If Ross Noble’s wife had died in the Australian bush fires, would it have been ok to tell jokes about it?

As a comedian of some 20 years standing, who has never been slow in using shock value and swearing onstage, I find myself strangely adrift in the course of the present debate about offensive statements and offensive comedy

The present debate concerning comedy-nasties has left me feeling slightly bemused, as I find myself hearing some of my fellow comedians using material which I find juvenile, unfunny, and deliberately offensive for offence’s sake … and I’m then supposed to defend their actions because I’m also a shock-comedian, or in some cases, because they’re my friends

I find a wealth of difference between the social commentary of George Carlin, whose use of so-called “swear-words” may well cause upset to those of a particular moral stance, and the behaviour of someone whose comedic stance is the equivalent of poking a stick, with a lump of shite on its end, into in you face … for a laugh!

George Carlin’s well-crafted wordplay forwarded a level of debate and is creatively inspiring, as was Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, and many other comedians of that genre

They had a point to make … and used “shock”, as part of a wider palette of colours, to paint a composition that was both emotive & informative.

And … more importantly … bloody innovative, and fukking funny!!

Wee boys with shitey sticks are bloody annoying … and deliberately so!

There is a HUGE difference, artistically, morally, and hygienically, between the two … and the most depressing part of this debate is that some talented, intelligent grown-ups are actually siding with the shitey-stick brigade, and will never be persuaded by any logical debate on the subject, because “people laugh at what we say, so they must agree, so I must be right”

Take the current rash of cruel, insensitive, Jade Goody jokes which abound; I’ve heard them being justified because she’s “a minger, a midden, a racist, a tub of lard, and a publicity hungry cow”

The fact that someone is stupid, and has no social standing, or defence, seemingly gives us the right to abuse them for our entertainment

In the good old days of the 18th century, at the Bethlehem and St Mary’s Mental Hospital, or Bedlam as it became known, people used to go to stare at the lunatics. “For a penny one could peer into their cells, view the freaks of the “show of Bethlehem” and laugh at their antics, generally of a sexual nature or violent fights. Entry was free on the first Tuesday of the month. Visitors were permitted to bring long sticks with which to poke and enrage the inmates. In 1814 alone, there were 96,000 such visits.”

Top viewing figures … !!!

So it must have been a legitimate form of entertainment … right?

“Freedom of Speech” is usually the flag that’s waved by those defending what may be termed “offensive” material, while a counter-claim for the legitimacy of “Freedom of Action” has been used as the excuse from those outraged punters who subsequently punched comedian Jerry Sadowitz in Montreal, or Jim Jeffries in Manchester.

If you claim the right to say what you want, then I claim the right to do what I want

“Say that about me & mine, … even if they are racist, moronic middens … and I’ll kill you!!”

You started it … !!!

If you want “Freedom” then I think you’ll find it ain’t free … there’s a price … and that price is “Responsibility”

Accepting a level of responsibility for your actions is part of growing up

Surely, “The prime job of a comedian is to make people laugh” and that is where I maintain the difference exists, in that shock value is a very different beast from offense

Shocking can be funny … whereas, offence is offensive, by it’s very nature

My contention is that an offensive statement, by definition, is never funny … it’s offensive

So, to say:

“I think if it’s funny enough, it doesn’t matter if it’s offensive.” Just doesn’t make sense, as the one precludes the other

You might well be “telling the truth” when you say that someone is “fat and ugly, and a moronic bitch”, … you might even have said it in a funny context … but if you say it about a violent gangster’s 25 stone wife, then you’ll get what you bloody well deserve

That is taking the responsibility for your actions

And if you say it to puny geek’s wife, ‘cos you’ve no fear of reprisal, then you’re no more than a coward, and a bully!

Why do you have a need to say it? – Because it’s the truth, and you’re a social commentator?

But, as a “comedian” your “prime” job is to be funny … not a social commentator; that is secondary?

Who finds such offensive jokes funny?


Moronic bitches and retarded middens … !!

So, you’re entertaining the very mentality that you’re criticizing, by lowering yourself to their level … hmmm? … interesting.

I’m intrigued by those who seem highly knowledgeable about the relevant websites and press coverage exploiting Jade’s situation … which would seem to suggest that they also slavishly follow, and read, these items in the mainstream press & media “aimed at morons”

I’m also intrigued by the contention that Jade’s attempts at earning money from her appearances on TV … however untalented they may be … make her a “media-whore” and therefore a suitable target for abuse, whereas other media figures like Kylie Minogue who “deserve their fame” because they’re “talented”, should get sympathy in their fight against cancer

We’re ALL media whores … some of us just don’t command higher fees , and if “talent” is the criteria …. ???

