Saturday, 8 June 2013

When Comedians Miss the Point

I am the first to admit that humour is completely subjective and I often find that when people around me are laughing it passes me by. I love dry wit rather than slapstick, humour that can dissect an action for the absurdity it is, rather than maliciously aiming the humour at the person who did the action. Humour that is supposed to make me cringe, does not make me laugh.

I am also British and love Friday Night comedy on BBC Radio 4. That places me in age and culture. For instance, humour I love are Have I got News for You and Mock the Week, the awesome humour of TV programmes like West Wing. I cringe without enjoyment at programmes old and new like Fawlty Towers, knowing I am in a minority, and rarely enjoy films by Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell. However I can appreciate that other people don't have my taste. I don't watch what doesn't make me laugh, and I'm sure you don't either.

On Twitter this morning I found an internet maelstrom surrounding Lindy West on her appearance on  FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, discussing rape jokes with comedian, Jim Norton. I am not going to repeat everything that she has been through but safe to say  it concerns death threats, rape threats and misogyny from the twitter trolls. For example:

They are some of the least offensive comments. Read the article. You'll get the picture. Agree with her, don't agree with her, that's up to you. I listened to a rebuttal of both her and the trolling by Jim Norton here. I gave up partway through, because he and the interviewer both had the same patronising attitude towards women and rape jokes. And no, I didn't find the punchline about gang rape funny. 

I love Mock the Week, a British topical comedy programme. It features comedians taking the piss out of politics. I love it and even the repeats are funny. One day, I'm giggling along and suddenly the humour changed. One of the men made a joke against women, the others joined in, and it went from funny to a bunch of middle-aged, white men attacking women. Like that, they lost me and I switched off.

This week, BBC 5Live found itself in trouble for comments made on a show called Fighting Talk about Clare Balding, a lesbian sports presenter who is now one of our national treasures. The fact she is a lesbian is irrelevant until this happens...

"As part of a round on the BBC Radio 5 Live show 'Fighting Talk', Colin Murray, the show's presenter, asked a contestant to argue that they could 'cure' the award-winning sports commentator of lesbianism.
The programme also asked guests to debate whether Balding should present horse racing shows topless.
The controversial broadcast came during the final segment of the show in which guests are asked to 'defend the indefensible' and argue a difficult-to-support case.
Comedian Bob Mills responded to the challenge by saying that Balding was a "horse woman", who "appreciates power between her thighs", before adding: "And we all know, there is no woman that can't be cured."" The Independent 3/06/2013

Jim Norton and Bob Mills, and others like them believe that comedians should not be censored.I have heard this before and it has taken me a while to come to the conclusion that perhaps comedians need to censor themselves.

I cannot get my head around rape being funny, forced conversion being funny, demeaning women as funny. Before you cry 'double standard' I feel the same way about men. Attack a man for his actions, but would sexual assault on a guy be a good punchline? Would reparative therapy make a good joke? By all means have a go at female politicians for double standards and male politicians for their misogyny. But don't suggest that gang-raping a woman because you're annoyed with her is a good punchline. Surely the Steubenville High School rape case has shown that lack of respect for women is something taught from an early age. 

Comedy has moved on, or at least I thought it had. Maybe it hasn't and I'm just kidding myself. The old mother-in-law and blonde bimbo jokes have just been refined to something more sinister. But that's okay, it's only humour...?

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