Friday, November 20, 2009

Racism: No Laughing Matter

Oh dear, this is really awful. Where to start?

I have never written a biography of Sir John Betjeman. Somehow though I don't think that entirely invalidates my views on comedy.

A.N Wilson - who has written just such a biography - but who appears to have nothing else under his belt to recommend him to the world of comedy critiquing - is today complaining in the Daily Mail that sexists jokes are not, well, sexist.

Now first up he totally misses the point on the Jordan Wimmer case. As has been repeatedly stated throughout the case - no-one denies that Ms Wimmer complained about sexist jokes long before she decided to take legal action. If someone makes an error of judgement and genuinely apologises and stops the behaviour when it is pointed out, I'm all for giving them a break. However when someone persists in saying inappropriate things after they have had the fact pointed out to them - that is deliberate abuse.

Plus remember that Wimmer is also claiming that her former boss Mark Lowe brought an "escort" dressed in hotpants into meetings. Wilson says that Lowe "hotly denies" this. He would do though given he's in a court of law and looking like he's not got a leg to stand on.

But Wilson's point is really not about the rights and wrongs of the case - it's about comedy and how we all ought to lighten up about a little harmless racism. Yes really - that is his point.

"Making remarks or jokes which you know will be upsetting to another person in your hearing is obviously the mark of a bully and it cannot be defended"

Now firstly - that is exactly what Mark Lowe did - he make jokes about blonde women in hearing range of a blonde woman who had complained about such jokes previously. But secondly - no, it is not ok to tell sexist jokes when there aren't any women in earshot, nor racist jokes in an all-white group. The problem with such jokes is actually much less that individuals are offended but that they normalise attitudes of prejudice and stereotypes which lead to hatred.

"Some of Bernard Manning’s jokes were offensive. But some were really quite good jokes: “If you dial 999 in Bradford, you don’t get the police coming round – you get the Bengal Lancers.”"

That one sounds racist to me. Definitely racist.

"I think you would need to be an incredibly humourless Bangladeshi not to see that this reference to a regiment from the high days of the British Raj was quite a funny joke about immigrants."

And that's racist too - insisting that only Bangladeshis would "not get" the joke.

"Manning was not making a mockery of people from Bengal because they were from Bengal. He was making a joke about the fact that Bradford is very full of Asians.

And in so far as jokes depend upon an element of surprise, there is something picturesque about expecting the arrival of Z-cars and getting instead the Bengal Lancers on their horses, dressed in topis and turbans."

Seriously - could he dig himself any deeper? Is there anything more he could say at this point that would make it any worse?

And then he gives and example of a joke that he is offended: something about "intimate parts of the Queen's anatomy"*. And then four pages later in the same paper there's a cartoon that shows the Queen and Prince Phillip sat on sofas with a large matron-like character in the background and the Queen saying "Call out the guard, Philip! There's a deranged person here who keeps saying "Get yer kit off, it's bathtime"" ... which would be ... oh hold on ... a joke about the Queen being ordered to expose her intimate parts ... no?

Now the irony of the juxtaposition of Wilson's despicable article and the Queen's bathtime cartoon strikes me as a lot funnier than any Bernard Manning line he cares to quote.

*That's what she uses when she has a "royal wee"!


Unknown said...

With all due respect to you, I am sure that you are far funnier as a comedian than you are capable or competant in your appraisal of this complex subject.

I wanted to post my reply here, but it was too long.

Please see my response here:

or here:

Kind regards

Adelaide Damoah

Cruella said...

I read your comments Adelaide and I was a bit confused by them. Firstly I wasn't trying to write a post that was "funny". If you want to have a laugh do come to a show some time.

But secondly you don't seem to have understood that I'm not writing a post ABOUT racism in comedy - I'm writing ABOUT an article in the Daily Mail, which I link to. In case you missed that link - it's here:

So it's not me who talks about sexism in comedy - it's the author of that piece (A. N. Wilson). And it's not me who raises the subject ot Bernard Manning - it's Wilson again.

You say "If you are going to call a blog post “Racism: No Laughing Matter” at least have the balls to tackle the issues at hand FULLY!" but I wasn't trying to write an over-riding discussion of the interaction between racism and comedy, I was just discussing that particular article. The title referred to the fact that Wilson had actually made (or duplicated) racist jokes in his article, and insisted they were not offensive. If you found the title misleading I can only apologise, I do explain in the first few sentences what I'm writing about.

But I guess I'm flattered you took so much time to respond. You suggest I should "throw open the debate" but to be honest I'm hardly the "hub" of comedy discussion. You seem to have some pretty clear opinions - why not write a piece for your blog and then send it in to the major comedy websites - such as Chortle or London Is Funny? Good luck.

Unknown said...

Oh dear, it seems that I somehow missed that in the intro. Never the less, I thoroughly enjoyed writing my reply, even if the original intention of your post was misconstrued.

Re your show, I might just do that, like I said, I am sure you are very funny in your line of work... For the record, I was not implying that you were trying to be funny in your post.

Re submitting something on this topic to the comedy websites,thanks for the suggestion and the luck, I may follow up on it...