Me on the Late Show: transcript

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, I got to speak on the Late Show with Joanne Good on BBC London (94.9FM). She was doing a feature on bad comedy, specifically an incident in which Frankie Boyle, a former panellist on the BBC TV show Mock the Week, challenged a woman in the front row of his audience after noticing her talking during a series of gags at the expense of people with Down’s Syndrome: among other things, how they look and talk and have old and frumpy parents. You can read the mother’s account of the incident at her blog, and it apparently got picked up by journalists and became news.

I rang up and talked about how it was part of a big tendency towards nasty comedy which made light of serious subjects like rape, and mentioned the incident in which Ricky Gervais caricatured ME sufferers as being people too lazy to go to work. I wasn’t allowed to mention his name on air (although I told the researchers who it was), but who it was isn’t really the issue anyway, just the fact that people think a devastating disease is some kind of joke.

You can hear the whole thing here if you’re in the UK. The feature on Frankie Boyle starts at the two-hour mark. My bit starts half an hour later. There was discussion on comedians who make anti-gay jokes and of the guy from Seinfeld who delivered the N-word rant on stage after being heckled.

OK, here’s the transcript of my bit.

JG: Right, let’s go to Matthew in New Malden. Hello, Matthew.

Me: Good morning.

JG: Right, yeah, go on.

Me: Right, this thing Frankie Boyle came out with is part of a whole tendency towards this kind of offensive comedy, and there’s this “lighten up” tendency, where people will tell shockingly offensive jokes about serious subjects, rape being one of the more common ones nowadays, and, you know, “it’s just a joke”, “lighten up”, “we’re just having a laugh”, and the problem with making jokes about people with mental impairments is that these people get harassed in the street all the time, and virtually ev — and there’s been surveys done on this subject, and virtually everyone has said in response to these surveys, “yes, this type of harassment, particularly from kids, is a daily feature of our lives, and there was an interview done with people who ran a sort of drop-in centre, and the drop-in centre’s open at [i.e. until] five, but all the people who use it leave at about three so they can get home before the kids get on the bus; they don’t have to share the bus with the kids, because the kids will harass them.

JG: Mm.

Me: And when comedians make money out of this kind of thing, and it’s not that new — there was apparently a time in the 1980s when people like Ben Elton could make a career out of humour that wasn’t offensive, but since about the 1990s in particular, a lot of comedy has been about terribly offensive subjects, and the response when you complain is, “oh, lighten up, get yourself a sense of humour”. But, like, you know, rape isn’t funny.

JG: But Matthew, do you see, what I’m dying to find out; what upset me is, I don’t know this Frankie Boyle guy, but it really upset me to think that people are paying to go and see him. I work for the BBC; Mel has already come in and said to me, “Jo, I don’t think ‘Down’s Syndrome’ is the phrase, I think it’s ‘people with Down’s’; now, my gut reaction is, does that matter, you know, people know what I’m talking about, and he went, “no, some people could be offended”. So here at the BBC, we have that amount of tact and decency, right …

Me: You can get really tripped up on terminology …

JG: Oh God, totally tripped up, I have to— and I don’t want to offend anyone, cos I am fascinated by this subject. But I have to be so careful about so many things, so many things. You know, swearing is one, and apologising is another, all this sort of thing. So, there’s this, there’s Ofcom, there’s all these people monitoring what all of us lot are coming out with. There are all these diversity groups going into schools saying “we’ve all got to embrace each other, we’ve all got to live together, it’s a melting pot”, blah blah blah. So, this is what we are trying to come to terms with, but what I’m asking is, basically, if we were left without the moral police around, would we all take the Mickey out of each other, because left to pay for a comic, we will go an pay for a man who is cruel, whether it’s to Down’s Syndrome (sic), or to people of certain races, or swimmers (a reference to another, personally offensive, Boyle gag); is that the norm? Is the norm the fact that we love to ridicule each other?

Me: Partly, that might be true, but someone might go and see a comedian they hadn’t expected to be too offensive and then find that he makes a really ignorant joke about a serious subject …

JG: But surely, Frankie Boyle, from what I understand that is his image. Wasn’t he taken off Mock the Week, or something, because he overstepped the mark …

Me: I don’t know about Frankie Boyle. But the particular incident I know about is a — do you mind if I name him?

JG: Uh, hang on. Mel? No, probably not, no.

Me: Well, I mentioned him to your researcher, but it’s a fairly well-known comedian, he’s done a particular TV series and then some kids’ books and then a stand-up show, and he did this routine in which he mocked people with the illness ME, and he did this routine in which he said he’d had someone collecting for ME, and he said, “oh, not MS, the crippling wasting disease, ME; that’s the one where, ‘don’t feel like going to work today’”, and he did this routine where someone was basically ringing up and pulling a sickie, and I think he compared it to people in third-world countries who are supposedly too ill or too tired to go to the well.

