Thursday, November 19, 2009

Old Jokes

When I pay good money for my daily copy of The Independent I have to say it angers me to see the same story I've read in the paper on the Daily Mail website. But then most articles by Dominic Lawson annoy me and frankly they deserve to be in the Daily Mail since they amount to little more than hate-mongering. This one (repeated here in the Mail) I feel I should say something about because it's about comedy.

Firstly Lawson says he doesn't know what "alternative comedy" means and how it differs from "not alternative" comedy. But surely Lawson is old enough to remember the days when comedy simply meant racism. Bernard Manning, Roy Chubby Brown and Jim Davidson? Club comedians who often all told the same jokes as each other, crude mother-in-law jokes and bawdy references to women, etc. So alternative comedy was originally conceived to counter that - as something that was progressive and often overtly political.

There is no denying that the line nowadays has somewhat blurred. Many of the acts perceived as the most "alternative" are doing jokes about rape and about women that Bernard Manning would be proud of. In fact Jimmy Carr once did a joke so suitable for Jim Davidson that the latter literally nicked it and had to later apologise.

Now apparently the antidote to this latest wave of offensiveness is Michael McIntyre, a very brilliant and very competent comic whose material is consistently about the minutae of day-to-day life and who flinches from politics and controversian subjects like a slug in a salt dish. And I don't mean that as a criticism - some people prefer their comedy funny and unchallenging. It's not my taste but even I have to admit that he's great at what he does.

There are two issues I have though...

Firstly I think when it comes to offensive comedy the media has got it all wrong. There's nothing offensive about doing a joke about rape. What is offensive is when the punchline to that joke is that the woman in question "deserved" it or "was asking for" it. If you write a joke about rape where the punchline is about the dreadfully low conviction rate or the poor attitude of the police then great.

Lawson mentions the incident with Andrew Sachs and Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross and seems to be offended that sex was discussed on air when what was offensive about that situation was this noxious idea that a woman's Grandfather is or should be the guardian of her chastity.

Jimmy Carr's joke about British soldiers forming a great Paralympic team for 2012 is a joke about the incompetence of government policy - it's one of the best lines I've heard from him. On the other hand I've seen him do jokes about rape and about Roma people which I found offensive.

The solution to offensive material not to demand that comedy focus only on topics which would make a good episode of The Tellytubbies but to seek out comedians using their art to express something meaningful and valid, breaking through prejudice rather than compounding it (Translation: Give me my own series!).

Secondly Lawson seems to be implying that McIntyre has been a victim of some sort of conspiracy to keep him off the airwaves because he's overtly middle class. He quotes McIntyre as saying "People used to come to my show and love it, and critics were coming and not seeing that...".

Well sure but why should we believe that is specifically middle class hatred. I'm a political feminist comedienne and after six years I've yet to be reviewed on the biggest UK comedy website Chortle. And while I'd love to be reviewed by them, I don't see it as a conspiracy that I haven't been. And if I do get reviewed by someone who doesn't find me to their taste or is in a bad mood that day or catches me on an off night then I can make my case against the review but I can't imagine concluding that it's because I'm middle class. The vast majority of comics on TV are middle class as far as I can see.

But for another thing - the reviewers may have a good point. Sometimes I go to a comedy show and laugh more or less the whole way through but come away feeling empty and unsatisfied. Other times I might only laugh a few times but I also learn something new, understand something new and see the world in a new light and I come away feeling uplifted. So which is the better "comedy" show? For my money the latter. To measure comedy against a laughs-per-minute ratio seems to me a very clinical and limiting way of looking at it. If reviewers have seen past that, good for them.

And finally the notion that it's been so tough for McIntyre and that the odds have been so terribly stacked against him seems to have been countered recently by the fact that every DVD shop I go past has his grinning cardboard face looming out of the window above a legend about ideal Christmas presents for all the family. Whatever wrong the establishment did him on the way up - I think they're making up for it now.

But then that wouldn't exactly fit with the Daily Mail/Dominic Lawson vision of the poor hard-done-to straight white male. That sort of revolutionary talk would be better suited to .. erm .. The Independent... Oh shit.

In fact clearly what is happening here is I, your humble blogstress, should be writing for The Independent and instead they've gone ahead and hired a posh straight white bloke called Dominic Naffing Lawson!

No comments: