Sunday 20 January 2019

Think Blazing Saddles would be made today? Think again...

Comedy classic: Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles would not pass the PC test today
Comedy classic: Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles would not pass the PC test today
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Think you know your comedy?

Well, have a read of these two statements and see if you can tell which one was made by a comedian and which wasn't.

The first one goes something like this: "We do not believe the harassment of women or that misogyny dressed up as 'banter' is pushing any kind of boundary whatsoever...Pushing boundaries would be attacking the cultural, political, economic and religious systems that create gender inequality."

Now compare that fatuous bilge to this one: "Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering into the king's ear, always telling the truth about human behaviour... A politically correct society will lead to the death of comedy."

Well, the second statement was made by the great Mel Brooks, commenting on the fact that it would be impossible to get classics such as Blazing Saddles made in today's climate.

Ah, I hear you ask, who made the first statement? What band of puritans, thin-lipped, finger-wagging, and ever so disapproving, said that?

Has Mary Whitehouse been reanimated a la another Brooks classic, Young Frankenstein? Or was it made by some tabloid newspaper fulminating against the latest comedian to draw the ire of the moral majority?

Actually, neither. In fact, that first statement, which talks of the importance of gender equality and the dangers of "celebrating the very worst symptoms of gender disparity", may read like something from a prissy press release by the latest quango, but was actually written by bunch of comedians in protest at the controversial and, truth be told, pretty awful stand-up comedian Dapper Laughs.

Yes, comedians organising petitions against another comedian, not just because they don't like his material, but because they don't approve of it.

Mel Brooks was in London last week to promote the forthcoming stage production of Young Frankenstein, and it was depressing, but not surprising, to hear him wax melancholic over the future of comedy in this "stupidly politically correct society".

I don't know if Brooks had ever heard of that infamous petition of two years ago, signed by such comedy legends as, erm, Jenny Eclair and, um, Jason Bradbury. If he was aware of it, I'd love to know his opinion - does he approve of comedians policing another comedian's act and calling for him to be banned from venues, removed from TV and exiled from polite society?

From his recent comments, I doubt it.

Since the inception of stand-up comedy as an art form - in many ways, the truest art form there is - comedians have been challenging the perceived wisdom and follies of the society that produced them. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor all bucked the system, gave a glorious two-fingered salute to officialdom and brought their own audiences down some uncomfortable alleyways.

In the case of Bruce, the authorities ultimately hounded him to death, which is why he is still revered today as comedy's first martyr.

These days, the authorities don't need cops standing by the side of the stage, ready to arrest the performer as soon as he finishes his act, as they used to do with Bruce.

That's because we have replaced conventional authoritarianism with the authoritarianism of the mob. The most notable aspect of the Dapper Laughs controversy was that this time the mob happened to be comprised of comedians, but 100,000 regular people - most of whom had likely never even heard of the guy - signed a petition calling for him to be banned.

To some modern comedians, and many modern comedy fans, that Is A Very Good Thing.

They argue that comedians have a social responsibility, that they should, to use the ridiculous cliche so popular with silly people, only ever punch upwards, not down.

This is a school of thought which suggests that comedians should somehow 'improve' people. But it's not a comedian's job to improve people, the only responsibility they have is to be funny. A responsibility, by the way, that Jenny Eclair has been blissfully shirking her entire career.

Brooks was lamenting the growing trend to call for the suppression and censorship of uncomfortable, unpleasant or downright obnoxious views.

Like all censors, these people say they are doing this for others, to protect the little people who might be too stupid to tell the difference between a joke and a call to arms.

Personally, I'm not a fan of jokes about bodily functions or sex. Not because I'm a prude, but because they've all been done before and it's the stand-up equivalent of a busker on Grafton Street bashing out another god-awful version of 'Wonderwall'.

In fact, the only show I ever walked out of was a Roy 'Chubby' Brown gig a few years ago - not because the material was too close to the knuckle, but because it was lazy and defiantly unfunny. But I don't think the guy should be banned. I just choose not to watch him. It's really not a difficult concept. Yet it's no longer enough to dislike a performer, now they must be shunned in the name of tolerance.

Ultimately, it's the comedian's job to know where the line of acceptable behaviour is, and then jump right over it. Would you rather live in a world where Blazing Saddles is recognised as a classic, or where comics fret over gender disparity?

We all know the answer.

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