Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand: Offensive can be funny.

It’s created an almighty and completely unnecessary fuss, it certainly doesn’t need to be raised in the House of Commons, it’s no business of the Prime Minister, the Daily Mail et all have blown it out of all proportion and the BBC almost certainly shouldn’t have broadcast it (even if suspending them for what is essentially an editorial decision is crazy).

But Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s prank phone calls to Andrew Sachs have raised some interesting comments about the nature of comedy. Here are a few random thoughts:

Offensive comedy can be funny. Indeed, much of comedy is about poking fun or denigrating other folks… anyone who has been to a stand-up gig knows that the banter with the audience can come close to bullying sometimes. For me, the greatest example of brilliant offensive comedy is Monty Python’s Life of Brian which was pilloried and attacked (banned?) when first released. You’d have to be a very sour soul indeed not to admit it is hilarious.

Offensive in itself isn’t funny. Many people have been comparing the Brand and Ross shenanigans to Chris Morris’s Brass Eye mockumentary on paedophilia. If you are going to be offensive you either have to be clever, satirical or have some sort of serious point to make. Brass Eye always did, I think the phonecalls were little more than puerile high-jinks and therefore less defensible.

Context is all. Who doesn’t enjoy a dirty or off-colour joke in the saloon bar with friends? It doesn’t mean that the same dirty jokes should be broadcast to the nation on Radio 2.

5 Responses to Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand: Offensive can be funny.

  1. Brigadier says:

    For me the only similarity with BrassEye worth noting is that the number of complaints seems to have risen dramatically since the ‘story’ broke. The Russell Brand programme drew only 2 complaints when broadcast; now the number stands somewhere around the 18,000 mark.

    For right or for wrong the media have been publicising this episode to such an extent that it’s now hard to think of it as anything other than a jolly for the journos as yet another opportunity to lay in to the BBC presents itself. The bigger the stink they manage to cause the more they can hold their noses and complain about the smell. That Andrew Sachs himself has been entirely gracious about the unwanted attention this furore has brought him must be a source of enormous frustration to them.

    You know my opinions about offensive humour, and I quite agree with you about the most important point: it wasn’t funny.

    (NB The Brand’s podcast is currently No.1 in the iTunes chart thanks, I imagine, in no small measure to this incident. I can’t work out if this is a bit of a Frank Bough moment or not.)

  2. Sue says:

    I rather like what Stephen Fry said: I hate rudeness and unkindness but how can one be on the same side as the Daily Mail?

    And frankly I’d have a little more sympathy for Ms. Baillie (no relation) if she wasn’t being spoken for by Max Clifford.

  3. Jamie says:

    It all felt a little like wandering into the 6th Form Common Room. Rather infantile and hugely unfunny. How many of the gags will anyone ever recite in the future?

    Everyone knows that Bart Simpson does the best prank calls…

  4. Sue says:

    BTW, Newsnight has just said 27,000 complaints, so that must be 9,000 in the last 24 hours or so.

  5. Dan Wilson says:

    Jamie: the 6th form common room suggestion is apposite.

    Sue: the sheer number of complaints is pretty irrelevant right?

    I’m all for clever comedy.. Peter Kay stands out for me as a great comedian, comic actor who does some great stuff without being a shit.

    I also think Andrew Sachs comes out of this all as a decent, humourous man.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of your company name or keyword spam.