Brian Edwards Media

Hanging’s too good for them! (I rule on humourless people.)

Paul Henry Mug 2

Over the past three or four months I’ve made several appearances on The Paul Henry Show, theoretically in the role of informed media commentator. If you type ‘Paul Henry’ into the search box at the top of this page, you’ll find a number of seemingly contradictory posts on the controversial Mr Henry. They range from enthusiastic approval of his jbroadcasting skill to a call for his immediate sacking in the aftermath of ‘moustache-gate’, his mirth at the name of New Dehli’s Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, his description of Susan Boyle as ‘retarded’ and his offensive question to John Key as to whether the next Governor General after Anand Satyanand would look a bit more like a New Zealander.

I was right on both counts. Henry is a brilliant broadcaster who is never far from and occasionally crosses the line of acceptable broadcasting standards. I know I will regret having said this, but he’s also extremely bright.

Henry and I are of course politically poles apart. I stood as a Labour candidate in Miramar in 1972; he stood for National in the Wairarapa in 1999. And Judy and I were media advisors to Helen Clark for well over a decade. So there’s a bit of generally good-natured sparring between us on the morning show. A month ago, after he had described something I’d said about him as ‘vile’, I responded, ‘I like you Paul – when I am world dictator your death will be swift and painless.’  (I stole the line from one of my stepson’s T-shirts!)

This morning I told Paul that my appearances on his show were costing me my friends and cited an entirely fictional email from Helen Clark in New York warning me against any continued association with him. This gave Paul a wonderful opening to get stuck into the bullying, humourless bloody left. In response I felt obliged to withdraw my compliment of the previous month and inform him that I’d never actually liked him, though I very much liked his mother. Was he sure that this lovely woman really was his mother? It’s  quite a fun exchange.   


“I watched the paul Henry show this morning and was astounded at your gullibility in becoming the shows laughing stock. Your politically biased / humorless approach in telling the viewers how you (and Helen Clarke)  dislike paul Henry is exactly what the show was seeking. what you failed to appreciate is that  the paul Henry show is appealing for its entertaining informative style.  by taking exception to jibes from paul Henry you have re enforced why those boorish self righteous labour folk were not elected. the real humor is that the guests like yourself don’t see if coming and gladly volunteer to be the shows fodder! keep up the good work!” Sic.

I’m grateful to Tim Hunter, the author of this analysis which was in my Inbox when I got home from the show this morning. It confirms what I have long known – that offering sarcasm or irony to a New Zealander is, if not precisely casting pearls before swine, at least inviting the prospect of being taken literally and therefore totally misunderstood. Sarcasm and irony both involve not saying what you mean. To take either literally thus involves deriving precisely the opposite meaning to that intended by the speaker.

This is what has happened to Mr Hunter. He can at least take comfort from being one of a vast number of Kiwis who just don’t get either irony or hyperbole. It’s important to know this when writing for a Kiwi audience. Expressing the opinion that hanging is too good for people who hog the outside lane on the motorway, or too good for the inventor of the leaf blower or or too good for parents who allow their five-year-old daughters to let out ear-piercing screams in restaurants, will produce a torrent of correspondence both for and against hanging the perpetrators of these crimes.

My personal view is that hanging is too good for humourless people. I cannot put it any better than Clive James whom I have quoted on this topic numerous times:

‘Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense dancing. Those who lack humour lack common sense and should be trusted with nothing.’

, , , , , ,


  1. I thoroughly enjoy the synergy between you, Brian, and the expressionless but verbally adroit (in a millenial sense), Pebbles Hooper…perfect balance.
    This morning’s rant between you and PH was classic stuff…borderline Pete and Dud or even Pythonesque!

