Howard Jacobson

Offence-taking has ruined comedy

Offence-taking has ruined comedy
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I’m watching television more uncritically than usual but still can’t stomach the format of Live at the Apollo. It features some clever comedians, but its artificiality, cutting to the audience to show canned hilarity — or worse, canned celebrity hilarity; or worse still, genuine hilarity — is a turn-off. 

It’s not the comedians’ fault that producers choose to show people helpless with laughter at a not very amusing joke, but the practice alienates you from their material. If that shower thinks they’re funny then they can’t be. 

We laugh too easily today. Laughter used to be like virtue. It wasn’t something we were willing to give away on a first date. Now we’re anybody’s. And yet, simultaneous with this great homogenising of laughter, comes the latest wave of offence-taking, washing away the transgressive constituent from comedy which as often as not is the best part of it. 

In the end, maybe the two phenomena are closely related. We laugh together to show we are united, that no offence can possibly be given, or taken, if the mirth that shakes you is the mirth that shakes me. Which makes the world half as funny as it was. And soon not funny at all.

This article is an extract from Howard Jacobson's Spectator Notebook, available in this week's magazine