Left-wing comedian Frankie Boyle has written an article in the left-wing Guardian explaining to his amen corner of left-wing readers that all his left-wing contemporaries who play left-wing comedy sets at left-wing comedy clubs, perform on left-wing TV panel shows and appear on left-wing comedy programmes on left wing BBC Radio 4 aren’t in fact left-wing at all but hold a broad array of political opinions.
Nice one, Frankie. One of your funniest.
You can tell his heart’s really not in the joke, though, because he keeps undermining it at every turn with sentences like this:
To appreciate fully what is so very wrong with this statement, you need to know the context of Boyle’s article. It was written in response to a very brave post on Facebook by comedian Andrew Lawrence having a dig at the “moronic, liberal back-slapping on panel shows like Mock The Week where aging, balding, fat men, ethnic comedians and women-posing-as-comedians, sit congratulating themselves on how enlightened they are about the fact that UKIP are ridiculous and pathetic.”
Boyle, it should be noted, is a middle aged and, though not balding or fat, has been a regular on Mock The Week, a comedy show so gag-destroyingly right on it might have been scripted by Polly Toynbee, Harriet Harman and Yasmin Alibhai Brown.
Understandably, Lawrence’s comments hit a raw nerve.
They prompted this piece in the Telegraph by black female comic Ava Vidal who is clearly absolutely ace at being black and female but who might possibly need to do a bit more work on the comedy element in her act – at least judging from paragraphs like this:
Well it’s just a hunch, but perhaps it’s because these days, the majority of people don’t like comedy that uses the most marginalised members of society as the punchline.
Ms Vidal has fallen into the same trap as has Frankie Boyle in the paragraph quoted above. Implicit in both quotations is the weird assumption that comedians have a higher calling than being funny – that their purpose, first and foremost, is to be nice, decent, likeable people. (Actually it’s not, for reasons I argue more closely here)
So, in the first case, we have Boyle effectively speaking up for the quota system recently introduced by BBC controller Danny Cohen, whereby comedy panel shows now have to have at least one female comic on board, regardless of whether she’s as funny as the best available male comics.
And in the second case, we have Ms Vidal arguing that there are places where comedians shouldn’t go for fear of offending what she claims to understand as the majority of people’s opinion.
Is it any wonder that with priorities like this our comedians are often as painfully predictable and unfunny as they are?
When Bergson wrote Le Rire was there a section on the vital importance of not hurting other people’s feelings and another on ticking the right diversity and gender boxes and another on always being a “decent sort deep down”? I haven’t read the book so I can’t be absolutely sure. But I’m guessing not.
Then again he wrote the book in 1901 so perhaps our priorities have changed. Maybe we get the comics we deserve. In which case, looking at Dara O’Briaiain, Frankie Boyle, Marcus Brigstocke, and all the other usual achingly PC suspects, God help us all.
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