    At the time I thought that give it about 2 hours and the online headlines would be something along the lines of ” major on-air fight between Brian Edwards and Paul Henry etc”…the only reason that this hasn’t happened is the Herald represents the opposition so aren’t about to plug TV3….very droll stuff, Brian….next time, quietly place a Paul Henry doll stuck full of pins beside you and wait how long it takes before PH inquires….hmm, was just thinking maybe ” broadcasters have nasty clash on tv’ may be the lead on TV3 6pm news :-)

  2. If Clive James is dead then I have missed the announcement.
    However, in keeping with your post, I feel obligated to say that he would be amused by your description of him as ‘late lamented’!

    • No, Clive is not dead. But he also appears to be no longer around, which is regrettable. Bit of poetic licence here!

      i/v Kim Hiĺl with Clive last month
      just marvellous and he reads from from Sentenced to Life

      Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
      Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
      And when I walk the mile to town, I show
      The right technique for wading through deep clay.
      A sad man, sorrier than he can say.
      But surely not so guilty he should die
      Each day from knowing that his race is run:
      My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
      As if I could be true to everyone
      At once, and all the damage that was done
      Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
      I might have met my death believing this,
      But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
      Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
      I see things with a whole new emphasis.
      My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
      With six fish, each a little finger long.
      I stand and watch them following their rule
      Of never touching, never going wrong:
      Trajectories as perfect as plain song.
      Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
      The name for Japanese anemones,
      So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
      Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
      Without my seeing them. I count the bees.
      Even my memories are clearly seen:
      Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
      Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
      Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
      There’d be no recollection I could trust.
      Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
      Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
      In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
      Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
      As if it were my will and testament –
      As if my first impressions were my last,
      And time had only made them more defined,
      Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
      Here in the English autumn, but my mind
      Basks in the light I never left behind.

      TLS, May 2, 2014

  3. Clive James, who is 75 and in poor health, says “the end is nigh, but not that nigh”,

  4. I think Clive James is still clinging on to life…

  5. Brian, I watched this morning – thanks for the chuckle! Don’t be too hard on Tim; you were so ‘dead-pan’ that for a split second even Paul wasn’t sure how to take you!

  6. Hyperbole is not a part of New Zealand humour, particularly when aimed at individuals. Why would you complain about that, and why would you keep doing it? Would you like an entire culture to change?

  7. I hadn’t realised you performed with the egregious Paul Henry.
    Would you tell us, please, the times so we can watch/listen to that particular part of the circus and avoid the rest.

  8. Kim Hill very recently interviewed Clive James on her Sat morning show. It was most enjoyable.

  9. I appreciate your dissective analysis of Kiwi humour, and sincerely apoligise for thinking that Paul Henry is ackshully a mean spirited bully who enjoys his position of power as much as his gas guzzling, carbon spewing V8’s. I will try to ignore the narcissistic promotions and the tsunami of Paul Henry trailers I get to hear each and every day on radio and television, thanks to the wisdom of Mark Weldon and our good friends at Oaktree Holdings in Los Angeles.

    Okay, okay, it’s irony, and self deprecating humour dressed up as a loudmouthed arsehole. I get it , now.

    Many a true word spoken in jest, but.

  10. 100% behind you here Brian. Most Kiwis seem to have all the sense of humour as a pig on its way to a sausage factory. If there was anything to laugh at 25 years ago, political correctness killed it stone dead.

    Whilst often irreverent, John Key is a breath of fresh air in the Henry mould: unforgivably
    insensitive it may have been to the family concerned but his claimed, proposed, comment to the (I think) Chilen leader in respect of our escaped child molester was pure genius.

    FYI I thought Henry was great on the late night slot but struggle to come to terms with the morning do. I can’t understand what the other two are there for. It isn’t much, but the whole is better than having to put up with Hosking. The new TV3 late ‘news’ slot has gone to the dogs.

  11. Brian , I’m not sure why you agreed to go on PH . But having “hated” him as a broadcaster , I now “love” him .
    He’s irreverent , funnily un PC , a bit of humor in the morning with his co presenters balancing act etc etc .A nice contrast to the soft soap show on the other channel .
    I have always held you top as one of NZ’s best investigative TV journalists and your approach was always hard hitting .
    My media advice to you , if you go back on the show is , don’t be too defensive , roll with PH , don’t try and “outsmart “him , just be yourself and have a laugh -its not a serous moment .
    Best G

  12. I am a Pomme married to a NZ lady and I have learned the hard way to be very guarded when it comes to irony and sarcasm. On a number of occasions remarks which I regarded as made in jest have exploded in my face in spectacular fashion.

