Should comedians censor themselves?

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 08, 2009 5:55 pm    Post subject: Should comedians censor themselves? Reply with quote

ARGUMENT OF THE WEEK: Should stand-ups censor their own jokes?
6 Dec 2009

Dawn French says “fattist” jokes should be consigned to history, along with gags about gay people or ethnicity - is she right to argue that comics should steer clear of causing offence?

YES: Susan Calman

Whenever I am asked about comedians and their responsibility with regard to the material they use, I always feel desperately old. Old and unfashionable and about as edgy as Sue Pollard. Why? Because I do think there are some subjects which we shouldn’t joke about. I know! Cancel the DVD and stadium tour, people – there’s a comic who doesn’t like upsetting people for the sake of a cheap laugh.

But it’s true. Unfortunately, I find that whenever I try to argue this position I am faced with a group of torch-wielding comics screaming “censorship!” . Earnest young men dressed like Bill Hicks screaming about their “art” and how they are “challenging the boundaries of society’s perceptions” or other such twaddle.

I don’t want to censor anyone. I don’t want to spoil the fun of young boys who are bursting to tell their latest paedophilia-related joke, but I do want people to stop think about what they are saying. Comedians stand on stage and open their mouths. They say things which should make you laugh. That is their first and primary job. If they also, as a by-product of that laughter, make you think about an issue or indeed change your opinion then that is a bonus. Laughter has often come from an uncomfortable truth, an unmentionable act or from a comic holding a mirror to the audience showing a reflection that they would rather not see. But when does a statement which could be construed as simply offensive become funny? Is it just because someone who calls themselves a “comic” says it?

Picture the scene. It’s Glasgow on a Saturday night. I stand outside a pub retelling a Bernard Manning routine. Am I a) allowed to carry on while a crowd gathers to laugh at my whimsical racist tales, b) congratulated on my bold approach to changing public opinion and offered a TV deal or c) quickly arrested prior to getting my head kicked in by angry Glaswegians? I suspect it would be the protective custody option. However, Mr Manning performed at the Barrowland in Glasgow in 2006 and people paid to watch. Is he to blame for offensive comments or the public for going? Is my mission to get humanity back into comedy in vain because it’s what the public actually want?

Yes, and that’s why this argument cannot be won. Some people want whimsy, some want raw, edge-of-your-seat stuff, some want middle-of-the-road observation. And that is fantastic. Every comic will find their audience and if people want to watch homophobic, racist material, they will find a comic to suit them.

Personally, my conclusion is simple. Graham Linehan, the great writer of comedies such as Father Ted, said, in essence, there is nothing in the world that you cannot write a joke about. You should, however, think about whether you should tell it. I agree.

Susan Calman is a stand-up comedian and actress. She will be at Oran Mor for the Glasgow Comedy Festival on March 27

No: Janey Godley

Comedy is the new whipping boy of entertainment. You can’t open a newspaper without reading about yet another enfant terrible of stand-up, offending someone. Stand-ups who don’t swear, don’t offend and don’t make jokes about the war are now being hailed as kings of comedy: a generation of neutered comics that grannies can laugh at along with the young ’uns in the family.

It’s not a bad thing and I for one love observational comedy, but there is still room for edgier stuff. Frankie Boyle was harangued for making a joke about Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington. He mentioned she had a big nose and the tabloids went for him, yet the same newspapers think nothing of printing a close-up of Amy Winehouse’s saggy boobs or Victoria Beckham’s recent acne outbreak. Isn’t that offensive to them? Because it certainly isn’t funny. It’s cruel. At least people laughed at Frankie’s joke.

Cruelty and comedy tend to go hand in hand. That’s the way it’s always been. When Billy Connolly told the joke about the dead wife’s bum being used as a bicycle stand on the Parkinson show in the 1970s, the nation took him to their hearts. A dead woman was used as the “butt” of the joke, yet it was still funny.

Offensive comedy isn’t new. It’s always been that way. But now that comedians tend to speak for a generation which needs to be heard, the media relish bringing them to task. When I started out in comedy in the mid-1990s, plenty of offensive material was used on the comedy circuit. It seems only recently that journalists are going along to live gigs, sitting with moral pens poised, waiting to be offended on behalf of the nation. Where were they when Jerry Sadowitz was carving his niche in sold-out theatres? Why is this knee-jerk reaction suddenly so popular?

