Sunday, 4 July 2010

You're not funny, stuff your money

(Trigger warning: transmisogyny)

Anyone who's swung by my Facebook page lately will have noticed my anger at the current ads being ran by Nationwide Building Society, in which washed-up UK comedians David Walliams and Matt Lucas reprise a range of characters from their over-rated catchphrase-com Little Britain, including the deeply transmisogynistic skit in which the duo play a pair of 'ladies' who insist on being addressed as such in spite of their deep voices and facial hair. These hateful sketches weren't funny when the pair ran them during their show, and are even less funny trotted out in the service of naked commercialism. But they're indicative of an aspect of what some people mistakenly call comedy that is really beginning to get on my tits.

Last night, I watched, and for the most part enjoyed, a stand-up routine by the British comedian Sean Lock. I have to say that generally I've found Lock funny. His routines are well-crafted, his delivery well-timed, and he comes up with some nice, off-the-wall observations. I had watched a Russell Brand stand-up show before switching over to the Lock performance, and while I admired Brand's energetic delivery and rockstar attitude, I was reflecting that Lock seemed to be more polished, more considered, and a more well-rounded stand-up than Brand. Until, mystifyingly, and with the same kind of casual determination to piss over his legacy which apparently motivated Graham Linehan to turn The IT Crowd from an enjoyable sitcom in the mould of his previous work to a celebration of trans panic, Lock embarked on his encore.  An encore in which he opined, first of all, that 'fragrant ladyboys' still sound like growling heterosexual men when they come and, that, even more shockingly (and here I have to reiterate my trigger warning particularly for any trans people reading, because this next comment was astonishingly hateful) that the genitalia of post-operative trans women must resemble 'a squirrel that's been shot with a mallet.'

What. The. Fuck. Seriously. What the fuck? First of all, unless Sean Lock has something he'd like to share with us, I really can't see how he knows what any 'ladyboy' sounds like when they come (TMI warning: anyone unfortunate enough to have made sex with the author of this blog will definitely confirm that I sound like anything but a growling, butch lumberjack at the moment of what the French call 'the little death'), and as for the bit about the genitalia...That isn't good comedy. It isn't even bad comedy. It's hate speech, pure and simple.

A lot has been said by smug, privileged fuckwits in the media about how we're past the 80s heyday of 'alternative comedy' now. We've seen attempts to rehabilitate the reputations of evil-minded scumbags like Bernard Manning; we've seen TV shows like Little Britain splashed all over the schedules, all over the country on a nationwide tour and even over the Atlantic, in the (thankfully short-lived) Little Britain USA spin-off. But the idea that alternative comedy is something we've turned our back on wholesale is not true. In most areas of comedy we've integrated the key idea of the 'alternative' movement, which is, simply: people are not punchlines.

That's it. That's all it is. People, and their lives, aren't a joke because they happen to be black. Or Asian. Or disabled. Or gay. Or trans. Or at least, that's how it should work. But, because an awful lot of comedians are hateful, cynical, attention-hungry class-clown types, the reality is that some of them only accepted this settlement grudgingly. They won't take the piss out of black or Asian people because they know they form a large part of the population. Straight comedians won't tell bigoted jokes about gay people, because gay people have proved that they can lobby effectively and punish anyone who tries to turn back the comedy clock. But, far too often, trans people are considered fair game (seemingly with the sanction of Ofcom) because these cowardly so-called 'comedians' make the calculation that they don't have the numbers to affect their DVD sales and tour ratings.

Things are changing, however. Groups like Trans Media Watch are increasingly protesting about bigoted portrayals or treatment of trans people in the media. A host of other websites, forums and blogs (including, in its tiny and largely ineffectual way, the one you're now reading) are engaged in critiquing and taking apart the media and society's bizarre obsession to clinging to an outdated gender binary. We're a small movement now, but thirty years ago the people who dared to suggest that The Black and White Minstrel Show was, well, kind of racist were a minority too.  

It's the bolshy, pissed-off, not-gonna-take-it-anymore minority groups who ultimately change things. By drawing attention to how hurtful, unacceptable and bigoted this kind of 'comedy' is, we make the majority unlike us - in this case, cis people - uncomfortable about the yuks they're enjoying when they hear smug bastards like Sean Lock coming out with ugly descriptions of peoples' genitalia. And, while it's true that sometimes people like comedy which makes them squirm and feel as if they need a shower afterwards (cf. Carr, Jimmy, the career of), generally speaking no-one likes to feel like a horrible old Nazi bastard when they're enjoying a good LOL.

And so the TV appearances dry up. The DVD sales tail off. The audiences dwindle. And soon you're eking out the rest of your career as a bitter, ugly old man, standing up in front of similarly bitter, racist, misogynist shitbags, laughing their tiny little brains out and pissing their semen-stained pants at the thought that at least here, in this shitty theatre with fleabitten seats and a bar that serves nothing but Stowells wine and flat Carling, they're safe from the 'politically correct brigade' with their unreasonable insistence on treating people as people, not punchlines. You've gone from winning a British Comedy Award to becoming something less respectable than a performer in a peepshow booth in Amsterdam. In fact, in the words of the actually decent comedian Dara O'Briain, you might as well be playing golf with Jim Davidson.

(Unexpected Ending Alert: googling for an internet reference to that Dara O'Briain gag has led me to encounter Looks Like Satire, a fine blog which, though it doesn't seem to have been updated in a while, has some perceptive entries on the difficulties involved in confronting bigoted 'humour' and even features a much-better takedown of Sean Lock than my own, which leads me to conclude that my enjoyment of said show on TV was a function of (a) having consumed too much beer and (b) some incredibly judicious work by whoever had to edit the thing to a decent DVD length. And thus we see that evil is, in the end, ultimately self-defeating. Fuck you, Sean Lock. Eight out of ten cats think you're a loser.)

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