Will comedy become the latest victim of ‘cancel culture’? Dame Maureen Lipman fears as much.
‘Cancel culture, this cancelling, this punishment, it’s everywhere,’ she told the BBC yesterday. She says that the world of comedy is in danger of being ‘wiped out’ because comedians are scared that audiences will take offence, and that they self-censor their material as a precaution. ‘It’s in the balance, whether we’re ever going to be funny again,’ she said.
It would be an ironic tragedy if this were true, because in no other field of entertainment as comedy has ‘cancel culture’ been at its most insidious, relentless and blatant. Lipman’s warning is therefore unfounded, superficially at least. Most comedy – especially on BBC television and radio – is so painfully politically correct and conformist that it is far from imperilled.
Anyone who has subjected themselves to the likes of The Now Show, Have I Got News for You or Mock The Week in the past ten years, with their remorseless stream of gags about Brexit or one-liners ending with the punchline ‘it would be like a headline in the Daily Mail‘ knows exactly what I’m talking about. People with unfashionable politics have been a unending source of seething contempt and spite, long before the adjective ‘woke’ became mainstream.
Contemporary comedy has been complicit in creating cancel culture. It has nourished a mood of censure in which people feel afraid to say the wrong thing, for fear of being scorned or shamed. No wonder people fear to make public their opinions: a YouGov poll now finds that 57 per cent of those asked said they censor themselves on issues including immigration and trans rights.
Lipman knows what it’s like to voice unpopular opinions and suffer the consequences, being unusual in the acting and comedy circles in her support of Israel.