‘Sticks and stones,’ I was told, ‘may break your bones,’ continued my teacher, ‘but words’ he warmed to his theme, ‘will never’ he finished, turning the devastating glare of his blind eye towards the bullies, ‘harm you.’ I wish we could meet tomorrow, as I am older and can think of quite a few words that might test this hypothesis. And while we are getting rid of clichés, let’s ditch the ‘I disagree with you but will defend to the death your right to say it.’ No thanks. I’m not taking a bullet for Melanie ‘columnist’ Phillips.*
Comedians deal with words every day, ordering them on stage with a view to amusing an audience. Now there are lots of ways of approaching comedy, but my philosophy (for want of a better word) is to tell the truth where possible, and play harmlessly with fiction in the pursuit of levity. There is so much fiction in the world that is damaging; I hope my fiction is just funny, but who knows? It may be holding up a fairground mirror to reality and laughing at the curious reflections. I try not to claim too much for it.
‘Shock’ comedy is the new term for old stuff: ‘sick’ jokes, racism and the like. I once did a gig and was told I could say what I wanted to – ‘but no racial hatred’ as if my set is a silly dinosaur song punctuated by a pro-EDL rant. Racist jokes don’t do anything for me, not because they offend, so much because in order to find them funny, you have to buy into a set of values that I don’t. Perhaps I am brainwashed by political correctness. I don’t know, audiences laugh at my stuff in the main, but maybe they shouldn’t. When you next hear that ‘political correctness has ruined comedy’ do ask (and let me know) what this hilarious racist joke is that the other person is so desperate but unable to tell. Frankly, I like the peace of mind that comes from not worrying that a crafty ethnic minority will have crept into my gig, hell bent as I believe they are on taking umbrage at some brave and lonely crusader against PC gone mad through the tried and tested medium of jokes about lazy/criminal/tightfisted/stupid/etc foreigners.
As an experiment, I did write a short set of jokes I would be ashamed to have found on my computer in the event of my unexpected death. I may trot them out one might under an assumed name, far from home, with a taxi waiting. I’m afraid I’m not a comic given to getting a laugh at all costs, having recently struggled against a room full of indifference, looking forward to getting out of the club and onto a train home as soon as possible after leaving the stage. The act that followed me was telling jokes about the disabled, and getting big laughs. Now I may have missed some qualifying statement at the beginning, or a clever reversal at the end, but I couldn’t help but feel glad that these people hadn’t enjoyed my set.
* Mel once began a paragraph of unpleasantness about gays by saying that of course she opposed ‘genuine discrimination’ against homosexuals, as though she were the ultimate authority on the matter.