Per a regular visit to Cook’d and Bomb’d I happened across a lively debate on what should be called ‘shock comedy’.  You can find the thread here:

Although the thread was aimed more at gathering consensus on the issue of ‘punching down’ in comedy, it chiefly helped me to understand what it is so unsettling about increasingly accepted norms and discriminatory attitudes.

It would seem that the borders of acceptable comedy have changed over the past decade.  Where once, the mainstream of comedy championed a level of sympathy and understanding towards minorities, it now seems to revel in mocking them, with a sneering, unapologetic disdain.

For all their vulgarity and witlessness, Harry Enfield’s ‘slob’s were loveable characters, unlike Little Britain’s Vickie Pollard, a character so lazy, dull and unimaginative, it’s impossible to feel anything towards her besides total indifference.  Vickie Pollard does nothing but point and laugh at the stooping working-class stereotype that it perpetuates.

I’m not sure why this has become the case, although I do realise that this type of base humour taps into the mindset of complete twats.  Every school had its bullies that routinely made fun of people for being different and every school had the gang of mindless kids that would laugh and egg him on.  I should perhaps mention something about human nature here, but I think that’s a different story.

As traditionally left-wing, alternative comedy always decried and kicked against the likes of Bernard Manning and his ilk, before eventually usurping them in the mainstream.  Now however, it seems that the anti-establishment has itself been usurped by a misguided sense of outsiderdom that condemns difference and shuns acceptance and understanding.

The popular idea now, after 13 years of New Labour, is that to be ‘anti-establishment’, one has to criticise political correctness and to attack.  The general concept seems to be that calling people names is somehow sticking two fingers up at the establishment, or the ‘thought police’ as they like to call it.

While the contrary is blatantly obvious, some people do indeed believe that minorities get all the breaks – surely a contradiction in terms! – and stop everyone else from having fun.  ”If we want to call a spade a spade, we should be allowed to, it’s only fair because they banned Christmas and installed them ramps everywhere”.

Perhaps the reason is that these comedians, Frankie Boyle in particular, though there are others, feel that the only way they can stand out is to be as vulgar as possible.

Another case in point is ‘Gilbert’, a supposedly learning disabled boy played by Morgana Robinson.  What I can tell, from having seen the show, is that the ‘joke’ with Gilbert is: “he’s a bit funny and he plays with his bits. Chortle!”  (This doesn’t help the lightweight, boring toss of so-called comedy material that is the Morgana Show either, as it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.)

The likes of Frankie Boyle and Gilbert do not strike me as particularly funny, and trigger a feeling of utter revulsion.  The problem here is that although it has the veneer of irony, it is only encouraging people to laugh at the disabled, or in Frankie Boyle’s case, anyone who isn’t him.

By virtue of claiming “it was all a joke”, a certain type of comedian feels that bullying is acceptable and this in turn encourages their audience to join in, which they most certainly do.

While I’m on the subject of Frankie Boyle, I would also like to mention that his brand of ‘all’s fair in love and shitty comedy’ is not and never has been funny.  Rather than make a wry statement or satirical comment, – and I’m not saying he should do this – he opts to make the audience go “ooh, that’s naughty”.  Simply dropping “baby rape” or “aren’t spastics shit”* into a set or panel show isn’t comedy, it’s just trying to shock for the sake of it.  The most likely reason is that he isn’t funny and would rather evoke a nervous laugh than none at all, which would clearly be his only other option.

This brand of comedy is nothing new either.  As Bernard Manning was mentioned earlier, it might be a good idea to bring Jerry Sadowitz into this too.  Whatever your opinion of Sadowitz, he minted the concept of hating everything and everyone in his comedy.  Frankie Boyle doesn’t manage to pull it off in quite the same way, being a BBC funded sell-out and all, but he does present a watered-down shite take on it.

So that’s my treatise on shock comedy.  I bemoan the state of contemporary British mainstream comedy in all its forms, from McIntyre and Bishop to Boyle and Gilbert and I doubt things will change any time soon.  In the meantime, it’s probably best I try to keep an eye out for something that isn’t complete and utter horse shit, it’s been a while.

*As far as I’m aware, he hasn’t actually said these particular things, but I believe they’re illustrative of his brand of shock-humour.