Having a bath last night, and listening to comedy on the TV (in the next room, I hasten to add), the following came up via Andy Parsons. It must be about two years old, since the reference is to debate about banning hate speech – but permitting exemptions for comedy.
Mr P: “So now it is illegal to have a go at gays, religious and transgendered” (I paraphrase).
“But its still OK to make jokes about those subjects…
“Which is just as well.
“Because next time you bring a lady back to your place for the evening…
“and you discover she’s a bloke…
“you’ll need a sense of humour”.
Hmmm. For me, that’s complicated. I love comedy, perhaps to a degree beyond which many people would appreciate. I’ve done a little stand-up in my life..not wholly unsuccessfully, but equally not so good its worth giving up the day job for.
I’ve written comedy, albeit a lifetime ago. One-liners for (this may be my greatest shame) the ineffable Noel Edmonds. A few pieces here and there for Radio 4’s long departed “Week Ending”.
Even further back, I made comic writing my specialist subject for my Oxbridge entrance exam: I was more than capable of boring for Britain on the subject of Classical comedy.
So my instinct, in most instances, is to defend the comic, even where it is outwardly awful. Because the moment you start setting down rules as to what is, what is not permissible within the bounds of comedy, you get into an awful mess.
You either kill it altogether: or you recreate the “benny” saga. Not heard that one?
Benny was a character in ‘60’s and ‘70’s soap “Crossroads”. His defining characteristic was his slow-witted dullness. After we invaded the Falklands in 1981, the army command were unhappy to discover their troops had taken to calling the local islanders “bennies” because…well, they’re slow-witted and dull. Sir!
Ordered to stop, senior officers were not best pleased to find, some weeks later, that the troops had followed orders to the letter: squaddies no longer referred to the islanders as “bennies”, but as “stills”, because …”we’re not allowed to call them that, Sir! But they’re still bennies”.
I don’t like the Parsons joke…I’m laying it out here to attract commentary because, I realise, I am too close to all sorts of issues now to be able to pull it apart reliably. Its transphobic, but in a careless unthinking sort of a way.
That is, there are some right on comics out there who play with concepts of race and gender, by way of being deliberately offensve…and then maybe, if they’re good enough, turning the whole thing on its head.
One of my favourite jokes, of this sort, i won’t repeat here because, absolutely essential to the punchline is the n-word (which i suspect might cause problems for my account status). Told by a BNP member it is an utterly racist joke. The identical words, spoken by a non-racist or ethnic comedian would be, to my mind, the ultimate anti-racist joke.
It all depends on the perspicacity of the audience – and i bet a few neanderthal elements would construe the joke as racist anyway.
I don’t believe Parsons is being that clever here.
Only I want to be able to hear trans jokes: I’m just not sure what an acceptable joke of that nature would sound like. I desperately do not wish to fall into the trap, occupied by not a few, that seems to go: if it’s a joke and it contains a reference to trans issues, it MUST be offensive…cause that is daft.
I loved the “gay” references in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” because, to my mind, they showed that it is possible to have comedy around and about gayness that is funny and non-phobic. We are overwhelmed with post-feminist comedy about women.
Is it too early for there to be such a thing as trans comedy?