There comes an unfortunate moment in the life of every great stand-up when they decide they must get serious. Russell Brand tried to overthrow global capitalism via a webcam in his en suite bedroom. Jim Davidson put away childish things and moved on to presenting a snooker based game show. Eddie Izzard went on Question Time in a pink beret, and may do so again.
None of them, however, ever made the great leap up to being Foreign Secretary, and it’s just as well. As Boris Johnson found out in his first public appearance in the job, when you’ve spent long decades as the nation’s political lolmeister-in-chief, then suddenly you’re launching in two-footed with the Yemen and Syria stuff, well, you’re always going to find yourself up against a tough crowd.
Earlier in the day, he’d even tested the Special Relationship to its absolute limit, asking US Secretary of State John Kerry to draw some of the clown-flak off him by walking headfirst in to the Number 10 door. It didn’t work.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, left, and US secretary of state John Kerry hold a press conference at the Foreign Office in London. (Picture: PA WIRE) In the grand Locarno Suite of the Foreign Office, Mr Johnson did his very best to play the straight man, talking through the grave issues facing the world: Syria, Turkey, Yemen, Brexit. And, to his credit, most of these are not directly his fault.
But then a heckler intervened. An American journalist from the Associated Press read out an old Johnson Telegraph column of which the subject was the woman who will in all likelihood become President of the United States in a few months time:
“She’s got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital,” he said. “You also compared her to Lady Macbeth. Do you take these comments back or do you want to take them with you into your new job as some kind of indicator of the type of diplomacy you will practise?”
Close observers of American politics may know that John Kerry has not winced since around September 2013. They can now restart the stopwatch.
“I think we’d all much rather talk about Syria,” Johnson answered, the sort of conversation switcher that could only be uttered by a man gearing up for a house share with Liam Fox and David Davis.
On a personal note, I had been concerned that all the American press might know of Johnson was via comedian John Oliver describing him as a ‘shaved orangutan’, but they’d done their research.
“You have an unusually long history of wild exaggerations and frankly outright lies that I think few foreign secretaries have prior to this job,” said the New York Times. “I’m just wondering how Mr Kerry and others should believe what you say considering this very, very long history.”
Mr Kerry grimaced with such intensity both lips touched his ears. By the time Boris Johnson, the ‘Let’s talk about Syria’ trump card already played, had panicked and given his answer in his preferred Latin (something about obiter dictum), Kerry was already phoning home to book in for another injection.
This, unfortunately, is how it will be for Johnson in the short and medium term. Apologising for his historic outrages, while all he wants to do is get on with sorting out his current one.
As Theresa May had warned him earlier in the day, at her first cabinet meeting, ‘Politics is not a game.’
You better believe she’s right. She’s gonna be snookering you, snookering you tonight.