The comedy crunch is no laughing matter
THE WORLD’S FINANCIAL systems are spiralling towards oblivion, the dark clouds of world economic recession are gathering over us. Suddenly our homes and jobs look insecure and the future is uncertain and worrying. But of course, in any crisis, some people suffer more than others. And no one (with the possible exception of investors in Icelandic banks and newly impoverished pensioners) have fared worse than we humorous columnists.
You don’t agree? Consider the facts. As late as July and August, there were genuinely silly stories in the newspapers and on the nightly news. However, in the current climate the halcyon days of “…And Finally” seem long gone. The statistics don’t lie. Since the banks collapsed, there has been a 13 per cent month-on-month drop in humour across all media.
Whereas even this time last year everyone had a few jokes and lighthearted anecdotes they could call their own, now these have been lost — in many cases repossessed. There is suddenly no currency in being funny any more. It’s not that people no longer have jokes to tell, but in the current fear-stricken climate, no one is prepared to exchange humorous stories any more and therefore the market has dried up. Those who feel they have something amusing to say have suddenly been squeezed very hard. No one can dispute that these are serious times — when the going gets serious, people begin to get very wary of those who seek to laugh in the face of misfortune.
In previous recessions, humour has survived, even thrived. So why has this particular disaster proved so much more resistant to laughter? A according to the experts, the origins of the humour deficit were in bad (or sub-prime) jokes told on the American comedy circuit around 2006. These gags were repackaged and sold on to the European and Far Eastern market as “really funny”. By the time people discovered that they were not remotely amusing it was not a small collection of unscrupulous American comedians who carried the can but the laughter industry as a whole.
Now, my own brand of sincere humour has been discredited because, put simply, no one can trust a punchline any more.
Although the prospects for mainstream humour are bleak, not everyone is suffering equally. Some very cheap jibes are still going down pretty well and at the top end, there is a well-educated, affluent class of punters who still appreciate a little sophisticated satire. However, in my own mainstream sector the market has collapsed. Some humorists are still managing to carry on undaunted. Me? I can’t see the funny side at all. It irks me that while heavyweight commentators, for example the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston, are enjoying unprecedented success, those of us without anything sensible to say have experienced a devastating downturn. It is hard to see things changing in the short term. Perhaps the interest rate in humour will begin to recover in 2009 but we are a long way from seeing the green shoots of mirth re-appearing — all we have at the moment are flat lines.
Well, no one can say I didn’t predict this disaster. As far back as spring 2007 I started to get letters from people who just didn’t get my jokes any more. To misquote the words of the late, great Bob Monkhouse, when I said that humour would be replaced by depression, they laughed at me. Well, they’re not laughing now.
And no, I’m not being funny.