Racism: No Laughing Matter
I have never written a biography of Sir John Betjeman. Somehow though I don't think that entirely invalidates my views on comedy.
A.N Wilson - who has written just such a biography - but who appears to have nothing else under his belt to recommend him to the world of comedy critiquing - is today complaining in the Daily Mail that sexists jokes are not, well, sexist.
Now first up he totally misses the point on the Jordan Wimmer case. As has been repeatedly stated throughout the case - no-one denies that Ms Wimmer complained about sexist jokes long before she decided to take legal action. If someone makes an error of judgement and genuinely apologises and stops the behaviour when it is pointed out, I'm all for giving them a break. However when someone persists in saying inappropriate things after they have had the fact pointed out to them - that is deliberate abuse.
Plus remember that Wimmer is also claiming that her former boss Mark Lowe brought an "escort" dressed in hotpants into meetings. Wilson says that Lowe "hotly denies" this. He would do though given he's in a court of law and looking like he's not got a leg to stand on.
But Wilson's point is really not about the rights and wrongs of the case - it's about comedy and how we all ought to lighten up about a little harmless racism. Yes really - that is his point.
"Making remarks or jokes which you know will be upsetting to another person in your hearing is obviously the mark of a bully and it cannot be defended"
Now firstly - that is exactly what Mark Lowe did - he make jokes about blonde women in hearing range of a blonde woman who had complained about such jokes previously. But secondly - no, it is not ok to tell sexist jokes when there aren't any women in earshot, nor racist jokes in an all-white group. The problem with such jokes is actually much less that individuals are offended but that they normalise attitudes of prejudice and stereotypes which lead to hatred.
"Some of Bernard Manning’s jokes were offensive. But some were really quite good jokes: “If you dial 999 in Bradford, you don’t get the police coming round – you get the Bengal Lancers.”"
That one sounds racist to me. Definitely racist.
"I think you would need to be an incredibly humourless Bangladeshi not to see that this reference to a regiment from the high days of the British Raj was quite a funny joke about immigrants."
And that's racist too - insisting that only Bangladeshis would "not get" the joke.
"Manning was not making a mockery of people from Bengal because they were from Bengal. He was making a joke about the fact that Bradford is very full of Asians.
And in so far as jokes depend upon an element of surprise, there is something picturesque about expecting the arrival of Z-cars and getting instead the Bengal Lancers on their horses, dressed in topis and turbans."
Seriously - could he dig himself any deeper? Is there anything more he could say at this point that would make it any worse?