ICYMI: Chloe Petts on The Thick of It
Chloe Petts, co-founder of queer-inclusive comedy night The LOL Word and soon-to-be on her debut tour, takes on the mighty The Thick Of It for this month's ICYMI
If I’m being polite, politically the last five to ten years have been challenging. If I’m being honest, politically the last five to ten years have been a chaotic shitshow of overprivileged, greedy bigots promoting self-interest with a blatant disregard for the good of the people. Regardless of how you describe this decade though, it’s always been accompanied by the bemused refrain: “it’s like something from The Thick of It.”
I’m sure I’ve even used this phrase in recent years (despite never having seen The Thick Of It until now). It acts as useful shorthand to demonstrate the bumbling chaos of modern politics. When it comes to The Thick of It, truth is neither stranger nor more normal than fiction. It’s an outstandingly acted and believable depiction that could be lifted straight from a documentary about the current Cabinet (albeit sans smartphones and social media). It almost reminds me of a comedy version of Pablo Larrain’s recent Diana biopic, Spencer, which he calls “a fable from a true story”.
The brainchild of Armando Iannucci, the first two series of TTOI focus on Hugh Abbott, the hapless and out-of-touch minister of the Department of Social Affairs, and his advisers, Glenn, Ollie and Terri. All are under the watchful eye of the Prime Minister’s 'enforcer', the shouty Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). The latter is the most recognisable, but my personal favourite is Terri Coverly (the always incredible Joanna Scanlan). She’s Hugh, Glenn and Ollie’s punching bag while clearly being the most able − that’s not saying much though. One of the funniest genres of comedy is people, usually idiots, being mean to a perfectly nice person for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
It might be basic to compare TTOI to The Office with its behind-the-scenes style, however, it’s less fly-on-the-wall and more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thanks to its use of jerky handheld single camerawork which enriches the frantic nature of our incompetent protagonists.
Teenage me in 2005 simply glossed over the series, thinking: "Look at these boring men talking about boring policy in a governmental setting that I have no understanding of." That’s not to say there aren’t eminently mature and politically engaged 13-year-olds, I just didn’t happen to be one of them. I was in my waking up early so my parents wouldn’t see that I was still watching the Tweenies phase, with nothing more to worry about than where I’d put my Crystal Palace pencil case and my sexually confusing feelings towards Rihanna.
As I aged and became more politically engaged and understood the world of idiotic adults, I think I was then put off by the idea that it would be a sprawling Iannuccian drama that was impenetrable in its jargon, with a vast cast of characters that I needed a whiteboard, pens and string to keep a track of. In fact, TTOI’s very beauty is the exact opposite − it follows a tight cast of stupid people and takes joy in the banal. These politicians aren’t geniuses that operate on a different plane to the general public; they’re pompous idiots, easily recognisable from our experience of the British Cabinet, who are so concerned with their own power and advancement that they make up policy on the hoof.
Indeed, in Series 1, Episode 2, Hugh, Glenn and Ollie approach Terri with two directly conflicting policies and ask what she thinks will be the more politically expedient − it’s a choice between 'apples' and 'oranges' (latterly translated as something like 'Leave' or 'Remain'). It’s not about a deeply held feeling of moral obligation but instead, how will I keep my job and get an even better one by backing the right horse. And sorry to do the stranger-than-fiction thing but when Hugh hides in a cupboard because of his latest monumental eff up, I couldn’t help but recall Boris Johnson sequestering himself away in a walk-in freezer during the height of his December 2019 election campaign.
I think missing out on cultural phenomena is often a feeling accompanied with guilt or inferiority but I’m now a firm believer that we find the things we’ll come to love at the right time − my enhanced understanding (achieved through an intense commitment to ageing) of both politics and comedy means that I’ve found something that will stand in my mind as one of the finest comedies ever. Iannucci & co have created a satirical masterwork that is both specific and timeless.
Chloe Petts: Transience, Sat 28 May, The Stand, Edinburgh
Transience plays at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe, 3-28 Aug (not 15 Aug), Pleasance Courtyard (Upstairs), 6pm – tickets here
For full tour dates and tickets, visit chloepetts.wixsite.com/chloe-petts