Sitting On The Offence

Last night, at a university gig, a man went proper mega spazzy at Andrew O’Neill doing a very funny joke that just happened to mention Madelaine McCann’s name in it. Already, I bet you’re thinking ‘Woah Tiernan, busting out a first sentence like that throws us straight into the action. Not only have you used a derogatory term that we are uncomfortable with already, but then to chuck in the mention of the double M? We’re not sure we could go on.’ Well firstly, today’s blog children, is all about being offended, so if you’ve got this far, we’re already chums. The outburst last night was one of those moments where I really wondered why people go to comedy, and at the same time, felt it was once again necessary to question how offensiveness works within our medium. Ahem. Andrew’s joke was a) very funny, b) not at all derogatory nor making fun of the person in question, c) were anyone involved with the mentioned individual to hear it and not the sort of people to immediately jump to their own conclusions of what he was saying, would probably find it funny and d) is it still too soon? I don’t want to ruin the joke, but whilst I would scorn anyone who does just make jokes at the expense of a victim of sorts for shock value, Andrew’s joke wasn’t doing such a thing and was indeed, very funny. But the man who complained screamed and shouted telling Andrew ‘how dare he do such a thing?’, ruining quite a lot of his set – as staff didn’t seem to want to remove him – and saying that he knew someone who knew someone who knew the McCanns, so it was personal. Right.

In my time in comedy, I’ve seen people kick off about all sorts of things. Once, when gigging in Leeds with Carey Marx, he was 10 minutes into his set where he’d already done some brilliant and very risqué stuff about many members of society, and then decided to do his gags about ‘albinos’. At this point, a girl who’d happily laughed until that point screamed that her brother was an albino and got so violent she almost took out the bouncer that had to carry her out. What that woman did was say that its fine to laugh at things that don’t affect you, but its against a comedian’s rights to make jokes about something personal to each individual. A rule, that were it correct, would mean comics would have no material to say ever. Freud once wrote a very shit book on humour called ‘Jokes and the Unconscious’ where he stated that jokes always needed a victim in order for them to work. I would often argue this, by stating the surrealist jokes didn’t need a victim, only for many others to have explained over the years that maybe realism is the victim in these instances and that I am wrong.

In my opinion, jokes don’t always need a victim but sometimes they do, and if done well, that’s fine. I disagree with jokes with easy victims or people that are unable to defend themselves, as often the role of the comic should be that of the underdog, able to take down the hierarchy through comedy. But if the joke has a purpose beyond that of just ‘shock value’ then let’s hear it. There are few experienced comics who do do jokes without a reason. Often the bigger issue is that people don’t really listen to who the victim of the joke is, the majority of comics aiming things at the correct target, while idiots misconstrue it. I remember years back Dara O’Brien doing his Maddie McCann joke about involving how on Osama Bin Laden’s latest video he had ‘lifted up his beard to show he had a ‘find Maddie’ tshirt on’. It got boos that night at the Comedy Store, when in fact this joke was never attacking MM herself, but more the media coverage and treatment of the case.

I made a joke on Twitter the other week about the Red Arrows deaths stating that it was sad two had happened in a few weeks and I wondered if it was a confused spy’s attempts to get to the ‘Red Barron’. Not a very good joke, but enough to provoke someone to tweet me back saying how insensitive I was. Never at any point does my joke discredit those pilots and their lives, but more the oddity that two deaths of the same elite group had happened so soon after. My joke’s victim was coincidence.

So what’s my point? Well er…good question. Last night’s dismayed audience member had already heckled me with a vile comment despite it being a lovely quiet gig, and I think even if something does upset you, you shouldn’t ruin the show for everyone else. Wait till after, explain it to the comedian and if they are a reasonable person, they’ll listen. And if you’re right and they’re wrong with good reason, then maybe they’ll change it. But maybe, just maybe, it’d be worth your while going back, repeating that joke to yourself and working out exactly why it bothered you. See if there is actually something appalling in there or if you, like many of the public like to jump to pointing fingers of shame as quickly as possible.