And the thing is, ME is a terrible, debilitating illness …

JG: Course it is, yeah …

Me: And you remember the case, the trial earlier this year with the mother who’d nursed her daughter [Kay and Lynn Gilderdale, respectively] for, like, seventeen years …

JG: And took her life in the end …

Me: Well, she took her own life, with a bit of help from her mother, but this young lady had had to live for sixteen years in a dark room — and she’d been brutalised, this is another aspect that wasn’t widely reported on; that lady had been brutalised again and again by doctors who variously mistreated her because, basically, a lot of doctors didn’t believe that the condition existed. But also, she’d had rather brutal treatment, including a sexual assault. And this lady had had to deal with all this alone, in a dark room, in more-or-less silence, in pain, for years and years and years, and that is what ME does to people.

JG: Mm.

Me: And it’s not funny, it’s not “yuppie flu”, but this chap was making jokes about it like it was something trivial.

JG: And were people laughing?

Me: As far as I could tell, yes.

JG: Because what is shocking me is, as much as the performer, is the audience. Because I …

Me: People will laugh at these things, sometimes it’s ignorance. People often don’t know ME … when I mentioned the case of Lynn Gilderdale to people at the dinner table, they said, “don’t you mean MS” …

JG: Yes, aah …

Me: People didn’t realise this condition was so debilitating, but when it comes to mentally impaired people, they will laugh at jokes about it, because they think, most people … if I used the word “retarded” to people in my family — we have two teachers in my family — I’ll be told off about it …

JG: Yes, yes, of course …

Me: But people will use that, you know, people will just make jokes about mentally impaired people, and it’s good that there’s an outcry, because it leads to people getting attacked in the street, that’s where it leads.

JG: Yes, of course …

Me: If people think rape is funny, you know, it’s not going to lead to women getting pounced on in the street, because there’s a certain type of man that does that, but it’ll lead, for example, if people think it’s funny, the sort of rape that goes on at parties and that sort of thing, when people are drunk and …

JG: Matthew, I totally, I absolutely understand, thank you very much for your call. Thank you for that. I totally understand where you’re coming from. What really, really upsets me is that we have the moral police, which gets in the way of my job an awful lot, because I think they’re pedantic, and in life an awful lot, but without them, and if we were left to our own natural reactions, would we all be laughing at each other’s shortfallings? Because you know, this guy is sold out wherever he goes. Now, it’s not like, you go and see an act, like Mike in the USA said, he emailed me saying that often, you go and see an act and they will go off on a tangent and you think, mate, “don’t go there, it’s not funny, you’ve made a mistake” and usually, you can see in their recovery that they’ve gone wrong. This guy Frank Boyle, from what I’ve heard on the radio this afternoon, what I’ve read about him in the papers, that’s his style, he’s cruel. So do you think we basically like cruel humour, and if we were allowed, you know, that’s what we would …

I always thought of Hyde Park Corner [actually Speakers’ Corner which is at Marble Arch, not Hyde Park Corner], right, freedom of speech, that is the greatest example of freedom of speech, but you can’t stand on your soap-box and make racist comments, because there are the police all the way around, you know, they are watching. So, how can a guy stand up in a comedy store, in a huge auditorium, a huge theatre, and I think it was 2,000 he was playing to, and walk away from making jokes like that? Is there ever a way of allowing that sort of humour? By him coming out with those kinds of gags, does it dispel the myths about people with disabilities? I don’t know. I want to know what you think.

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  • LeedsLad

    “Nasty” is so on since that X factor hit our TV screens. I do a little comedy myself, and I am afraid the majority of the giggles are weird nasty things majority people wouldn’t dare say in front of their children.

    It is ok for people to view the comedian as stupid cos that is their trade, but do you really think he meant to be vindictive?

  • Salaam Alaikum,

    Society’s attitude to disability and illness has not progressed at all.

    No, I do not wish to see comedians making lazy, hackneyed jokes about disability. I would instead like to see more comedians with disabilities and in fact more people with disabilities in the media generally. .-= Safiya Outlines´s last blog ..In Space, No One Can Hear You Clean =-.

  • Firstly, I think the work you do to raise awareness for people with disabilities is amazing! Good on you, for calling in with valid points - so many that call radio stations just have an opinion!!

    I think humans are always going to laugh at one another, however I find it increasingly interesting that racial jokes have become taboo, but not so regarding jokes about people with disabilities. Why on Earth is it thought that these jokes do any less damage by perpetuating stereotypes than racial jokes?! Disabled people have enough stress to deal with, without being ridiculed and judged because of people misunderstanding their condition. .-= Rellacafa´s last blog ..Keeping Focus Amidst The Frost & Flaming Flares =-.

  • The popularity of bullying humor is hard to take—no matter which group gets hit. And I think your perspective being heard on a radio program is very important. .-= Terri´s last blog ..Love This =-.

  • Whatever

    even TV Comedy these days is all about b-list “celebrities” who get laughs by being vulgar and using the F word as many times as possible. Goes to show the state of humans when one has to resort to laughing and getting laughs about defenseless groups and misery and vulgarity. One cant help focus on the “celebrity” who in many cases looks so far from normal that I wonder if the laughs are at the joke or at “comedian”.

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