"Go on, tell us a joke"
As clichéd as it seems this has to be the question I get asked the most when someone finds out I am a comedian. My response is almost automatic now:
"I could tell you a joke, but out of the context of my set and a comedy night environment it probably won't be funny"
Comedians are forever getting in trouble for saying things that are "politically incorrect" or "insensitive" and I have to say some of the time it's warranted. There's a lot of crap shock humour jokes floating about (in particular on the open mic circuit) which is where it normally stays. Comedians who don't have a voice and needlessly try and shock people aren't what people pay to see, as a result they stay on the open circuit for a long time.
Recently Tanya Gold wrote a Comment is Free article claiming that rape jokes can't be funny and heavily implied that this subject should be off limits to comedians. I bumped into Tanya just before she submitted her article for publication. I explained the only times I found misogyny and domestic violence jokes funny is when they're tackled with extreme care, massive amounts of irony or are clearly wordplay. I don't find needless shock jokes amusing.
Tanya's article did not quote open mic acts that have rubbish and lazy jokes. She quoted big names. This might be because people will have heard of these people and so will have a face to the name. But the example jokes are not the "lazy" material we should be worried about.
Chris Turner's joke: "I was waiting for my girlfriend to come round. Because I hit her really hard". This is clearly a joke. It's much more about the word play than the subject matter and as a rule a joke should always be more funny than offensive, which this is in my opinion. Chris is not saying "I like to beat my girlfriend up" he is just using language to lead the audience one way, then take them on a hard left turn. It's one of his trademarks. He does a lot of one-liners in this style. If you Google his set you'll see this, in context, is clearly not trying to be "edgy".
Jimmy Carr's joke: "What do nine out of 10 people enjoy? Gang rape." This is a fact expressed in a blunt and unforgiving style which is why it's amusing. Again, written down it will look more "needlessly offensive" than when performed. It will also look worse to a reader who has read this joke in the context of an article that is bad mouthing jokes on this subject. When you see this performed it is clear Jimmy is not saying "gang rape is great" he is merely using language to address an issue in a cold and direct way so the audience don't see the punchline coming.
BBC Comedy just published a list of this Fringes "Top Jokes". I've heard half of them in sets, the other 4/5 I chuckled at, but I am convinced they would be more amusing in the context of a performance.
This year the number of performers and shows shot up in line with the number of people going to the festival dropping on last year and the year before. Claiming the number of rape / cheap jokes is high could have a knock on effect on the future of the festival with people prejudging acts and shows.
I completely disagree that if something is easy to laugh at is makes it hard to take seriously. Comedians have tackled 100s of other topics just as serious if not worse and if a case gets to court we would take it with a straight face. There's no way a judge would have taken the Fritzl case any less seriously just because he heard a funny joke about it.
Rape is not funny.
Rape jokes can be.
The key difference here is one is a reality and one has been written with the express intention to provoke laughter. Rape jokes are not for everyone. But nor are "I look like..." and "I come from here and it's really horrible place to come from" jokes.
Tanya also quoted Daniel Tosh, who got into some negative press earlier in the year for some off script comments he made at a gig. Every single gig is a moment in time shared between the audience and the performer. I believe the only people who can truly judge what he said were in that room. Even watching a recording we don't get the atmosphere and the mood that was filling the room.
I've just got back from Edinburgh having spent 10 days there. I've seen a good number of shows and to be frank... I didn't see the large-scale numbers of "rape" jokes that she was referring to. There was the odd joke, but the majority of shows didn't have any mention of this subject. Of all the jokes she quoted only Chris Turners joke was from this year.
There should be no lines in comedy. We live in a beautiful age where we can shut out the messages we don't want to hear and listen to the ones that we do. If you don't like a joke or a comedian no one is forcing you to watch them. The minute you start to draw lines in an artistic medium you stunt the creativity of the artist and slow their development. There's some lazy shout humour out there, but every pro comedian was once an open mic act who had to work at finding the funny through hours of below average material.
If you don't like a joke, don't laugh. The competitiveness of the comedy industry at the moment means it's a free market for promoters. If an act doesn't get laughs, they don't get bookings. Given the subjective nature of humour if there's an act or a style of comedy you don't enjoy, don't pay for it. But don't begrudge anyone else who might find it entertaining.
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