Ten years is a long time in the satire business – 2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the Secret Diary, that sometimes vicious but essentially kind-hearted series which prods and pokes the good and the great - but it was a pleasure to direct the weekly poke and prod this year.
There was so much posturing, so many conspicuous displays of virtue, as you'd expect from a Labour-led government.
Labour make it easy for a satirist, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern especially. I always know the first line of each of her diaries. It's her favourite chant, the one she delivers with a most serious and solemn face: "Let me be perfectly clear..." Followed by flannel, blather and smoke.
Reader, I voted for her. Also we used to be quite friendly. We go way back. She launched one of my books and we played ping-pong and there was the time I called in for biscuits in her office during that long, strange wait for Winston Peters to decide which party he would choose to form a government and give him the brightest baubles of office.
But she stopped replying to my texts a while ago. Poor me! Cut off, abandoned. Was it the Secret Diary? Probably not – she rarely reads anything written about her, which is very good practise. Maybe, though, she got sick of the dairies and their mocking, their rubber-hooter hooting, their whoopee-cushion whoopeeing.
Simon Bridges was all good with it. I think. We've always got on well and have things in common, in a topsy-turvy way – I live in the neighbourhood where he grew up, and he lives in the neighbourhood where I grew up. Anyway he'd routinely text after I made him the subject of a Secret Diary but come to think of it he stopped a while ago, too.
I guess you can't expect to maintain friendships as a satirist and it's probably just as well. Nothing worse than being a nice satirist, a pet satirist. Oh actually wait a minute, there is something worse: being a bitter satirist, a nasty satirist. As the author of a sometimes vicious but essentially kind-hearted satire I get accused of bitterness and nastiness. That's the problem with being passive-aggressive, you're just asking for trouble.
I wrote satires in 2019 about the woke left. The woke left hated it. I wrote satires in 2019 about the angry right. The angry right hated it. I'm not sure which of the two camps I enjoyed aggravating the most. Equally, I guess. The left are generally smarter than the right – that's the thing with being a conservative, you don't have to think – but also a lot more inclined towards haranguing everyone on correct codes of moral conduct. I don't do moral conduct.
There was a moral uproar this year over a retweet from sportsman Israel Folau. He gave a thumbs-up to someone's list of the kinds of people going to Hell. I viewed him as just another religious crank and didn't want to put him down just for holding crazy views, but I much enjoyed writing a Secret Diary which added to the list of the damned: "Solo mothers. Nags. Witches. Bitches. Most women, come to think of it...People with flat feet.
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People with a history of failed relationships. People with an essentially relaxed, tolerant attitude towards people of various faiths, belief systems, genders, sexuality, and moral values…"
The list went on and on, and yet it wasn't as long another list which I read a few months later on Queen St. I was walking along minding my own business when I across a religious crank who was being very public about not minding his own business: he displayed a vast sign which listed who he thought would be the kinds of people going to Hell. God it was crazy. That's the thing about satire, it just can't keep up with the real thing.
And sometimes it's better for it to shut the hell up. I put the Secret Diary on gardening leave for a fortnight after March 15. There's just nothing funny about what happened.
But life goes on, and so does satire, as life's mocking shadow. It was just like old times when a snafu at ANZ allowed me to satirise one of the very first subjects of the Secret Diary, 10 years ago: Sir John Key. "At the end of the day you can pin a tail on the donkey," I had him say, "but you can't pin anything on the Jonky."
I hope he does something newsworthy in 2019 so I can have fun with him. He's not a bad guy, in person; the very first time I met him was on a campaign trail when he was an Opposition MP, and he offered to give me a lift in his car. Yes, please, I said, and hopped in. And this is how I repay him, with 10 years of mocking laughter? Such is the way of the satirist. But the Secret Diary will take a rest during the silly season. Happy New Year to the good, the kind, the knaves and the fools: we all deserve a break.