  13. PS: have you considered the possibility that Mr Hunter was being ironic in his response?

  14. Brian Edwards, the right’s favourite old duffer.

  15. 15

    As one who has found herself in the brown matter a number of times for use of irony and sometimes sarcasm, I couldn’t agree more, Brian.

    The other thing I notice is the seriousness with which we Kiwis take ourselves. I was an orchestral musician and found so many of the NZ compositions we played were introspective and slightly depressing (subjective, I know). That has changed a bit these days, thanks to people like Gareth Farr, but one went a long way to find joyful NZ music. I get the same feeling from a lot of NZ literature.

    I know this isn’t the same issue as the unawareness of irony, but wonder if it stems from a similar reason, whatever that may be.

    • Yes I remember sitting through the obligatory New Zealand composition at an NZSO performance. While waiting for Michael to play one of the classics, we (and no doubt the orchestra) had to suffer the spectacle of these wonderful professional players downing their instruments and clapping in unison to impersonate a volcano.

      New Zealand comedy was also a contradiction in terms, but mercifully that has improved to the extent that our best humourists are world class.

    • And New Zealand cinema… We are such a serious little bunch looking to be accepted.

  16. ‘Michael’ should have been ‘Michael Houston’.

  17. With New Zealand in crisis during the 1970s, the very sensible Mr Dagg addressed a wide range of issues on national television. He was elegantly dressed and was often accompanied by a dog. Fred and The Old Sheila had seven sons, all called Trevor. Very good boys they were too. Especially Trevor. In the 1975 New Zealand election, there was a 100% swing to the Dagg Party. Then in the 1980s some clown imported Market Economics, the belief that a beautiful day has no value if you can’t sell it. Fred and Bruce Bayliss pulled the country’s infrastructure out of a ditch up near Taihape in 1987 and gave the government a lift back to town in the truck. They still owe Fred for the petrol.

    Brian at least 47% of voting new Zealanders have a great sense of humour, understand irony and sarcasm and have truckloads of common sense. The other 53% still owe Fred for his petrol.

    • Nice comment, Kat. Thanks.

    • 17.2

      Kat, the 47% are still blaming Fred for global warming and have given the Trevs’ farm to the local iwi. So Fred fled to Oz and the Trevs are working down a mine in Kalgoorlie.

      • Alan, you could be dead right and the 47%, according to one of the Trevs cousins, have been spotted holed up on the top floors in some bees nest building in Wellington.

  18. I thought Paul Henry caught you well and truly flat footed, Brian. I don’t think I have seen you suffer such a loss of words before. To me you are now compounding the problem by castigating the very accurate analysis by Mr. Hunter.

    • Really?!

      I caught the exchange on Radio Live on my way to work. It was hilarious. “Lost for words”? Brian, you and Paul Henry should do stand up.

      Unless you are being ironic, Rick. In which case I’m a humourless dullard.

      Man, this is irony thing is really confusing…

  19. I dont like what Paul Henry has to say.To me hes the yob at the top of the hill throwing bricks at those below.Not really funny or constructive. He doesnt appear to be vindictive .Im definitely not in favour of bring mothers into conversations and hope that you liking her isnt a euphamism

  20. 20

    Lovely article, Brian. And as others have said the wonderful Clive James is still alive but unwell.

  21. The secret with the PH show is to record it and then shuttle past the ads, endless news and sport. Then the show is great fun. You are right PH is very quick and bright and I’m starting to enjoy his show more and more. When you appear it gets better and I love the sparring. It’s not a NZ thing to understand endearment by friendly abuse, but you both do it well. Please keep appearing. Cheers