Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Has Comedy Writing Gone Too Far?

Image Copyright Gareth Cameron
John Walsh says that to disapprove of the depths to which adult humour sinks is to disapprove of humanity itself. Does he have a point?

Any number of unpleasant situations have affected British comedy over the past few years, beginning, for example, with the nasty trick Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross played on Andrew Sachs in 2013 by dissing his granddaughter. Comedians today are dishing out yet more and more cringe-making, intrusive comments about the Royal Family and various forays into formerly taboo territory. Adjectives are flung around, vile, obscene, puerile, disgusting, etc. 
John Walsh, in his article "Going 'too far'? It's the oldest joke of all" admits that "rudeness" reigns, and that we are simply stuck with the humour alluding to sex and bodily functions. It may be in poor taste, but it has a tradition going way back into our early history.
Now we have a new fun-poking programme, Newzoids, caricaturing little Prince George and Princess Charlotte. One day, when they are grown-up enough to understand, will they feel the injustice of this intrusion? It just seems unfair and hard to imagine how their parents must feel. 
Things have been going yet further downhill, with modern-day comedians forever pushing boundaries. On the other hand, were Carr, Corden, Whitehall and Ross being reviled because of their jokes or of "who they are?"  "After all, "...if you watch modern comedy," asked Walsh, "what do you expect? Oscar Wilde?"
Pushing the Boundaries
The problem is that, although you can take the mickey out of most things, some things are simply not funny. It's unseemly to make jokes out of any number of issues, although sometimes a comedian will succeed where others have failed by tweaking or altering perspective. Somehow, it's okay and very funny when Iranian comedian Shappi Korsandi makes racist jokes against herself. It works, we laugh but with her rather than at her. We don't feel superior but admire her wit and honesty.
But, in general, most issues involving extreme misfortune, death or suffering can't be made comical, although sometimes, and only sometimes, those directly affected can get a laugh out of tragedy. Likewise, disabled comedians may share their social embarrassment, and encourage us to laugh about disability. 
So what is "not okay"?
Name it, Laugh at it, Overcome it
In my view, this is probably a matter of laughing "with" than laughing "at" the comedians. There is an enormous difference between "with" and "at" and I think that difference is one of understanding and empathy on both sides of the fence. It's what comedians mean when they tell us, "You've been a wonderful audience." It seems to me, this is analogous to gay people or black rappers who empower themselves by reclaiming terms of homosexual or racial abuse. Using derogatory terms about themselves diminishes the power of these words. However, if a white (or heterosexual) person uses such terms, this may not be acceptable.
Yet, if we are invited to laugh with them, as we do when enjoying comedy, that can only be a good thing. I believe that If you can name something that unsettles you, and then, genuinely, laugh at it, you will have put it in the place where it belongs. At the same time, what we laugh at seems to be, for the most part, very subjective. Take John Walsh's comment: "A hole in a parachute isn't funny unless it is a universally disliked figure like Chris Brown or Piers Morgan."
Doesn't seem quite fair, does it?  But then, it's comedy!
Walsh, John, "Going 'too far'? It's the oldest joke of all" "i" Newspaper,5 January 2013.


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