If we could spit venom and hoot about Margaret Thatcher’s big beak in the 1980s, why can’t we poke fun at an Olympic swimmer in the noughties? Where should the line be drawn? Maybe we can only laugh at people we don’t like collectively as a group. In my day that was called bullying.

Dawn French recently said: “It is no more acceptable to make a fat joke than it is to make a gay joke.” This from a comedian who’s made a career portraying a chocolate-eating, roly-poly, jolly vicar and, in her French & Saunders sketches, a fat old man grabbing his crotch while leering at women. That must surely have offended some fat old men.

Comedians say it’s their job to challenge society’s beliefs, and their right to break down barriers. No it’s not. It’s their job to be funny and, if they offend along the way, they have to face the consequences. But, seriously, if you are outraged at Jimmy Carr’s joke about amputee soldiers who will make a great Special Olympics team, you have to be offended that Tony Blair became the peace envoy for the Middle East. That isn’t even a joke.

Janey Godley is a comedian, actress and playwright. Her book, Handstands In The Dark, is available from
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2010 2:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 30, 2010 7:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lawyer representing comedian walks out of B.C. human rights hearing
Barry O'Regan
March 29, 2010
Vancouver Social Policy Examiner

Guy Earle, a Toronto comedian was charged by Lorna Pardy and her same sex partner over the comedian's jokes about lesbianism at a local Vancouver eatery on March 22, 2010. While it has been said the remarks were aimed at the lesbian couple, disputes arise between the comedian and the couple whether the comedian crossed the line into hate speech.

Earles counsel Jim Miller attended the Human rights tribunal hearing today and after failing to convince tribunal hearing member Murray Geiger-Adams whether this tribunal had jurisdiction, the lawyer walked out of the hearing, stating this course of action is illegal.

There is no word what a final course of action will result as the trial was expected to last four days


That's something I don't think I've heard of before - the lawyer refusing to take part because he sees the trial as illegal...
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 22, 2011 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Comedian fined for crude lesbian comments
April 22, 2011

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 22 (UPI) -- A Toronto comedian has been fined $15,000 for verbally attacking a lesbian patron in a restaurant, officials said.

Comedian Guy Earle said Lorna Pardy and her partner rudely heckled him and other amateur comedians in May 2007 and that she tossed two drinks in his face, spurring his comments and a later incident in which he broke Pardy's sunglasses, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Friday.

On Thursday, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal levied the fine against Earle and also fined Zesty's Restaurant $7,500 for not intervening in the incident in which Earle called Pardy a variety of offensive names.

Tribunal member Murray Geiger-Adams said Pardy suffered adverse treatment by Earle and the club's management. "Mr. Earle made two sets of comments from the stage at Zesty's, to and about Ms. Pardy and her friends … including referring to them as [several expletives]," Geiger-Adams wrote in the decision. "Mr. Earle cornered Ms. Pardy and continued to physically intimidate and verbally abuse her by the bar as she returned from the washroom, including referring to her as [expletives] and he grabbed and broke her sunglasses."

The tribunal said Earle's right to express himself isn't justification for discriminating against Pardy because of her sexual orientation. "Further, Mr. Earle's comments off the stage, his physical intimidation of Ms. Pardy near the bar, and his breaking her sunglasses had no possible rational connection to quieting a disruption of the show," Geiger-Adams wrote in the tribunal's decision. "Perhaps even more importantly, he employed, and repeated, publicly, the most extreme terms that came to mind to directly attack her identity and dignity as a woman and a lesbian."
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2011 3:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The moral of this story.... If you can't take a fikkin joke, then dont go see a bloody joke teller.... Razz
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2011 11:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jimmy and the sneering ignorance of this shameful cheap shot
Jan Moir
24th November 2011

Another week, another comedy low. On his current stand-up tour, Jimmy Carr has been criticised for making a joke about children with Down’s syndrome. Here, for your delectation, is the joke. ‘Why,’ he chortles, ‘are they called Sunshine Variety coaches when all the kids look the same?’ Oh my aching sides. How hilarious. Stop it, Jimmy, you’re killing me. You are a laff riot. Tell the one about the soldier with his leg blown off again, go on. Whether onstage or off, you continue to fulfil all my low expectations of you in quite marvellous ways.

