Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A comedian is on trial in Canada for telling a cruel joke

It is a truism that humour is wholly subjective. When it comes to comedy criticism, the phrase ‘that’s not funny’ is about as productive as ‘that’s not erotic’. But this hasn’t stopped the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) from extending its remit into the policing of jokes. Set up by the Canadian parliament in 1977 to address allegations of discrimination in employment and the provision of services, this body now seeks to criminalise bad taste.

Two weeks ago, stand-up comedian Mike Ward testified at a CHRC tribunal for telling a joke in 2012 about Jérémy Gabriel, a young man suffering from a disfiguring condition known as Treacher Collins syndrome. The joke concerned the attention Gabriel had received after being invited to sing for Pope Benedict in 2006. ‘But now, five years later, and he’s still not dead’, Ward said. ‘Me, I defended him, like an idiot, and he won’t die.’
Mike Ward is a star of the comedy circuit in French-speaking Canada. He is the headliner at The Nasty Show at this year’s Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, and is known for his near-the-knuckle brand of humour. The festival website bills him as ‘the Celine Dion of dick jokes’. His audience, in other words, knows exactly what to expect.

Opposition to Ward’s joke seems to be based on the premise that comedy must always be ‘punching up’ rather than ‘punching down’. Will Self articulated this very point during an interview on Channel 4 News after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. ‘You always have to ask with something that purports to be satire, who’s it attacking?’, he said. ‘Are they people who are in a position of power?’ Self failed to acknowledge that Charlie Hebdo’s target has never been the Muslim minority. The target was God, and you can’t punch much higher than that.

In any case, cruelty can sometimes be funny. This is something we all know, but many of us are loath to admit. The novelist Simon Raven once received a telegram from his wife which read: ‘Wife and baby starving send money soonest.’ He replied: ‘Sorry no money suggest eat baby.’ When I first read this, I laughed. Should I be troubled by this involuntary reaction? Do I subconsciously approve of infanticide and cannibalism? If so, I should probably make a disclosure the next time a friend asks me to babysit.

More likely, it suggests that I don’t automatically take jokes at face value, an ability clearly lacking in Ward’s critics. However ill-judged you might find his subject matter, surely we can all agree that he doesn’t actually wish for Jérémy Gabriel to die? In the absence of contrary evidence, we should assume a basic level of humanity.



Anonymous said...

Comedy is not an excuse for cruelty !

Bird of Paradise said...

Oh waah,waah,waah so the CHRC pericutes someone for telling a joke the hurt some little wussietards little feelings Darn stupid bunch of cry babies need to grow up and get out of their playpens

Birdzilla said...

Now if they would wash out the mouths of all those comedians telling bathroom jokes there would be more bubbles over hollywood or some night club hey in Don Ho's wine

Anonymous said...

Every day politically correct countries are closer to the despot regimes they supposedly detest. What is left if you sanitise humour? Communism, fascism (but I repeat myself for the ignorant)and dictatorships.

Spurwing Plover the fighting shorebird said...

Anon 1:36. Political Correctness is just another word for Socailm/Communism

Storm the Albatross said...

Many mentaly handicapped persons are more intellegent then all the liberal wanks that graduate from UCLA