So I thought I would do a review of the last few hundred years of comedy in less than 300 words. Outrageousness and close to the bone have been the trademarks of comedy since Thersites said, “Shakespeare is funny. Hoist me on my own petard and hit me with a bladder full of imposthume if I’m wrong.” In an ill-tempered exchange with Patroclus, Thersites accuses him of being Achilles’ male varlet and chief bum boy. Thersites is self-deprecating, as written by Shakespeare; “I am a bastard too; I love bastards: I am a bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valour, in every thing illegitimate.”
In everything illegitimate.
Every age throws up a shocker; Marie Lloyd sang “She sits among the cabbages and peas”, Max Miller told us he was in a quandary when he met a nude woman on a narrow mountain pass and did not know whether to “block her passage or toss myself off”. Julian and Sandy, the camp chorus boys were appearing on the BBC in the mid Sixties, doing part time work as top flight lawyers who tell Kenneth Horne, “we've got a criminal practice, see, that takes up most of our time”. Lee Mack, Jimmy Carr and others have carried the banner of this exquisite type of double entendre comedy. But it is in its own way safe and does not offend individuals. It was, and is, for the most part, targeted at the abstract and impersonal. Satire is a crossover from this being at once a challenge mechanism of political and social mores and a finely honed arrow at those who elevate themselves above us. There is also a question of timing. We may feel comfortable doing Titanic jokes, but not 9/11 jokes:
Satire is tragedy plus time. You give it enough time, the public, the reviewers will allow you to satirize it. Which is rather ridiculous, when you think about it.Some people think Frankie Boyle is funny. Paul O’Grady disagrees. Some say, Clarkson is funny. Steve Coogan disagrees.
Are we approaching another consensus collapse brought on by a sudden attack of moral superiority? Is this just another piercing dart in the armour of 21st Century Schizoid Man? Does the Pope crap in the woods?