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The (potential) death of British Comedy: Part II

December 23, 2009
This is the second part of the series I am doing for Jason Walsh and his web magazine Forth
‘That ginger chavvy gypo looks a bit rapey and his nan smells of piss’ 
AMID the weeping and gnashing of teeth last weekend that we (er, that’ll be ‘you’ – d) got some agents wrong in our doom laden critique of modern British comedy, what could easily be discerned from the replies received is the fact that many people agree that modern comics are slowly beginning the slide towards the narrow mainstream they once felt duty bound to avoid.
There has in the later years of this decade been a gradual reversion towards the casual sexism and racism that alternative comedy sought to banish and which were the cornerstones of the ‘old  comedy’.
Now as we finish the noughties and run headlong into whatever the 2010s are going to be called we can now do gags about rape and incest and race as long as we pick the socially acceptable groups it is OK for Jimmy Carr and his mob to take the piss out of. It’s OK, because it is either a case of  a) hey, it’s just a joke, dude;  b) we’re only being ironic or in the worst justifications – a mixture of both.
Again, the finger has to point squarely at those headline comics making mucho hay while the TV sun shines on Mock the Week or Argumental or whatever.
Step forward Frankie Boyle and his Daily Mail baiting gag about the Queen’s pussy being haunted, step forward Russell Howard and your morally objectionable use of the word rapey and more prominently step forward Jimmy Carr and the legion of paedophilia and rape gags which you can pass off as ‘ironic’.
Where once the comedic pioneers like Lenny Bruce (right) or George Carlin genuinely said the unsayable in a bid to change the morality of their times, now we have naughty schoolboys simply saying that which shouldn’t be said in the first place.
 A telling example of how far our standards have dropped is the Facebook fan page for Carr the most striking gag of which is, “You know a girl’s too young for you, if you have to make a train noise to get your cock in her mouth.” That appears three times on the page to the merriment of those posting there.
Another: ‘Childhood obesity sends a very mixed message to paedophiles, sure they’re easier to catch but who wants to fiddle with a fatty?’ is just wrong on any number of levels. It’s not clever and only really genuinely ironic in a debased, unattached way.
As a disillusioned comedian friend said to me on Friday, comics should do these gags only if they can actually justify them. Face up victims and justify them. They can’t and that is not me or my mate being po-faced, intellectual or clever.
And standards have dropped – that’s a judgement call and I’m making it right here.
Telling rape and paedophilia gags doesn’t offer anything to the reassessment of morality or social mores, it just narrows the intellectual gene pool of comedy and short changes a generation of punters.
If all they are being served is Frankie Boyle talking about the Queens genitals, then they have no measuring stick to gauge what is good, bad or acceptable. Worse still they’ll not see the great comedy which leaves a mark on its society.
If we do a pull back and reveal of modern comedy we see the groups that is OK to have a go at now – the new comedy clichés if you will. Rape and incest victims get them honking in the aisles as we have seen, while chavs and ginger haired people are fair game too. The Welsh have replaced us Irish as the ‘race’ group it’s OK to slag and Scousers and Geordies are never far off the comedic radar. Middle class Christians take a right shoeing but by far the funniest group on the planet to these comedians are those with disabilities, Jaysus, we can all have a right larf at Stephen Hawking and his mates in wheelchairs.
Don’t get me wrong, to quote Hunter Thompson, I think we should be beating the clergy like dogs with mange – it’s just that all of these targets are just easy.
It takes no work or skill to have a dig at these – I want these comics to have a go at radical Muslim clerics while in a mosque or beat down a Mossad operative’s heckles by saying he’s a bit puffy. If you are going to be edgy then do something that is genuinely dangerous. Test the courage of your convictions.
Before the shout goes up that what is being suggested here is some kind of middle class, left wing, New Labour, tofu munching right-on censorship – it is anything but. As Will Durst, America’s premier satirist said recently, the left has the sense of humour of an end table. Their critiques are to be avoided at all costs.
Stewart Lee has emerged as the leader of a new generation of comics opposed to the Carr/ Howard/ Boyle consensus, it’s just that the phalanx of cerebral acts aren’t particularly that funny.
While Lee is funny and clever while being guilty of the charge of sanctimony, Josie Long or Robin Ince are always clever but just not that funny. They’ll take their quirky Edinburgh style shows, so beloved of the critics, to the art centres and one night stands and all concerned will simultaneously perform an intellectual circle jerk while patting one another on the back for not being Michael McIntyre.
The tragedy is that if you go out into clubs and look at the comedians doing genuine satire and struggling to get their acts noticed amid these two camps of comedy de nos jours, there’s little likelihood of this getting any better before it gets a whole lot worse on both sides.
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