welcome to my id – an unedited outpouring of ideas and spelling mistakes.
If only there was a set of graphs that could map out potential offence versus probability of laughter. What a lot of bother that would save censors and comedians. “Mr Carr, your jokes have been fed in and the reading suggests you may increase the level of offence by 0.5, but it has rejected your gag about Amish sex”.
Happily, no such mathematical assistant exists, and we must rely on human judgement. This system, too, is flawed, and can make quite the wrong call in both directions. Sometimes gags are censored due to overly imagining offence caused or because a vocal, fundamentalist minority are seen as the representatives of a much larger cultural group. Sometimes it fails due to lack of empathy and forethought. The equation must also add distance of time from event, hence the comedians frequnet refrain when joking about death or tragedy, “ooh, too soon”. I try to tread carefully and think about whether I can justify my jokes if collared by the affronted. (yeah yeah, I’ve written all this before, oh liberal me).
I often over-think. My shows are often found within my over-thinking. In the act of over-thinking, do I censor myself. Does my fear of tainting my presumed left liberal conscious mean I don’t necessarily allow the ideas out of my head, just in case they turn out to be wrong in the eyes of some of the pack wheezily run with.
The following examples are half-jokes, the things I tweet but would be unlikely to say on stage, a release of the half-formed hoping it will evolve into a land breathing, bipedal joke.
On the train, I was reading David Adam’s book on OCD – The Man Who Couldn’t Stop. A half joke followed. “This book I am reading on OCDis a disaster, the author has decided to arrange all the letters he needs to write in alphabetical order”. I received this tweet from someone who has been involved with mental health campaigning, it was simply “stern face”. Had I gone too far? I know some people who follow me have OCD, would this upset them? My current thinking is that it was a silly joke without malice, whether everyone would read it as such, I have to take the risk in our subjective world.
Jokes all have an element of risk. Even the greatest gag writer types out many lines that will be binned. However much practice you have had, however many command performances you have played, the act of writing is an act of failing and stumbling and patience until the right line comes in.
As the Eurovision ended, I tweeted, “It has come along away since the Munich Eurovision of 1936, when Ethel Merman won and Hitler stormed out, furious and weeping”. Could some people see that as anti-semitic? (OR will some people pick up on the factual inaccuracy of an American contestants – pedants and moralists everywhere).
Most of us (I can’t say “all”, even the “most” is anecdotal rather than statistical) believe we have good ethics, some of us scrutinise ours more than others, but few people I meet would consider themselves deliberately unethical. Just as the speed we walk at is the correct speed, the pavement blockage is created by stragglers and the tutters behind us are in too much of a rush, we see ourselves as Goldilocks beings, our position on most things are just right. It is tricky to judge correctly and hover above your conversations and jokes, analysing them and barring the ones that are “too much” or “too early” before leaving our mouth or typing fingers.
We have to make sure we are not overly frenetic with our blue pencil (for the kids, the blue pencil was what drew the lines through the jokes that were too damn saucy for the halls).
When playing with gags or silly lines about Islam, am I little more tremulous than at other times? I notice if I do tweet 140 characters about Muhammad then there is a little more silence than usual, however fatuous it may be. Perhaps it us just because it is fatuous. Reading about research into “Jesus images on toast”, I tweeted “Just found an image of Muhammad in my croissant, bloody contrarian French bakers”.
Not a joke, just a sentence, but I get a sense of prickly alertness.
Many years ago, not long after the Danish cartoon debacle, I was working on topical TV show. There was a sketch involving a Pictionary style game, I can’t remember what it was about, but involved people making poor guesses at oddball drawings. At one point, a cock and balls were felt tipped onto the white board, and I suggested that after deliberation, one of them said with immense stupidity, “is it Muhammad?” before everyone looked on shocked and fearful.
That didn’t go down very well, I thought it was just silly and about fear, but it seems it wasn’t. Similarly, there was a monologue about Quakers, filled with preposterous ideas of Quaker-dom and fury at “the Quaker lifestyle and Quaker threat”, with the subtext clearly being, what religion can we attack that won’t take hideous revenge. (actually, it wasn’t even subtext, it was pretty blatant that it was about fear of attacking religions if there may be a reprise). The missive came down that this could not be used as it was anti-Quaker.
In the powder keg world of instant outrage and a seeming desire by some to hastily insist that they had been offended, damaged and upset by words, it is important to think about what we say, but also important not to become so worried about offence that we silence ourselves on the off chance that we may lose our liberal credentials. I think intention and meaning are frequently lost in the scramble for upset. The writers of jokes should be thoughtful, but those who experience the jokes should be thoughtful too. (I recently read The Politics of Down Syndrome, an enlightening look at attitudes by Kieron Smith. He and his wife were involved in an incident at a Frankie Boyle gig and his writing about that night is enlightening.)
Sometimes you may risk a joke and, when challenged, realise that you might have been wrong, and see someone else’s side. It can be a way of attaining greater understanding too. The competition to be the most outraged throws up so much that it can allow some of the nastiest jibes and casual verbal assaults get batted away with the banalities. We should use our outrage with care. The fear of offending should not hang over us so heavily that we become silent from uncertainty.
lots of UK tour gigs coming soon too – Chorley, Swindon, Reading, Worcester, Glasgow, Newcastle, Edinburgh and a town near you HERE