Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Welcome to Carterhaugh! This is a post that I’ve already put elsewhere, slightly edited for this blog.

I read a rather interesting Observer column by the lovely David Mitchell yesterday, on the restrictions he feels that comedians are currently facing in Britain. He worries that edgy comedy is getting driven out by the demands of good taste, and that this is Not Good. He references the joke that he told (though someone else wrote it) on “The Unbelievable Truth” about Anne Frank being given a drum kit. This apparently provoked a lot of complaints. I heard the joke myself, and personally I found it moderately funny and was not offended by it at all. Mind you, I have privilege here: I have no Jewish ancestry, and lost no family members or ancestors in the Holocaust.

I mostly agree with his column, I think. Though saying “I’m sorry people were offended” by the Anne Frank joke is rather weak. As an apology it’s meaningless since he clearly doesn’t think he behaved badly in making the joke, so it would probably have been better if he’d said “I am sad that people were offended”, which is a) presumably true and b) more honest. That’s a side issue, though.

The trouble is that his column was a little vague about where (if anywhere) there should be real boundaries as to what’s acceptable. I don’t mean in terms of censorship, which I am generally (if tentatively) against, but I mean in terms of what’s seen as socially acceptable. And there was certainly no indication in the (mostly very annoying) comments to the column that any of the people responding were seeing this as more than a binary opposition matter. Either all edgy jokes are good – or even the only good jokes – so long as some people find them funny (and anyone who is offended is being silly or precious), or none of them are acceptable and comedians should risk no attempt at gallows humour or ridiculing anybody.

And, well. I thoroughly disagree with both those points of view. As I imagine most do – probably including Mitchell if he were not currently feeling scared and angry. And the implications of conjuring that binary opposition are quite disturbing to me: they roll together those opposed to anything risky or radical or rude with those who oppose the kyriarchy and pointless hurtfulness, and would rather that comedians who claim to be adventurous aren’t just reinforcing a status quo that privileges some groups above others, and lays the powerless and vulnerable open to ridicule. Put simply, if you’re mocking someone less powerful than you are, U R Doing It Wrong. 😉

It’s partly about who gets to tell what jokes and when. One thing I like about Mitchell is that he’s often the first person on a panel show to remind his fellow contestants that he and they are all privileged people (fairly to ludicrously well-paid, usually white, usually male, usually able-bodied, etc.). It is right and perfectly acceptable to me that I get to make jokes about my disabilities, and my partners and closest friends get to join in – but if other people called me weedy, crazy, weak, etc., I’d be hurt and quite disgusted. That’s the same principle of reclaiming jokes and words, of why Reginald D. Hunter gets to make race-related jokes when he’s on panel shows and his white colleagues shouldn’t.

It’s also about the social context, I think. The reason why I personally don’t find the Anne Frank joke offensive is that with a very few horrendous exceptions, I can think of nobody in the UK who genuinely thinks it is funny that a young girl and her family were murdered, along with millions of others of Jews, gays, lesbians, gypsies, pacifists, socialists, communists and people with disabilities. I can think of horrendous people who don’t think it *happened* and there are rather more of them, and it’s awful. But I don’t think that Mitchell’s joke was giving comfort to them, since it worked very much under the assumption that the Holocaust did take place. It was a nice piece of whimsy in a dark place, and I think that’s rather a good thing.

In any case my point is that misogyny, other manifestations of anti-Semitism, other forms of racism (especially against asylum seekers), Islamophobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, ableism, sizeism, agism and a dislike and mistrust of the working class, hatred of benefit claimants – and more generally of anybody poor – these are all still very much current and popular. We are not living in a post-patriarchal, let alone a post-kyriarchal era, and ridiculing people who are already despised by far too many is not just disgusting, it’s *lazy*. It’s offensive without being edgy.

This is why I really wish Frankie Boyle would turn his considerable wit and vicious humour and extraordinarily fine timing and delivery and turn it on the rich and powerful for what they do (you know, like satire’s meant to?), rather than default to “rampant misogyny” mode so much, especially against vulnerable women, both in and out of the public eye. This is why I love The Thick of It despite its incredible rudeness, but get deeply uncomfortable and furious when Have I Got News For You takes time out to disparage benefit claimants or Mock the Week starts kicking in to trans people.

I’m aware that I may be coming across here as a humourless member of the PC-brigade. Well, that’s fair enough. I do try to be what is unpleasantly named “politically correct”, and I’m not even slightly ashamed of that. If that makes people think I’m humourless then they’re welcome to. But actually, I think I’ve got rather a good sense of humour, that I can be funny in my own right, and that I’m not afraid of challenging subjects. I just think there are vast numbers of good targets for edgy, risky, potentially offensive humour, that don’t involve privileged comedians poking fun at those who are less privileged, and in some cases actively oppressed.

Other things on this sort of subject that I really want to post about on here at some point: funny being a feminist issue[1]; how to be insulting while avoiding oppressive language.

[1] If you haven’t come across this myth that women can’t be funny, especially in any way that doesn’t involve talking about men or shoes, you’re fortunate, is all I can say. The same goes for eccentric. Ridiculous, I know, but there do seem to still be an awful lot of people who think these things, and I suspect that some of them are script-writers and tv producers. Being aware of that prejudice is something I’ve found very claustrophobic at various times of my life.


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