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When it comes to comedy, everyone has different tastes. Sense of humour is perhaps one of the most subjective things in the world, and there are comedians and jokes out there to suit every bodies fancy. But what’s hilarious to one person might come across as ‘offensive’ or ‘disrespectful’ to another, and before you know it the political correctness police are dropping down from the sky to stop anyone from saying anything that could possibly be taken the wrong way. Are we right to shun offensive comedians? Is nothing sacred anymore, can anything be considered fair game? Does everyone’s favourite offensive Scot Frankie Boyle go too far when he starts making jokes about Princess Diana or the Queen’s private parts, or is everyone just getting worked up over nothing?
It’s all about majorities and minorities. 90% of people might find a joke hilarious, or at least shrug it off without a second thought, but if the remaining minority are offended then suddenly a comedian can find his or herself in trouble. As with any kind of artist, a comedian cannot control who sees or hears their work, so they have to prepared for the fact that someone out there is going to get upset. Political correctness gone mad, many will say. Yet surely there are some objective limits of taste and decency, lines that shouldn’t be crossed. There’s a difference between being wittily subversive and satirical and blurting out profanities that are crude and untrue, aiming to shock in the hope that someone somewhere will applaud your daring.
So, if something offends us, should we kick up a fuss? Should we alert the authorities and round up the thought police to storm the set of Mock the Week because someone said something nasty? Well, you could do that. Alternatively, you could just not laugh, and switch the television off. That’s the thing that gets to me about people who get offended by comedians. I do have sympathy, because let’s face it, most of us know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of a cruel joke from our school days. But comedy isn’t like bullying- no one is forcing you to watch the stuff, and Frankie Boyle is not personally victimising you and trying to steal your lunch money. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. In the words of comedian Steve Hughes, ‘What’s wrong with being offended? When did sticks and stones may break my bones stop being relevant?’ To add to that, what’s the difference between being ‘offended’ by something, and just not liking it? I don’t like racist jokes. But that’s not so much because I’m ‘offended’ by them, more because I just don’t think they’re funny. But if you kick off about someone who offends you it’s only going to give them more attention and media fuss, whereas if enough people just ignore them, their career will flop and you won’t have to deal with them anyway.
That’s the beautiful thing about the concept of free speech. You can say what you want, but you can also listen to what you want, and ignore what you want. If someone has the right to say something which you do not agree with, you also have the right to say that that person is a prat and walk away with a smile on your face. Anything can be a joke. But it still has to be witty or funny or contain some appeal besides the loud statement of shocking obscenities. And if it’s not funny, just ignore it and hopefully it’ll go away.