It’s the comedian’s job to know where the line of acceptable behaviour is, and then jump right over it
form there is — comedians have been challenging the perceived wisdom and follies of the society that produced them. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor all bucked the system, gave a glorious two-fingered salute to officialdom and brought their own audiences down some uncomfortable alleyways.
In the case of Bruce, the authorities ultimately hounded him to death, which is why he is still revered today as comedy’s first martyr.
These days, the authorities don’t need cops standing by the side of the stage, ready to arrest the performer as soon as he finishes his act, as they used to do with Bruce.
That’s because we have replaced conventional authoritarianism with the authoritarianism of the mob. The most notable aspect of the Dapper Laughs controversy was that this time the mob happened to be comprised of comedians, but 100,000 regular people — most of whom had likely never even heard of the guy — signed a petition calling for him to be banned.
To some modern comedians, and many modern comedy fans, that Is A Very Good Thing.
They argue that comedians have a social responsibility, that they should, to use the ridiculous cliche so popular with silly people, only ever punch upwards, not down.
This is a school of thought which suggests that comedians should somehow ‘improve’ people. But it’s not a comedian’s job to improve people, the only responsibility they have is to be funny. A responsibility, by the way, that Jenny Eclair has been blissfully shirking her entire career.
Brooks was lamenting the growing trend to call for the suppression and censorship of uncomfortable, unpleasant or downright obnoxious views.
Like all censors, these people say they are doing this for others, to protect the little people who might be too stupid to tell the difference between a joke and a call to arms.
Personally, I’m not a fan of jokes about bodily functions or sex. Not because I’m a prude, but because they’ve all been done before and it’s the stand-up equivalent of a busker on Grafton Street bashing out another god-awful version of ‘Wonderwall’.
In fact, the only show I ever walked out of was a Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown gig a few years ago — not because the material was too close to the knuckle, but because it was lazy and defiantly unfunny. But I don’t think the guy should be banned. I just choose not to watch him. It’s really not a difficult concept. Yet it’s no longer enough to dislike a performer, now they must be shunned in the name of tolerance.
Ultimately, it’s the comedian’s job to know where the line of acceptable behaviour is, and then jump right over it. Would you rather live in a world where Blazing Saddles is recognised as a classic, or where comics fret over gender disparity?
We all know the answer.