It’s the co­me­dian’s job to know where the line of ac­cept­able be­hav­iour is, and then jump right over it

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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