Brendan O’Neill

In defence of Jo Brand

In defence of Jo Brand
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What a bunch of big babies the right can sometimes be. These people spend oodles of time mocking lefty snowflakes and touchy students for taking offence at every off-colour joke or un-PC point of view. And yet it turns out they’re just as susceptible as any moaning millennial to having a fit of the Victorian vapours when someone says something they find offensive.

Exhibit A: the unhinged fury over Jo Brand’s joke about battery acid. Seriously, over the past 24 hours right-wingers have given the PC left a run for its money on the boo-hoo offence-taking front. You thought it was only purple-haired SJWs who try to get comedians sacked and even arrested for cracking dodgy jokes? Think again. 

Brand’s comedy-crime was to say the following about the recent spate of milkshake attacks on politicians: ‘Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?’ Boom-tish. Funny? I think so. I like Brand’s dry, deadpan wit, so to me it was funny to hear her jokingly propose something so wicked in her droll tones. Others will disagree. That’s subjective taste for you.

But what we surely cannot disagree on — unless we’ve taken leave of our senses, which I think we have — is that Brand was joking. We know she was joking for the following reasons: 1) she tells jokes for a living; 2) she said it on a comedy talk show; 3) she confirmed that it was a joke. ‘I’m not going to do it’, she said, clearly remembering that we live in humourless times in which people are constantly pouncing on someone’s words as proof of their violent intent. ‘It’s purely a fantasy’, she clarified.

The idea that her words were an incitement to violence that the police must now investigate — being pushed by everyone from Nigel Farage to an army of fragile right-wing tweeters — is ridiculous. Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson’s Bottom was not an incitement to hit people with frying pans. Count Dankula’s Nazi-saluting pug was not an incitement to anti-Semitism. Dame Edna Everage’s lip-reading pisstake was not an incitement of hatred for deaf people. And Jo Brand’s battery-acid gag is not an incitement to violence. They are jokes. All of them. Words. ‘Pure fantasy.’ Capeesh?

What’s more, Brand made this joke on a show called Heresy, on Radio 4. Where the entire point is to provoke, to stir up controversy, to say the unsayable. Now, some of us consider Radio 4 comedy to be about as provoking and stirring as a damp dish-rag, and recognise that even on Radio 4’s ‘edgy’ shows (please!) the guests are really just trotting out the same old bien pensant views.

But still, if a well-known comedian cannot make a shocking joke on a comedy show called Heresy, then seriously what’s the point anymore? Call off comedy. Call off all culture.

The bile heaped on Brand and the BBC has been nuts. I know there are double standards when it comes to offensiveness. Everyone, if they’re honest, knows there are double standards. So Count Dankula is literally arrested and convicted for his YouTube skit about his ‘Nazi’ dog while Brand is defended by the Beeb and the Radio 4 establishment. Danny Baker was sacked in about five seconds for his stupid royal baby tweet while Brand remains a BBC star. It is true that right-wing culture-makers and speakers and politicians are held to a tougher, more unforgiving standard than their leftish or liberal counterparts. And that’s bad. But you don’t solve this double-standard problem by saying: ‘Let’s make it equal by banning and arresting lefties too!’

Amazingly, people have been saying that in response to the Brand controversy. The same political figures, tweeters and tabloids who normally have a field day mocking soft leftists for crying over questionable jokes or edgy ideas are now demanding the censure of Jo Brand. You staggering hypocrites. What is sorely lacking in the free-speech debate today is consistency. The whole point of freedom of speech is that it must apply to everyone. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t free speech at all — it’s privileged speech, enjoyed by some, denied to others.

So here goes: Jo Brand must have the right to joke about throwing battery acid at politicians. Jimmy Carr must have the right to make rape jokes. Frankie Boyle should be free to make fun of people with Down’s syndrome. Boris is perfectly at liberty to say women in burqas look like letterboxes. People must be free to film their dogs doing Nazi salutes. Do you get it now? When it comes to mere words and ideas, no one should ever be censured, censored or punished for anything. Literally anything.