They pay you a lot of money to go on Have I Got News for You? Around £5,000, I think, which is a decent whack if you're a starving hack. But still I turned it down when they asked me on a couple of years ago and I've never felt the slightest flicker of regret. Just in case I'm ever tempted, though, I'm going to keep my recording of this week's episode as a cruel but salutory reminder that HIGNFY is to political satire what Covid-19 is to economic growth.
Maybe it's unfair to kick a programme when it's down: spavined by the ludicrous lockdown rules where instead of appearing in a studio and taking their chances, all the panelists get filmed in their homes (by crews wearing actual PPE suits, apparently) and have to try to be funny when there's no audience, no atmosphere and no room for quick-fire interjections.
Then again, maybe they should have thought of that, before they broadcast more than one episode (this was the second) in this dismal format, which future generations - I'm sure - will study as an exemplum of just how dire and desperate things got in the great Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020.
This HIGNFY episode will become like 'and they ate all the animals in Paris zoo' anecdote that gets trotted out every time they mention the Franco-Prussian war. The equivalent of when they ate the two elephants - Castor and Pollux - will probably be the moment when Ian Hislop tried to be funny using a copy of John Betjeman's Guide to English Parish Churches as a bell substitute.
I'm not sure when it was that Hislop was ever actually funny: possibly once or twice in the early 90s when Angus Deayton was still hosting; possibly never. What I think most of us can agree on is that for some considerable time now, his fuddy-duddy, predictable, wearisomely bien-pensant contributions have been outrageously overindulged by the production team. He's like a very rich man who is convinced he's Napoleon: none of his grovelling retainers dares disabuse him because their living depends on it. Deayton was expendable; but not Hislop and Merton who've profited handsomely from this sinecure for nearly three decades when at least one of them should have been put out to grass long ago.
Hislop's delusional schtick is that he's a charmingly old fashioned, conservatively-inclined sort of chap - hence the Betjeman - who yet has one or two important things to get off his chest which jolly well need saying and if no one else is up to doing it then he jolly well will. But then he opens his mouth and out comes an editorial column more redolent of Polly Toynbee than Auberon Waugh.
This week, for example, Hislop riffed disapprovingly on the fact that Somerset Capital, the asset management fund in which Jacob Rees-Mogg has a 15 per cent share, was boasting about the 'supernormal returns' that could potentially be made during the crisis. Why - was the gist of Hislop's ramble - can't these disgusting plutocrats donate a portion of their filthy profits to the NHS (or similar), a bit like Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged premier league footballers to do?
Putting aside the fact Hislop himself is not exactly short of dosh - is he giving 30 percent of his income away? Integrity demands it, surely! - how is this point either funny or satirical? It's just standard-issue BBC socialism: the kind of lazily conformist bilge which any member of the left-liberal Establishment could have said - and frequently has - in the last five decades. Where's the daring? Where's the 'did he just say that?' shock with which any half-way decent comic jerks us out of our complacency? Where's the well-aimed barb - doesn't Hislop have something to do with some magazine formerly associate with satire? - which will afflict the comfortable of our governing elite?
OK, there's no news around at the moment, which is a problem for a topical show called Have I Got News for You? But there's still plenty of room for comment and barbs - now probably more than ever, in fact. What about the possibility that we're trashing the entire global economy on the basis of a few dodgy computer modelled projections by epidemiologists with a track record of failure? What about the terrifying personality cult surrounding the parasitical NHS? What about the police overreactions, members of the public snitching on their neighbours for taking too much exercise, the class war now fought between second homeowners and those remote counties like Devon and Cornwall which half the year they do so much to bankroll?
None of that edgy, interesting, relevant or satirically valuable stuff got a mention on this week's episode, naturally. Nor will it on next week's episode, in all likelihood, because HIGFNY wouldn't even know how. Like most of its guests - this week, a lesbian comic from Brighton and the agreeable but not exactly right wing Radio 4 vicar Richard Coles - it exists in a left-liberal metropolitan bubble where no one thinks to question the status quo because the status quo embodies their own value system all too perfectly.