The com­edy crunch is no laugh­ing mat­ter

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features - SI­MON ROUND

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.

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