Now. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. But, yesterday i was utterly offended by some truly awful jokes on TV.
We’re all targets now
Yep. They were taking the piss out of women. And black people. Dwarves. Lesbians. The disabled. Vegetarians. Ginger-haired types. Animal rights people. Conservatives. Socialists. Oh: and in between, there was an occasional joke thrown in about trannies.
Makes ya sick, eh?
Or maybe it makes you think you need to think a bit more carefully about how we, as a community, respond to comedy. Because, as i have argued several times before, that is probably a much more complicated field of battle than news media – and if we are not careful, if we get it wrong, we could do ourselves far more damage.
Why? Well, perish the thought, but comedians are mostly individuals working in a vacuum: and while complaints to a commissioning body can have an effect, chances are that such an approach will be less effective overall than similar tactics in respect of news channels. Less centralisation. Less regulation. And probably ten times less respect for authority.
Now, before anyone gets a flea in their bonnet about me “defending” comedy: i am not. That’s another argument entirely. This, as a lot of my input to debate, is about tactics and asking the question as to whether what we do is effective – or runs the risk of backlash.
I don’t think that with general media work. I do with comedy.
Why? First off, all groups have a brand image. Brand may be untrue: unfair; but i promise you, it exists. Part of that brand may be seen in the widely shared of clichés that enable comedians to build jokes for public consumption: another part (the meta-brand) is below the surface…the things we tend to believe rather less overtly about a group, possibly are not even aware we believe about them.
An example of the first is the mainstay of tranny humour: campness, chicks with dicks, bad dress sense, and so on. Clichés all: but in the scheme of things, there could be worse.
Meta-brand, though. What might that be? Well, if we are not careful, i’d suggest clichés such as over-sensitive, inconsistent and ever-so-slightly whingeing. All of which, no matter how untrue, are values that could wash up on our doorstep if we are not careful how we work with comedy and end up pissing off the very peope who could help us most.
A good-houmoured agenda?
First, we need a consistent narrative. I’d like to think that was about objecting to the worst, most offensive examples of tranny humour, and letting slide the rest. Also, some shared sense of what is offensive – which at present seems, in some quarters, to be nothing more than the fact that the t-word got mentioned in a comedic context.
Next, we need to cultivate our friends. Mixed reactions to some recent trans jokes by Sandi Toksvig: but she is intelligent, lesbian and i would have thought open to sensible dialogue. While hectoring is rather more likely to persuade her that we, as community and branc, are entirely toxic.
Ditto Tim Minchin, whose herois apology over the use of the t-word may or may not have been undercut by Transsexual Summer (has anyone sensible been back to Tim to explain better what the issue is?).
Last of all, we need to understand that there are some comedians we will never influence, except negatively. Frankie Boyle, f’rinstance. If anyone thinks we could ever rein him in, short of using a ball gag and rohypnol, they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
However, what he does now is as nothing compared to the damage someone like him could do if some of those things mentioned above on the meta-brand list were to seep into the broader mainstream brand.
At present, he makes jokes at the expense of a clichéd version of ourselves. Imagine, instead, a routine that began: “I have today received a letter from the trans community. Apparently they aren’t happy with x….”…and then goes on to rip into pretty much everything we have to say on anything.
I am looking forward to the day when the Comedy wing of TMW gets going (and no: that’s not a joke…tis real). Til then, i hope we can all start to evolve a much more nuanced approach to the subject.
For all our sakes.