Is comedy too safe?
Comedy used to crackle with a rebellious, punk-like spirit. Bill Hicks, Alexei Sayle, Rik Mayall, French and Saunders – these are all names that could really excite an audience. They had a carefree attitude and took pleasure in the anarchic, the absurd and the ridiculous. They didn’t care if they offended and revelled in people’s discomfort. What became known as ‘alternative’ comedy replaced the tired jokes of a previous generation.Nowadays, it seems that comedians have lost their edge. With precious few exceptions, comedians all seem to make similar jokes, from the same perspective against the same targets. We hear plenty of jokes about Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, on Mock the Week and The News Quiz, but where are the jokes about the haughty Michel Barnier or privileged #MeToo actresses? Why does comedy appear homogenised, predictable and, worst of all, safe?
Comedians who make jokes that offend someone face a chorus of disapproval and, in the worst cases, criminal prosecution. Are comedians thinking twice about risking a provocative gag about a controversial subject?
Banter between work colleagues once made a boring job more bearable. Does the risk of inadvertently upsetting a colleague now mean that we have lost the ability to risk jokes at work? Does our fear of being misunderstood mean that we have stopped laughing?
The Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman no longer walk into the bar because stereotypes are taboo. Has comedy lost its role as a potential safety valve between different ‘communities’ within society? Has good humour become bad faith?
How can Comedy Unleashed, the London comedy club set up to encourage a new rebellious spirit and embolden free-thinkers, nurture a new revolution in comedy? Are there any topics so taboo we should refrain from laughing, or should the only taboo be those jokes that just aren’t funny?