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  • Iain Stewart

No Laughing Matter!

I like a good joke as much as the next person, and like many British people enjoy sarcasm especially amongst close friends. We need to have the ability to laugh at ourselves. When we are joking with friends we know when we have crossed a line and upset friends, and we will immediately apologise for having done so. However, there are so called professional comedians who choose deliberately to cross that line for shock effect, some of whom will try to defend themselves when they know they have crossed that line by accusing people of being part of ‘cancel culture’ or ‘wall flowers’ - as if we are being too sensitive or are part of some liberal left-wing conspiracy. The case in point is Jimmy Carr’s sick joke about the Holocaust made on his Netflix, ‘His Dark Material’ programme which has just been defended by Jack Dee on ‘Good Morning Britain’ who argued that ‘it was taken out of context’ and Jeremy Clarkson who has been quoted in several news paper’s as saying that, ‘any joke is fine.’ Carr joked that people, “never mention the thousands of gypsies killed by the Nazis” because “no-one wants to talk about the positives”. One social media post from Fife Council, later withdrawn, had told people that if you were offended by the joke “don’t watch him in the first place”. The arguments that we are being ‘too sensitive’, that ‘any joke is fine’, or that ‘censoring comedy’ as Jack Dee goes on to say, ‘infringes on our freedom of speech’ need to be challenged. No-one in their right mind would argue that it is acceptable for comedians to make racist or homophobic jokes as Bernard Manning did in the 70s, so why is it considered to be acceptable to be allowed to make jokes about the worst kind of racism and genocide against an entire group of people. To argue that ‘if you don’t like it don’t watch it’ or as Jack Dee said, ‘I think we’re sophisticated and discerning enough (of) an audience to be able to decide for ourselves without having to call the cops’ misses the point. My wife was a victim of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi when she lost over 40 family members including a young brother and her mother. Stop for a minute and imagine how you would feel if you had a brother and mother murdered in cold blood along with others because of their perceived race or identity only to discover that a comedian is making jokes about it. You would feel angry and disgusted. I have many friends who have survived this genocide and they tell me that when someone makes a joke about it, they feel like they are reliving the genocide again. Please remember that the Holocaust and subsequent genocides did not start with killings; they started with name calling and jokes dehumanising the ‘other’. I find it appalling that anyone, let alone a professional comedian with a large following, would choose to make jokes dehumanising others or make fun of a genocide that caused so much human suffering and loss of life. I read a nonsensical response from Mrs Brown actor Brendan O’Carroll, at the centre of a racism storm, recently concerning comments he made towards Tyler Perry on the ‘One Show’. He argued that if comedians are not, “causing offence they are not doing their jobs correctly.” I would argue that this is lazy comedy. Some of the best comedians are able to make fun using observational comedy without being offensive to whole groups of people. Freedom of speech surely comes with responsibilities and like any action we intentionally perform should be responsible for its consequences. This joke reinforces racist attitudes and stereotypes towards Roma people. It is potentially a first step on a very dangerous road.

I would end this reflection simply by answering the question, ‘what can we?’ ‘What can you do about it?’. Firstly reflect on the potential harm and distress this has cause Roma people in the UK, secondly boycott anything that involves Jimmy Carr and explain to your friends why you have done this, and finally write to broadcasters and your local politicians sharing your outrage. To quote the great Desmond Tutu from the 1984 book ‘Unexpected News’ Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes’ by Robert McAfee Brown. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. Therefore, we cannot simply ignore and allow jokes like Jimmy Carr’s to go by unnoticed as if they are acceptable. If history has taught us one thing it is that turning a blind eye is a highly dangerous road to go down.

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