Saturday, 10 April 2010
Funny / Unfunny ?
Usually my posts are about tech - usually Apple tech - but I am still waiting for a UK release date for the iPad and thus am bored off my tits. So here's another subject.
The above link is to a woman who has discussed on her blog her experiences at a recent Frankie Boyle show. For those of you who don't know, Frankie Boyle is an extremely controversial comedian who specialises in near the knuckle humour, regularly touching on such subjects as disability, pedophilia, rape, death, and everything else besides. To my mind, sometimes he is excruciatingly funny (when he's not taking the piss out of other people in a cruel and offensive manner), and sometime he's so unfunny and abusive that I'd like to punch him in the face. How apt then that his latest tour is called "I'd Happily Punch You Every One of You in the Face".
It is clear from the responses in the comments section of that blog that the majority of people find comedians who poke fun at disability unfunny and a bit shit, to say nothing of "evil", "vile" and "horrible" (some of the words used to describe Frankie Boyle). It seems now that taking the piss out of the disabled is going to go the way of mother-in-law jokes and Jim Davison's Chalkie. It just ain't funny anymore.
But there is a core of commenters who point out that the lady in question surely knew what she was getting when she bought the tickets, and also point out that she even goes so far as to say in the very same blog post that she was (before that night) a fan because she liked his nasty style of humour. But when he began a skit about Down's Syndrome (from which this lady's daughter suffers), she found the increasing barrage of jokes a step too far.
She mentions responding to him when he asked her why she and her husband were talking during his show (she was feeling pretty upset by this point and her hubby had asked her if she was ok.) She remained calm and polite, despite the situation (she says), but his final response to their exchange was that this tour was his last and therefore he didn't give a fuck. Which is pretty out of order under the circumstances. Offensive to an unnamed stereotype that isn't present is one thing - most comedians do this is truth be told - but personally offensive to an upset woman in front of the rest of your audience ? Grow up, Frankie - this isn't the school playground and just because you're stood on the stage with the microphone doesn't make you all powerful. If you get it wrong, it can make you look like a bullying twat.
Much as I admire her for responding to him instead of shrivelling up when put in the spotlight, I do wonder if she was laughing all the rest of the time when he was (possibly) taking the piss out of people in wheelchairs, or blind people, for example. She does say she previously liked his nasty sense of humour. One could say that well, when it's up close and personal because it affects someone you love, then suddenly taking the piss out of disability / rape / pedophilia ain't so funny any more. She mentioned that a throwaway line she could have understood, but it was a five to ten minute tirade. I wonder if it was indeed that long, or it just felt that long to her ? I can see how it might. When the spotlight is turned on you, it gets hot fast.
The occasional joke about blindness from a sighted comedian I can live with - but the way it is delivered is the key. Russell Howard (one of my current favourites) once said on Mock the Week that he had once chucked a piece of chocolate towards a man walking along with a dog, and then promptly felt dreadful when he realised it was a guide dog and the dog lurched for the sweetie, dragging his unsuspecting owner several yards. He said he felt dreadful, but he was laughing as he said it - and in truth so was everybody else. And so was I. And so was my fiance.
Those people who are around guide dogs a lot have very likely had this happen to them more than once, or know someone who has. It is scary at the time, but is it funny at the time too ? Not a bit. But when you, the person experiencing it, look back on it - is it funny then ? Or is it only funny when it's a story, when it isn't actually you that it has happened to ?
Personally, I am the sort of person that will recount my mishaps and mistakes to others for comedic effect, but only to people who will laugh WITH me, not at me. Those people are thinking, "Silly cow, but I know what she means - I've done that myself". It's funny when my dearest one is in the kitchen washing up without any lights on, and I come in and say, "What're you doing in here in the dark ? You won't be able to see what you're doing." Or he asks me where something is and I can't find it and I say, "Anyone'd think I was blind or summink ..." Or when my fiance leaves a cardboard box in the middle of the floor and I tell him to move it because he'll be sure to walk into it, but he doesn't - and then later on, he walks into it. It's funny within our little tribe.
But it's NOT funny when some twat makes faces at us in the street because he knows we can't see him do it, or if someone we don't know puts things in our way deliberately and we walk into them. I guess the difference is - when you are among friends, some teasing is ok. When you are amongst strangers, it isn't.
The key to being funny with controversial material without being too offensive, I feel, is to have the ability to take us into your confidence and make us feel like we're in on the joke, and that it is done with affection, and that the real twat in the situation is the one finding it funny, not the object of the joke. It's not enough to use nastiness as armour. This is what bullies do.
Russell Howard does have the ability to bring us in, I find. I have noticed lately that his material on his Good News show is much nearer the knuckle than he has even been on Mock the Week. But I haven't yet been offended by him. He makes me feel like his mate, like we're down the pub. It's just mates teasing, an that when he's taking the piss out of people who don't deserve it, he knows it make him look like an idiot, and we laugh almost as much at him as we do at the joke.
Frankie Boyle makes me feel like he's the tit who stands up larging it in the pub, taking the piss at everyone who passes because he knows that on the whole those people won't say anything back. He might occasionally say something funny, but I keep out of his way and I don't want to have a drink with him. We all know someone like this.
And one day he is sure to get punched on the nose. As a few journos have picked up on this lady's blog post and run with it, in FB's case I think this may have already happened.