A JOKE may be a small thing, but it is the most reliable indicator of liberty. There are no jokes in Islam, Ayatollah Khomeini sternly warned. Well, there are fewer jokes outside Islam now too. In virtually every aspect of our lives, areas which should be ripe for ridicule are increasingly fenced off and forbidden.
Comedy in this country is in precipitous decline. From stand-up to panel shows to TV sitcoms, all have become unwatchable buckets of bile, lecturing anyone who doesn’t share the cosy, liberal assumptions of polite society. Comedy used to recognise that you have to be able to see the humour in both sides: you cannot take the mick out of one half of the debate but never the other or you just look like a partisan hack.
Humour, ultimately, is about recognition, and the world portrayed in mainstream comedy-land today is not something most Britons recognise in the slightest. You are sorely mistaken if you believe the woke, white-guilt riddled hipsters they bus in to fill the audiences for these ‘comedy’ panel shows are representative of those watching at home.
For starters, herd-minded twenty-somethings don’t watch terrestrial TV, not any more. Bizarrely, the butts of their jokes tend to be the few remaining people still watching their vile output, the baby boomers. Which is perhaps the reason they’ve switched off in their millions over recent years.
It’s tragically ironic that these ‘comedians’ who infest the mainstream comedy circuit think that by making anti-Brexit, anti-Trump and anti-British jokes they are being daring and subversive, rebellious even. In reality, far from being anti-establishment, they embody the establishment, guffawing at the ignorant commoners like some kind of 18th century French aristocrat.
The simple truth is it takes infinitely more bravery to make a joke about Black Lives Matter than about neo-Nazis, vastly more valour to mock Islamic supremacists than white ones, far more courage to parody Greta Thunberg than Nigel Farage . . . which is why none of them does it. Though they give out awards and slap each other on the back constantly for their bravery, comedians in Britain are among the most cowardly and humourless individuals imaginable. The remarkable transformation of Frankie Boyle from a court jester, lampooning anyone who caught his eye, to a rather sad and pathetic lapdog of the woke establishment is a case in point.
For many ethnic minority comedians, the accusation of bigotry is both their offensive weapon and their defensive shield, which is why Nish Kumar can stand up in front of a British crowd during a ‘comedy’ show and declare ‘your country enslaved my ancestors’, but ask him whether he’s not British himself, and he’ll castigate you as a racist.
Independent organisations can be as biased as they like, but the BBC is obligated to be politically neutral, although regulators don’t seem to care. This was exemplified a few years ago when Jo Brand ‘joked’ on BBC Radio 4’s Heresy show, after a milkshake had been thrown at Nigel Farage by a far-left extremist: ‘I’m thinking why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?’ Naturally Ofcom, after a six-month investigation, declared she had no case to answer. One wonders what their decision would have been if the roles were reversed and Farage had ‘joked’ about throwing acid on a woman he disliked, or (God forbid) a ‘woman of colour’. I strongly suspect he would be in a prison cell to this day.
For many up-and-coming comedians, one can hardly blame them for their cowardice: they have to make a living. If they make jokes about the right, they’re rewarded with lucrative taxpayer-funded BBC contracts; if they ridicule the left, the BBC ensure they are never heard again. They are merely a product of that commercial environment.
For those with an independent platform and reputations already well established, there is no excuse. Take the fallout from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. For all his supposed bravado and bravery, what did Private Eye editor Ian Hislop do? Did he publish the images that got his fellow satirists slaughtered? Did he take up the torch of liberty and free speech? Did he hell. He slunk away like all the others and meekly submitted to the Islamic supremacists, when bravery was needed most. Notice now how he delights in ridiculing Trump and Boris and the other low-hanging fruit but never once dares to denounce the true evil in our midst.
It should be noted this phenomenon is not confined to our side of the Atlantic: arguably the downfall of American mainstream comedy has been even more profound. One need only watch Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to appreciate just how insipid and dogmatic these programmes have become, playing more like sermons to the devout than genuine attempts at comedy.
The Daily Show in particular has mutated into an obscene, hyper-partisan, anti-Western hate machine under Noah. But even when Jon Stewart was at the helm there was a distinct blind spot when it came to anything other than mockery of conservatives. Indeed, I remember as a teenager first seeing Ayaan Hirsi Ali when she made a guest appearance to promote her book Infidel. The usually convivial Stewart became confrontational and hostile right out of the gates. He finished the interview by curling his lip and stating accusingly, ‘You’re just trying to sell your book, aren’t you?’ It was obvious what was going on. Stewart was terrified of the arguments being made and judged it was safer to vilify the person making them than address such topics head on. Safer by far.
(This was the first chink in my cloistered, middle-class armour. It didn’t change my worldview overnight, but it was the loose thread that began the total unravelling of my liberal delusion. I came to realise that beneath all the superficial compassion and morality, there is something deeply sinister and cowardly at the heart of the left-wing worldview. The kind of cowardice that drives officials to blame everything other than the ideology responsible when dozens of little girls are blown to pieces at a concert theatre, or sit on their hands while thousands upon thousands of them are systematically turned into sex slaves.)
But all is not lost. In the States, at least, we are seeing a new wave of comedians filling the vacuum. Some of the rising stars, Andrew Schulz, Bobby Lee and Andrew Santino to name a few, have made their names and fortunes not by competing for advertiser-friendly mainstream TV slots, but via the medium of long-form comedy podcasts such as The Joe Rogan Experience. Garnering audiences that mainstream platforms could only dream of. The rapid rise to fame of Theo Von epitomises just how starved the populace has become for genuinely edgy comedy, and comedians who are unafraid of lampooning the mores of woke society.
British comedians should take note.