignorance. The big kerfuffle before that one was thanks of course to Ed Sheeran, a man who is almost impossible to accurately measure in terms of being an arsehole, because there just isn’t enough time. He happily flew out to Africa to crouch next to the next poster boy for needless suffering and explain how bodies and money work, and then he presumably out-arseholed even himself by getting out his little guitar and singing a song around the campfire about something totally inappropriate and unrelated – like drinking raspberry vodka or having pubic lice. It probably wasn’t only the sight of his daft face that ground down the teeth and life expectancy of an entire African village, but it can’t have helped. Because Ed Sheeran will never help.
Of course the “white saviour” is not just confined to the world of celebrities. Between them, Harry and Meghan of Los Angeles have even less to do than the average celebrity, so they’ve done their bit and more – skipping merrily across the continent, trying to convince everyone that somehow their problems are really quite similar to those of the average Angolan plumber. And let’s not forget about the cringe inducing efforts of Madonna and Angelina Jolie, who have swept the children of Africa under their wings, literally, in an effort to make themselves look and feel a whole lot better. In many countries it’s illegal to buy a child, but that was never going to get in the way of their grand ambitions. I wonder if Archie of Los Angeles will one day be blessed with a clutch of new African half brothers and sisters; if that day ever came I expect the internet would implode.
“White saviours” don’t even have to be white. Perhaps the quintessential point man for not-very-funny-at-all charity day trips to Africa is Lenny Henry, a man who I may well remember not so much because he is black, but because he is a comic for a living and has never made me laugh out loud once. I have never really considered how much Comic Relief has done for his career but I’m guessing it’s slightly more than nothing at all. Of course he did co-found Comic Relief so well done him, but it’s interesting that he now says of the move to end celebrity interference that “it’s about time……….it’s not to say that the films that have been made in the past weren’t extraordinary and didn’t have a huge effect“, which sounds like he’s had enough of his cake and just wants to pat himself of the back and go for a nap. You started it Lenny – the sympathetic gaze to Camera #1 as you hold hands with little Afolabi and explain why he’s being eaten alive from the inside by a bacteria; a bacteria you could stop for, remarkably, exactly £5 – so please don’t tell us “it’s about time”.
You’re intelligent, you know all of this really just disguises the bigger issue, which is that even using celebrities to save a few African children, perhaps even a whole village or two is not going to address the broader, deeper problem. On that note I would be very happy to see a group of crack celebrities (and by that I don’t mean Pete Doherty, though he’s welcome to get involved, as they say) parachuted into Nigeria one Friday night to take out the high command of the Boko Haram terrorist network. Once this target is secured they could split into two smaller groups, constantly followed by camera crews. The ‘Save Africa Group’, led by Danny Dyer and Gemma Collins (and funded by the Virgin Atlantic pension pot), would head north to restore peace, order and prosperity from Sierra Leone to Libya and eventually back down to South Sudan. The ‘Make Africa Smile Again Group’ (funded by the liquidation of all of Jamie Oliver’s assets), led by Davina McCall and Idris Elba would head south and then east, brutally supressing even the slightest whiff of dictatorial shenanigans in countries such as Central African Republic, Burundi and Rwanda before finishing off in South Africa where they would install Morgan Freeman as a Nelson Mandela replacement until someone better came along. Or just use Idris Elba. They would never make it, of course, but watching Matt Baker and Cheryl Cole come to a sticky end against a garrison of the Somali Presidential Guard whilst trying to tell knock-knock jokes would be far more likely to make me reach for my wallet. Ironically, it would also be mildly funnier than the rest of Comic Relief.
G B Hewitt. 28.10.2020