I know its only been a while since I talked about the discourtesy shown to Michael McIntyre at the Comedy Awards last year and here I am again pondering why it has become so acceptable for comedians, in particular, to get a laugh at any expense without a thought for how the joke lands.
It was listening to Olivia Colman, the actress who plays Carol Thatcher in the new Meryl Streep film The Iron Lady that stopped me in my tracks this time. When asked about her portrayal of Carol Thatcher, she seemed at pains to convey that she had “not wished to offend any living person, really, that would be an awful thing to do, I hope that is not the case“. I was stilled really by the courtesy in that sentence.
Some people might consider that anyone in the public eye is fair game for mockery or offence but I disagree. These people have lives, have parents, have siblings, have friends, have children who are often shocked, when watching a TV programme, to hear a callous, unecessary insult about their loved ones.
Am I taking this too far? Let me give you an example and you judge for yourself: Lee Mack, during his live show over Christmas “Lee Mack Going Out Live”, firstly lambasted Kirsty Allsop for being “fat”, then a woman came back from the loo during the performance and Lee Mack suggested that she was “just in time…. we’re talking about pies” in an obvious reference to the woman’s weight. The woman laughed, but what else would you do in that instance with a thousand plus people in the theatre plus a camera full on you as you return to your seat? I would like to think that I would say “Excuse me? I paid for this ticket to see you. It didn’t say on the ticket – don’t come if you are fat, it didn’t say, don’t come if you don’t want to be humiliated in front of your husband or indeed in front of thousands of people” but no doubt Lee Mack would have a rehearsed retort tucked up his sleeve in case any member of the audience, or indeed their husbands, should object to his humilation of them.
Then, I watched Alan Carr’s New Year Show because I remember how clever Alan Carr is and before long he too was cruelly mocking famous people whose children or families were no doubt watching in their living rooms along with millions of New Year viewers.
So I turned on the recorded button to watch Michael McIntyre’s Christmas Special (now there is a smart comic, who writes his material about situations he observe rather than look to see which “fat, stupid or ugly person” he can humiliate from this week’s news) and was just in time to catch Rob Brydon walking on to the stage as Father Christmas. He did the usual thing of highlighting celebrities and sportspeople in the audience and then he spotted Lulu, looking just beautiful and he announced her like this “Ah, Lulu – I love you….” the camera panned to Lulu who was sitting with a woman who could only be her sister given the likeness, Lulu smiles modestly, and then Brydon says in a soft, adoring voice as if he is about to pay her a compliment “You have the beautiful glow of a woman…who…” Lulu smiles back at him “….of a woman who has just received her winter fuel allowance“. Lulu looks embarassed but keeps smiling, the audience make a “ooooooh” sound, Lulu’s “sister” threw her hand up to her mouth in shock and the show goes on.
Was it necessary? I don’t think so, Brydon has great material usually – let him sharpen that instead of his tongue when addressing a woman of a certain age who works so hard to keep herself earning a living in the world of the young.
Brydon, Carr and Mack of course have no fear of similar humilation happening to them because there is this gentleman’s agreement, apparently among comics that you never criticise or mock another comedian – what a shame that this courtesy couldn’t be expanded to include any unsuspecting member of an audience or fellow entertainter even?
I love smart comedy and have even started a #comedyspring tag on Twitter in the hope that a call for more smart comedy might start trending. I am tired of the lazy, cruel, discourteous comedy that is targeted at individuals when comedy was always for ensuring that systems and states were kept in their place. Smart comedy is what brought comedy out of the dark ages of the late 1970s. In fact, it is smart comedy that all comedians have to thank for being able to fill the O2 arena today. If it wasn’t for Rowan Atkinson and Cambridge Footlights etc – comedy would still be in the land of “a nun, a vicar and a rabbi….” (which, is still preferable I think to “did you see xyz this week on TV, didn’t she look ugly?).
Some comedians seem to be under the illusion that because they don’t do racist or overtly sexist jokes – this makes them a modern comic, completely missing the point that making extremely personal comments about “fat” or “ugly” people is fast becoming the “there was this black bloke…” unacceptable comedy of the 1970s. There is a brilliant sketch by John Thompson, “Bernard Righton” that all comedians could do well to use as a learning resource when wondering how to do smart comedy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svLyyzBC_qI
Is it a question of my lambasting comedians I don’t find funny? No, I find Lee Mack very funny, as I do Alan Carr, but only when they work hard and write funny material rather than rely on the lazy “oooh look there is a fat lady in aisle 4” to get an embarassed laugh, that I am, quite frankly, tired of and will not pay for anymore.