Do you remember Marc Bannerman ‘dribbling over Cerys from Catatonia’ in I’m a Celebrity (Get Me Out of Here) a couple of years ago? Charlie Brooker wonders, within the pages of The Hell of it All (in a column drawn from Screenwipe in November 2007), what his face would look like at the peak of sexual ecstasy. ‘My guess,’ Brooker writes, ‘is that at the point of climax he merely looks confused, gawping at the hot yop spurting from the tip of his funpole in cowed amazement, like a dog trying to follow a card trick.’ Later, talking about Jordan, we learn ‘She sounds like a cardboard box that’s learned to bark, even while whispering.’ If you’ve been dumped, Valentine’s Day is ‘a cruel joke: you’re like a one-legged man on National Riverdance Day.’ In a short piece about TV show Bring on the Wall, we learn Anton De Beke’s nuts are, thanks to a painful looking Lycra bodysuit ‘spread halfway across his pelvis as though they’ve been buttered into position with an enormous pallet knife.’ Writing about Royal Ascot, Brooker draws our attention to the fact that ‘Every year it’s the same thing: a 200-year-old countess you’ve never heard of, who closely resembles a Cruela De Vil mannequin entirely assembled from heavily wrinkled scrotal tissue that’s been soaked in tea for the past eight decades, attempts to draw attention away from her sagging neck – a droopy curtain of skin that hangs so low she has to repeatedly kick it out of her path as she crosses the royal compound – by balancing the millinery equivalent of Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum on her head…’ Do you want to hear Brooker’s suggestions for new games for the 2012 Olympics? ‘Moon Snooker! Unicorn Wrestling! Quantum Deathball! Dissenter Beheading! Pac-Man with Guns!’ The state of the world right now? ‘I’ve become so conditioned to expect bad news that if I turned on CNN tomorrow morning and saw a report saying every kitten in the world had died of leukemia during the night, accompanied by footage of sobbing workmen bulldozing their bodies into a mass grave, I’d probably just shrug and think, ‘Yeah, that figures.’’ How about the English abroad? ‘If you’re somewhere sunny, chances are you won’t watch anything at all, unless you’re such a dull football-liking git you think you’ll lose the ability to breathe if you can’t see the latest match via satellite in a horrific bar specialising in full English breakfasts and sugary cocktails surrounded by fellow pink-shouldered, cow-brained, hooting awful wankers.’ One last one? Okay. Gordon Brown, as at the time of writing, still the British Prime Minister: ‘Assailed from all directions, stumbling, bumbling, droning, punch-drunk, hapless, hopeless, and aching with palpable misery, he increasingly resembles a depressed elephant, slowly being felled by a thousand pin-sized arrows fired into his hide by a million tiny natives, still somehow moving forward, trudging wearily toward its allotted graveyard-slot with morose resignation.’
If you (like me) laughed at any of the above, it’s more than reasonable that you’ll get a hearty kick out of the latest collection of Brooker’s journalism. If (also like me) you read his columns (on Saturday and Monday) each week in The Guardian and think that you don’t need to read the columns collected, you may be surprised (as I was): Brooker’s writing repays repeated readings. In point of fact, Brooker’s writing improves on repeated readings. When you get past the jokes, when you read these columns in succession, you actually find yourself spending time with a man who wouldn’t be out of place in a Beckett play. He hates people. He hates himself. Another curious thing: in column after column, I found myself saying to the missus, my God, my views correspond with Brooker’s on so many different subjects, intersecting in so many intricate and complex ways (I hate football! I’m scared of spiders! I have moments of existential anguish!). ‘Me and Brooker,’ I said (to the missus) ‘would get on like a house on fire’ – only for the missus to say (quite adroitly), ‘No. Brooker is like the secret voice of all male Guardian readers. You’re not like Brooker. Brooker is just a strange sort of misanthropic everyman.’ I screamed ‘No!’ like Horrid Henry (if you haven’t seen Horrid Henry, his ‘Noooooooooo’s are worth the price of sitting down in the early afternoon like a sort of paedophile Raskolnikoff). But I think the missus is probably right.
Obviously, with this being a collection of journalism that combines columns on random topics with columns on TV shows, there are some that date (you can’t help but wish that Brooker sometimes avoid writing about Big Brother/Apprentice/I’m a Celebrity even as you’re laughing about what he says). Having read three of these collections now (Screenwipe and Dawn of the Dumb are the first two) and laughed my little socks off, I’m also starting to want a bit more (I want Charlie Brooker to sit down and write a whole book-length book). But these feel like minor quibbles. The Hell of it All amused the cow’s tits off me. If you like to be amused by occasionally spiteful arrangements of words in venal sentences, I think The Hell of it All would probably amuse the cow’s tits off you too.
Any Cop?: It may be either you don’t know Charlie Brooker or don’t like Charlie Brooker. If you are familiar with Brooker, though, this should be an essential purchase.