For a start, it is not even a new joke. I seem to recall the Sunshine coach joke being muttered in the darker corners of the school playground about half a lifetime ago. Which is where it should have stayed, along with bike shed cigarettes and the craze for clackers. Not dragged back into the open by a sophisticated, modern man of the world such as Carr. Not given the defibrillation treatment by a heartless comic who seems to have an empty void where his soul should be.

Does he have any human feelings at all? Sometimes I wonder. For is there anything worse than an adult making cheap jokes against vulnerable, disabled children with learning difficulties? Let’s get a big stick and poke them with it. Let’s point and laugh. Stick your foot out, Jimmy, and trip them up as they walk past. You know you want to.

Carr must have known this was another one-liner guaranteed to offend. And the stand-up comic who hosts the Channel 4 TV panel show 8 Out Of 10 Cats was duly pilloried for the remark. However, he is not contrite. Not yet, at any rate. When he cracked his infamous joke about the Army hoping to clean up at the 2012 Paralympics on account of the number of amputees in their ranks, the public were horrified. Carr eventually offered an apology of sorts, but this time he merely shrugs.

Certainly, he is free to make uncivil jokes about what and whom he pleases; that is the beautiful paradox of living in a civilised society. Yet his Sunshine coach gag is emblematic of an uncomfortable new tendency for comedians to poke fun and ridicule children — and adults — with disabilities. It is the cheapest of cheap shots. It is horrible and shameful.

Along with Carr, there is Ricky Gervais and his ‘mong’ jokes, not to mention Frankie Boyle and his unspeakable gags about Katie Price’s disabled and partially blind son, Harvey. There has long been a trend for comedians to push boundaries in their search for jokes, yet in recent years, the ability to shock people rather than make them laugh seems to have become the prime motivating force. Increasingly, comedy has to be outrageous to be funny; a difficult trick to pull off when so many topics are off-limits for the modern, politically correct comic. Jokes cannot be racist, sexist or poke fun at religion, to name just a few no-go areas, though stuffy old Christianity is probably still fair game.

For example, it is hard to imagine Jimmy Carr or any of his cohorts making a joke about Mohammed or Jews or mothers-in-law any time soon. With so much forbidden material tantalisingly out of reach, their glaucous gaze turns more and more to the weaker members of society, those who cannot answer back and should be beyond the cruel reach of the professional comedian. No such luck. Give ’em a crippled kid and they’re off, laughing all the way to the bank. Did I mention they all have DVDs out this Christmas? Well, of course they do.

Gervais claims he used the word ‘mong’ — short for mongoloid — unaware that it still caused offence and was liable to upset many with Down’s syndrome. Pull the other one, it’s got a calliper on. On top of this, Gervais’s new BBC television series invites us to laugh at a dwarf. Previously, he has invited us to mock Karl Pilkington, his dopey sidekick. Gervais’s comedy output is increasingly uncomfortable to watch, as though viewers are party to some giant private joke, or the unspooling of a psychological obsession he feels compelled to inflict upon the public as a means to his own salvation. Nevertheless, despite their lapses of taste and propriety, Gervais and Carr remain darlings of the BBC.

Meanwhile, what is so depressing is that none of this is edgy or brave. Instead, it is merely tasteless and hurtful, causing distress to families with more than their fair share of difficulties. Years of campaigning, of raising awareness and educating the public stand for nothing in the face of such sneering ignorance. For many people with Down’s syndrome and other difficulties, it takes a great deal of courage just to get out of bed in the morning. To then have a metaphorical custard pie slapped in their face by someone as cretinous as Jimmy Carr or Ricky Gervais is too much to bear. Some unfortunates just do not deserve to be mocked. Stop it now. Please.


Oh fuck off Jan Moir, you sanctimonious cunt. Carr's joke might be shit, but you're permanently shit.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 04, 2011 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Agreed, Jan Moir is the personification of cvnt. I hate the aloof, simpering attitude that she and her cronies take.
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