Glass-houses – stones?

I’m also very intrigued by those comedians who criticise Jade Goody as “publicity-hungry” and who are simultaneously desperate for media exposure for their own careers in comedy

When, and if, their own moment of fame does come, the perverse coincidence of “cosmic balance” which often occurs in life, might just deal them a harsh lesson.

To be facing a friend or family member’s death, whether by cancer, Aids, starvation, or bush fire, and to hear so-called “jokes” about your own loved-one’s death & suffering must be truly hurtful, and add immeasurably to the pain that you’re already going through

I really hope it doesn’t happen to any of my fellow comedians … because nobody deserves that





I don’t expect those who think it’s ok to tell such jokes to change their opinion one little bit.

They have every right to their opinion, and I support that right.

I just find it sad that they can’t see the hurt they cause. Although many might agree with them on an average night of comedy, many also leave aggrieved & upset … and THAT surely is against everything that comedy is, and should be

Make’em laugh … all of’em


6 thoughts on “BACK TO BEDLAM

  1. Stu

    Very eloquently put. A problem I’ve been trying to pin down in this whole comedy lark is exactly about ‘if they laugh, it is ok.’

    Clearly, it isn’t. The Bedlam example is perfect proof.

    I think there is a definite move afoot to censor and muzzle alternative commentary in the UK and this is conflated with telling offensive jokes. The missing part of this is, as you rightly point out, responsibility. Otherwise, we end up at the lowest common denominator.

    Only a performer knows the intent of their material, however, and it is difficult to get someone to admit that they went for the ‘cheap’ laugh.

    As a newcomer – and I think soon to exit – to the comedy performance world, I can’t see any value in twenty years hence being a tired gag merchant, replacing hate figures in punchlines.

    Well written Stu and I hope you realised I was coming from a similar place on another forum.

  2. Well amen to all that!

    I think you’ve perhaps illustrated the three killer bits in your routine you were talking about the other day?

    The kind of condescending personal insult “humour” you speak about is all too prevalent. I’ve still not had a satisfactory answer to why Ross and Brand’s now legendary telephone abuse was funny. “I just thought it was” said my nephew at the weekend. Aye but why? an old man being humiliated in a very direct and public way through his grandaughter? why was that funny? or wasn’t that the point?

    The defenders won’t say “fuck it we enjoy hearing people being humiliated by smart arsed smug bastards” but I suspect that’s the truth.

    They can’t by and large laugh at groups of people now, not even minorities so lets get personal and laugh at an individual’s family, illness, poverty, death whatever.

    Mind you Stu I’m sure you’re relieved there’s no Commission for Eejit Equality!

  3. Cheers Rab

    This was part of a debate on this subject on the Scottish Comedy Forum

    The argument that everything is permissible because “It’s funny” is, as you say, a highly subjective, and emotive, debate

    I find it quite astonishing that nice people excuse this sorta behaviour by saying they didn’t mean it nastily … it’s just as a joke!

    That, to me, is no different from the same ethos that justifies ANY level of bad behaviour for “good reasons … right up to, and including, torture & rendition.

    I know that they’re very different ends of the spectrum, but I do suspect that one is the starting-point for the other

  4. Great read, Stu. I think I recall reading this on the SCF – or it may have been on here – but I am sure I read it before. Terrificly-written. Full of great sense only the wise could produce.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly in what you say in your post.

    It seems any disaster; whether it be of a natural, widescale or personal one, is up for grabs and it kind of gives the masses some sort of falsely-stamped license to run with.

    A few years ago I was asked to tell a gag about a racing driver that was just killed days before. I refused point blank and when asked why I said, “I write my own stuff and besides, making fun of a family man who died in a tragic racing driving accident is just not my thing.”

    This moron proceeded to tell me how funny it was and the crowd will love it.

    “Okay,” I said. “I tell you what. Why don’t I wait until your dad comes screeching round the corner on two wheels with nothing to support him but the motorway crash barriers and as he tilts what looks like to safety on four wheels back onto the Tarmac he speeds through a railway crossing and the only thing stopping him in his tracks is the side-on 5:30 express Queen Street to Dalmuir.”

    He then said, “But that isnae funny.”

    I said, “Exactly!”

    Cheers, Stu.
    All the best,

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