Tuesday 18 June 2019

Why bother ?

I don’t feel that all lefty comedy automatically rules itself out of being properly funny. Well, not always. For example, much as the late Jeremy Hardy was a fanatical advocate of everything I loathe, I could see that had a lively and imaginative wit. Same goes for Frankie Boyle, another creative wordsmith whose politics suck most of the fun out of his comedy act. However, I can still admit that there are some quirky and humorous ideas hiding behind all the heavy-handed left-wing political proselytising. 

The latest Jo Brand debacle is as tiresome as it is typical. The cloth-eared BBC is immune to accusations of its own hypocrisy, but we shouldn’t automatically ‘hate’ Jo Brand and everything she does. 
“I have been watching, or listening to, Jo Brand for almost 30 years now and have yet to be even mildly amused by anything she has ever said. She’s fat, eats a lot and doesn’t like men — yes, I get it. But if only she could say something startling, revelatory or just — you know — funny about those stock subjects of hers, just once, I’d be happy.” 

Rod Liddle isn’t exactly elfin-like himself. And off-the-cuff humour isn’t his strongest suit. So, arguably, it’s a case of “pot, meet kettle.”  By the way, I don’t like Stewart Lee. Rod Liddle has a habit of inserting something jarring into his otherwise spot-on rhetoric. In written form, obviously.

In fact, Jo Brand has a droll wit about her, and as far as black comedy goes, her sitcom with the excellent Vicky Pepperdine was high-quality television. Personally, I could do without the man-hating stuff, the period porn and self-deprecating jokes about being greedy. If she applied herself to a  more original narrative she’d be rather good. So would Boyle and the oversubscribed cadre of comics whose default, left-wing assumptions and repetitious attacks on the same old targets from Thatcher to Trump and back are so predictable that they’re almost never funny.

I hope these will be my last words on the ‘joke’ made by Jo Brand, which wasn’t one of her best, but at least (in her defence) it was (presumably) off the cuff; she was expressing the default BBC political view (which is that right-wing politics and politicians are evil) but I suppose it’s her right to do so. even if she was doing it on the so-called impartial BBC, because it was in the context of a programme called Heresy. “belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.” 

In an earlier post, I tried to explain why I thought it was a poor joke. I‘ll try again. The concept was unoriginal and unimaginative because throwing acid isn’t ‘absurdist’. It’s not even far-fetched, for the simple reason that people actually do it.

 I’m going to be annoyingly pedantic and deconstruct the ‘joke’. Here goes:
’Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?’ 
said she.
The word ‘bother’, in this instance, is quite funny because, well, how much bother does it take to get hold of a milkshake? Not much I’d say. So it’s the word ‘bother’ that turns the remark into droll and dry humour. More so than if she’d just said: “Don’t use milkshakes”. 

However, things take a turn for the seriously problematic when we get to the punchline:”
 “…….when you could get some battery acid” (boom boom)

What if she’d missed out the word “battery” and merely said:
"Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some acid?"  There. Not so funny now, is it? 

 In other words, why bother with humour when you can easily use straightforward incitement.

 “Get some acid“ looks a little like unadulterated incitement, but she didn’t say that, did she? Carl Benjamin didn’t say he was going to rape Jess Phillips either. Nor did he threaten to rape her, but simply joked that he ‘wouldn’t even’. Not nice, but no-one’s nice these days. 

Did Nigel Farage really have to increase his security arrangements because of that remark? Did the police really interview Jo Brand? The police? Are the police going to monitor Frankie Boyle and co as well? 

Incidentally, anyone curious about the word Samizdat might have come across the thriving website “Samizdata”. A regular contributor to that site, Natalie Solent, used to be a co-proprietor of Biased BBC, and she too addresses the Jo Brand farrago. Farage-go.

The weirdest thing of the lot is the media bonanza it has engendered. Including this post.  


  1. For me it was never about the joke, as tasteless as it was, but rather about the hypocrisy. More precisely about the way the BBC only acknowledge the principal of free speech when it doesn't threaten their own narrow worldview. On that Liddle was completely correct.

