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 folksâ€¦ 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.