I cannot be fucked with people who “take offence” or “find that offensive.” Everything has the potential to offend. Everything. Offence is taken, it is not given.
Frankie Boyle says that what he finds offensive is banality. I find it offensive that more people vote for television shows than vote in elections. Who cares? I can deal with it without greeting to the national press or starting a lobby group. I don’t hold the same reverence for Stephen Fry as the rest of the nation, but he does occasionally say some important things.
The true absurdity of “offence” was highlighted to me some years ago, on the back of this Irn Bru advert:
The advert received seventeen complaints because of the final scene, where the woman is shown shaving. It was feared that this may cause offence to transgender people. Whether it was actually transgender people who complained, or merely goody-two-shoes acting on their behalf and without their approval was not made clear.
I remember questioning it at the time. If seventeen negative comments can get something banned, does that mean that eighteen positive ones can get the same thing reinstated? That would demonstrate that more people like it than don’t.
That is the fundamental nature of my hatred of this culture. That a handful of people can ruin something for the rest of us, just because they are not equipped to deal with things internally. As Fry says, being offended is essentially a whine.
There was the controversy, too, when Frankie Boyle upset the parents of someone with Down’s Syndrome. As I believe he said at the time, people laugh at the things that don’t affect them, which are (in his case) no less abhorrent than the other jokes he makes. They just chose to be offended by the one that related to them, rather than by the AIDS and cancer jokes. There’s an intelligent article on it here.
The final word on this is a quote that I got from the Father Ted scripts book. Somebody had complained to Channel 4 about an episode where Father Jack refers to rabbits as “hairy Japanese bastards.” As descriptions go, it is fully in keeping with the nonsensical, whimsical world they created. I think I read the quote sometime in 1998 0r 1999. It summed up what I felt at the time, and something that I have come to firmly believe.
“You can never underestimate the desire some people have to be offended.”
– Graham Linehan
If you do feel offended by something that you see on TV, do remember that there is an ‘off’ switch. Try reaching for it.
In my capacity as a stand-up comedian – wait, I’m going to rephrase that. During the prolonged period in which I’ve stepped on stages with some regularity and attempted to make people laugh, with wildly varying degrees of success, I’ve met a few talented individuals. The scene is so small, relatively, that it doesn’t take long before you are on bills alongside winners of national competitions, people who write for household names, and folk who have appeared in television pilots and sitcoms. Occasionally, depending where you are playing and how things pan out, you can find yourself on the same stage as nationally-renowned comedians.
I was booked to do four gigs in the space of three days last year – a brand new set as a guest in a sketch troupe, compering a music gig, a set in a local pub, and then a spot at Glasgow’s famous comedy club, The Stand. The last two were on the same night, and I left one gig to go and immediately do another. I keep a blog about my experiences of gigs, and documented that last one here.
I got to the venue, flustered and less prepared than my previous appearances there, and scanned the running order to see when I was due on. I always read the running order to see who I know, and have my favourite acts and people that I enjoy seeing perform. This was no different, and I read down the list to see who I had missed and who was on in the same half as me – “I like him, he’s good, there’s me, and then – oh, Frankie Boyle.”
Frankie Boyle had been making regular appearances at the club for a few weeks, trying out new material for his final tour, and sometimes headlined. This particular night, he was just slotted in with all of the other acts – and that is how he ended up following me onto the stage. As it happened, I had a good gig that night, but the pressure was already off – however good or bad I might be, it wasn’t me that the audience would remember.
I doubt he listened to any of my set – at most, he might have listened to the laugh rate – but from the very little I spoke to him beforehand he came across as very grounded and approachable. I don’t always agree with his material, or the targets he attacks, but I’m glad he does what he does and defends himself rather than just apologise.