Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

Get a sense of humour

November 8th, 2008 Posted in Bad media, Politics

With apologies to Bill Maher:

New Rule: People with no sense of humour should stop complaining about things said by comedians.

Seriously people, if you don’t like comedy, then don’t watch it. But don’t stop the rest of us from enjoying it – that’s just selfish.

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand are not to everyone’s taste, but they are undeniably amongst the most popular comedians working in Britain today. Ross has been suspended for three months, and Brand has resigned, along with the extremely competent controller of radio 2, for a few prank phone calls that they made live on Brand’s radio show a few weeks ago. ¬†At the time, out of the estimated 400,000 listeners, the BBC received two complaints. Count them – two!

After some major news channels aired the story, the number of complaints increased and, two weeks later, stood at a little under forty thousand. That’s forty thousand people complaining on behalf of someone else, about a radio broadcast that they had never even heard.

For what it’s worth, I think that Andrew Sachs has a legitimate grounds for complaint – the show had been unpleasant for him, that is to be sure – though nobody forced him to listen to it. It was made hugely more embarrassing when it moved to the larger media – which was partly his own fault, but the blame for which must lie with the newspapers for printing it. After all, at most 400,000 people (who know how to take a joke) listened to the original show and would probably never have spoken about it again. After the newspapers got their hands on the story, pretty much everyone in Britain, and countless more around the world, knew all about it.

Anyway, that’s one person who had legitimate grounds for complaint. Perhaps two if you include his granddaughter, a professional exotic dancer who has certainly profited enormously from the media coverage of her burlesque group. Two people have a right to be offended, and forty thousand complaints were received – entirely from people who never heard the show, and were not affected by it in any way. Also, and I hesitate to say it, but let’s remember that this is a man who made a career out of perpetuating a crude racial stereotype of Spanish immigrant workers. In the name of comedy. If the same rules had been followed back in the seventies then the world would never have experienced the comic genius of Fawlty Towers.

I’m not saying that we should encourage false or libellous comments to be aired; I’m not saying that it is necessary a good or wholesome thing to make jokes about the sex lives of others; I’m not suggesting that the Brand/Ross debacle was a good thing and that it wasn’t a mistake for the BBC and for the two comedians – both of which have since apologised unreservedly for any offence caused. What I am saying is that this is not something that comedians should have to worry about – losing their jobs whenever they crack a joke that someone happens to dislike. We don’t hold any other segment of society to this absurd level of scrutiny – hunting them down and threatening them with their livelihoods for saying something true on air.

Do you feel that your licence fee shouldn’t be spent on things of which you disapprove? Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t want my licence fee to be spent on sporting events in which I have no interest whatsoever; in tedious game shows, depressing soap operas and relentlessly inane reality programmes. But, you know what, I have the maturity to accept that the entire Universe doesn’t revolve around me.

Comedy is meant to be controversial – it has never been anything else. Comedians have always been the only ones who could say things that the rest of us could not say – but which, in many cases, the majority of us had been thinking all along. ¬†Comedy is a great leveller – it is a catalyst for questioning and undermining those ideas which are upheld purely by the status quo, and silently opposed by the majority. The great benefit of comedy is, and has always been, that it can test the taboos and the no-go-zones of society and avoid us falling in the undeniable intellectual quagmire that would result in taking too seriously the claims of those individuals who choose to be offended by things that others quite rightly wish to say. I’m reminded at this point of the Mohammed cartoon farce.

The main role of comedy is to entertain, but it does that through questioning and challenging those aspects of our world that are least open to questioning themselves. For those who disagree, go and read King Lear. Also, go and find something more worthwhile to complain about. There’s plenty of things that we really should be getting angry about in this world – violence, crime, political injustice, oppression, abuse, poverty, disease, hunger, ignorance, brainwashing, climate change, nuclear weapons, and so on. Complain about those things, and let comedians get on with their jobs.

Finally, being offended is a choice. Things people say cannot possibly ‘offend’ you, like they have some sort of magical power over you. Nothing any person says has any effect on you whatsoever unless you make a personal decision that you’re going to let it. If we ban everything that causes offence then our civilisation would descend into chaos. Omnivores offend vegetarians by eating meat. Non-muslims offend muslims whenever they say that Jesus is God, or that Muhammad made up the Koran. Protestants offend Roman Catholics by stating that the communion wafer is only ever a bit of bread. And pretty much everyone offends Richard Dawkins all the time.

Seriously people, like I said, find something better to do with your lives. Build a legacy, feed some starving Africans or set up a youth group to help underprivileged inner-city kids. Whatever, just don’t bother me with it.

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