  2. Me too.

    Plus the not unheard-of fact that those who might find the BBC Brand of humour funny are not far off mistaking an apparent 'joke' for an instruction from the voices in their head.

    "Who will rid me or this troublesome far-right racist with some.... pH1kshake?"

  3. #metoo wasn’t the joke, I stopped finding the majority of the comedy output unfunny in about 2010ish it’s the complete double standards.

  4. Yes it's about the BBC, perpetrator, prosecutor, judge and jury so, "we think we got it just about right!" (As always).

  5. There are several issues here intertwined.

    I think the "joke" was actually incitement to violence.

    Firstly, the meta context for this is that the BBC bills this programme as a "discussion programme" - not a comedy programme.

    Secondly, it was perfectly reasonable for any person who has milkshaked a politician or who was considering doing so to interpret Brand's words as addressing them. She says she wouldn't personally do it. But that is irrelevant to incitement to violence. She is addressing the general issue of milkshaking and says why not use battery acid because milkshaking is "pathetic" (you don't quote all her words, Sue). For me stating "battery acid" rather than "acid" is an aggravating factor since millions of people have access to battery acid. That's like an instruction. I think the Police would definitely have taken the case to the CPS if it had been a Far Right comedian talking about Stella Creasy or Anna Soubry.

    Frankie Boyle made a r*pe joke about Katie Price marrying an MMA fighter in order to stop her disabled son from trying to r*pe her. Did the BBC show shock and horror at that as they did with the Carl Benjamin non-r*pe joke? Er - no. They offered Frankie Boyle a prime time TV series. That's double standards. Boyle also joked about Jade's terminal cervical cancer - suggesting it would improve her husband's enjoyment.

    I defend people's right to make bad, offensive, or ill advised jokes. That is part of free speech.

    But I do honestly believe that - in context - Jo Brand's "joke" could reasonably be construed as incitement to violence. I am not sure, but I don't think you need to prove intent re incitement. If the words could have the effect of inciting violence, even if that were not her intention, that is enough.

    I really think that was the effect of the words...there is a marginal risk someone, particularly someone who had been thinking about undertaking a milkshake assault might go one step further by using a noxious substance.

  6. I really do take the point that Jo Brand’s comment could be the tipping point, wherein someone predisposed to throw acid might be triggered; but we have to recognise the folly of going too far down the ”words have consequences” route. (Ultimately silencing us all.)

    Surely our right to freedom of speech should triumph over political views, including despicable ones, and I’d argue that only those predisposed to violence and blind to all ‘humour’ in language would take a feeble joke ‘literally’ as a call for direct action. (If there are too many such people around these days, that’s another problem that needs addressing)

    However, should some insane individual now decide to save himself the bother of getting a milkshake and actually syphon off some battery acid from a car to throw over a loathsome politician instead, then BBC will indeed have to take its share of responsibility for incitement. Hence their belated censoring.

  7. Odd that people eager to make the case for, quote only the final part of the supposed joke and use a justification of context without including the context: that was the setting up of the discussion as being about certain unpleasant characters whom she said she considered easy to hate. That was her target and this was personalised hate. It wasn't a detached observation about politicians in general. Everyone knows which politicians were attacked in that particular way. They are unpleasant and deserve hate is the message. And she was specifically advocating attacking them instead with battery acid, putting this across in a supposed jocular manner, as a sort of throwaway merry quip.

    The further context is that there is considerable concern among politicians about their personal safety since the murder of Jo Cox, something shocking we previously never imagined. We're used to MPs walking among us to their surgeries where we can drop in and see them. And something so shocking that we never imagined either, is the attacking in recent years of people by throwing acid in their face. That's horrific even to have to know about. What if you are a politician, any politician or one who has had threats of violence, which many female politicians have but also Peter Bone and perhaps other male MPs have reported? Is there not some degree of fear when they step out to campaign that they are vulnerable and someone may throw something worse than milkshakes and even more so if a person opposed to their politics has advocated it on a national broadcast as if it's merely a bit of fun? How much more so if they are politicians who have already been attacked by people throwing milkshakes? They know not what they are going to meet. How is this not increasing fear and the risk of danger to them? How is it not hate and incitement to violence?


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