This past weekend, Jon Holmes was allegedly fired from the Now Show on BBC Radio Four to make way for its new diversity stimulus. The Mail on Sunday went with the headline, "I Was Sacked For Being a White Man". Holmes has since declared that he never said these word nor was he contacted for comment. However, he has asked the question (very tentatively I should add):
"Should I, as a white man (through no fault of my own), be fired from my job because I am a white man? Arguably, yes. You may well think I'm c**p on The Now Show, and that's fine, but to be told it's because I'm the wrong sex and colour? I'm just not sure that's helpful to anyone's cause."
Given the nature of the UK comedy industry and your average social justice wanker, before everyone jumps down Holmes' throat, let's just remember, all he did was ask a question and address a very complex issue.
The short answer to Holmes' query is yes, yes you should lose your job for being a white male to make way for diversity. Is this racism and sexism? The short answer, again, is yes, yes it is. The longer answer is: and it's a good thing, it's a teeny tiny window into what sexism and racism feels like. Straight white men like myself are discovering empathy for the first time and naturally we're a little confused. But empathy and broader perspective in comedy is a good thing. It actually makes us all better comics. Oddly enough, I'd written about exactly this on comedy website Chortle last week here.
Firstly let's address the idea that the straight white male is the new "minority". The uncomfortable truth, anthropologically speaking, is, we are. Last time I checked there are a lot more of practically every other kind of human in this world than there are straight white males. We're just overexposed and over-represented in the media.
Secondly, let's look at the institution of Radio 4 comedy itself, it's an ongoing joke amongst stand-ups that radio 4 comedy is a bit of a stuffy, puffed-up, white English nightmare. The punchline being, it's nothing but a bunch of straight, middle class white males, making jokes about what a racist/sexist/homophobe Nigel Farage or whomever the latest bête noire is.
Is that irony tickling the back of your neck? I know white Britain thinks it has a monopoly on the concept, which is why literally billions of Asian and black folks laugh so hard when white Britain refers to them as minorities.
Since the BBC's diversity initiative launched every panel show has to have one woman and one "ethnic" leading to cries of tokenism and reverse discrimination. And it is unfair, deeply unfair. It is racism and it is tokenism. Because do we know what would actually be fair and equal footing? If it wasn't always just one. That maybe once in a while there was only one white male on the bill.
Before you respond with, "Well this is typical Huff-post PC gone mad". Ahem, allow me to introduce myself: I'm Brendon Burns and almost no one likes me. Political correctness has never been a friend to me or my comedy. But also, trust me when I say, this is where PC comes from. It places white male culture at the centre and almost everyone else as outsiders looking in. With less diverse bills come less diverse audiences. And without diversified bills and audiences I, for one, find there's not a lot left to joke about.
So I offer a solution, since writing the Chortle piece I've been contacted by several club runners to host a "token white male" night. Where there is only ever one straight, white, able-bodied male on the bill. At first I balked, because I see the inherent hypocrisy of trying to get myself a gig off the back of black, brown, Asian, gay, women and disabled people. But after speaking to Alfie Noakes at the "We Are Funny Project" in Dalston. I figured I'd pitch in to get things started and hand over the reins once it's up and running. Our hope being that with diversified bills, comes the diversified audience I've been longing for.
This is not an attack on Jon Holmes either, he asked a perfectly reasonable question, humbly and with good humour. As I've discovered hosting the Dumb White Guy podcast, it's never bigoted to ask a question regarding gender, sexuality or race. It is however, to never accept a good answer and change. So this is actually an open invitation to Holmes and those like him. To come and be the token straight white male one time. I'm pretty sure we'll all discover that there are plenty of gay, black, Indian, Pakistani, disabled, trans-gendered and female comics all perfectly capable of taking our "spot". Hell, I'm even offering mine.
Brendon's latest tour show: Brendon Burns, Black Comedian is on sale here