Friday, April 09, 2010

All Joking Apart, It's No Laughing Matter. Or, Is It?

Mad Frankie Boyle has had an on-stage confrontation with a mother of a Down's Syndrome child, which he called the 'most excruciating moment of my career.' Sharon Smith took the former Mock The Week panellist to task after he made fun of the voices, haircuts and clothes of people with Down's Syndrome during his live show at Reading. In a well-written - and very dignified - blog post, which you can read here, the mother of five-year-old Tanzie described how she was challenged by Boyle from her front-row seat after he spotted her discomfort at the routine. And, how she plucked up the courage to tell him what she thought. But, she says, she was made to feel 'small' for taking offence, even though she was a fan of stand-up in general, and of Boyle in particular, and thought that she knew what to expect from the show. She wrote 'I know talentless comedians like Jimmy Carr have a history and reputation of poking fun at people with disabilities, but I never expected it from Frankie Boyle. Indeed I thought he was cleverer than that.' She continued 'Frankie spent a good few minutes making joke after joke about people with DS. And they weren't even clever or funny jokes either. I expected dry, nasty, crude humour, yes, but unimaginative humour poking fun at the stereotype of people with Down Syndrome was not something that I expected. The more jokes he made, the harder I found it to stay unemotional and detached. My husband noticed and asked if I was OK. At which point Frankie noticed him talking to me and came over (oh how I wish I had not booked front row seats). He asked why we were talking during his show. So I told him that my five-year-old daughter has Down Syndrome and that I was simply upset at some of his jokes. He tried to laugh it off, "Ahh, but it's all true isn't it?" to which I replied no, it wasn't. He then went on to say that it was the most excruciating moment of his career but then tried to claw the humour back by saying we had paid to come and see him and what should we expect. To which I replied that I understood and that it was my personal problem/upset. He then said it was the last tour ever and that he didn't give a fuck. He was obviously unsettled by the episode, but nothing like the way I felt. I truly have never felt so small. I don't feel that I did my daughter any justice at all.' Sharon has, reportedly, been inundated with messages of support since making her posting. Although she said it was intended only for friends and didn't expect or want to cause any fuss, the story has nevertheless (inevitably) been picked up by the Gruniad Morning Star, the Telegraph, Sky News, BBC 5Live's Victoria Derbyshire Show and the comedy website Chortle.

It's a tricky one this, isn't it? It's a complex one to even try to analyse, much less to reach an informed opinion on without feeling like a twat for having, at some point in ones life, laughed at something that was probably really hurtful towards someone, somewhere. As previously noted on this blog there are few bigger appreciators of Mad Frankie Boyle's often fearless comedy-of-the-dangerous as yer Keith Telly Topping. And, I'll defend with everything I've got the chap's right to attempt to find humour in dark corners. That's one of the reasons why he has the reputation he does, as one of Britain's most inventive stand-ups, because he does go to places that others would never dare to. But, sometimes, often in fact, that leads to trouble. In the past I too have been, if not exactly "offended," per se, then certainly a bit concerned by some of the targets that he's chosen to go after. This celebrated one, for instance. If only because, frankly, as Sharon herself says on her blog, I think he's a better comedian than that. Of course comedy - in theory - should have few, if any, taboo areas. That's kind of the point of using humour as a commentary on those bits of life which people often feel uncomfortable with. A joke about, let's say for the sake of argument, the subject of murder will likely be extremely, exceptionally distasteful and probably very uncomfortable for many people to hear. I'm one of them, trust me. But, depending on what it is and how it's told, it could also be funny. It could be very funny. Does the one consideration negate the other? That's ultimately the bottom line - comedy should never be about what subjects you can't deal with. What it should be about is what subjects you can deal with, but with - hopefully - some thought and intelligence behind them. It's like Stewart Lee's defence of his - in places, extremely nasty - jokes about Richard Hammond's car crash last year, which caused much debate at the time. Just about all humour is ultimately about confrontation of one form or another. Some humour works precisely because it is vicious and cruel towards someone. And, in any joke, even the most bland and tame, there has to be a butt. Whether that's a concept, a race, a religion, a gender, a politicial movement, one person or the entirety of humanity. But, yeah, getting back to the point Frankie seemingly could've handled this one a lot better. Mind you, I do wonder what would have happened if he'd apologised to the lass for his comments - which I sense from her blog she would have willingly accepted, and really rather welcomed - and then carried on with the routine but with another target. Like, I dunno, let's say people with ginger hair. Or gay sailors. Or people with spectacles. Would Sharon have been offended if it had been a routine about Jade Goody's cancer? Or Gordon Brown's one eye? Or George Michael's latest adventures in the toilet? Would someone else in the audience have been offended by such jokes even if she wasn't? I mean, let's remember before we get too shocked by all this, Mad Frankie Boyle is a man who has spent the best part of the last five years cracking (often really funny) jokes about Kerry Katona's vagina and Stephen Hawking's lack-of-mobility to a weekly TV audience of a couple of million. Some may ask, in all honesty, what's the difference? At the end of the day there's no right and no wrong answers, here. Just a lady who has, very articulately, given us all something to think about the next time we laugh at someone's dodgy joke. No matter how funny it is. (And, for what it's worth, Sharon, I totally share your loathing of Jimmy Carr!)

I suppose what all this proves is that humour is an entirely personal thing, the only 'rules' being that there are no rules. A joke about cancer can be hilarious (Bill Hicks proved that) and I say that as someone whose father died from cancer and whose mother is, currently, in remission from cancer. The fact that someone chooses to tell a joke about cancer wouldn't have stopped either from getting it so what's the point in me being upset by that? Now, others may well feel differently about such a topic and I completely understand that. People's emotions work in very different ways, that's the wholly personal nature of the beast. Some humour can be cruel and vicious. Some can be spiteful and horrific. It doesn't, necessarily, mean it can't be funny as well. There is no such thing as a universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes 'good' humour and what doesn't, it's an individual choice and an individual emotional reaction to stimuli. I'll defend anyone's right to tell a joke about anything they damn well want. But, by the same token, I'll defend anyone's right to be offended by a joke to the point of outrage by it. So long as they don't tell me what I should think about it and allow me to make up my own mind once I've heard it. Life, eh? It's all a joke.

Matt Smith has claimed that working on Doctor Who is 'glorious.' The twenty seven-year-old actor, who became the Eleventh Doctor last week, said that it is 'a great privilege' to work on the show. 'I've moved up to Cardiff and I get to go and be The Doctor every day, which is just glorious,' he told SFX. 'It's a great privilege, really. And obviously there aren't many parts where a) it's announced like that and b) your life changes in a public sense as much, because obviously the show is so well loved and so widely received that people are aware of it.' He added: '[My life has] changed in the way that I now fight aliens every day! Aliens that aren't actually there in front of me ... Often you're looking at a ball of string and some guy, and that's meant to be some sort of horrible demonic creature from the gallows!'

Strictly Come Dancing champion Chris Hollins is to front The ONE Show next week, fuelling rumours that he is being lined up as a replacement for Adrian Chiles. According to the Mirror, Chiles has still not renewed his contract with the evening programme amid a row over plans to replace him with Chris Evans in Friday's episodes. In February, it was reported that Hollins would be likely to take over from Chiles if the forty three-year-old decided to quit. It has now emerged that Hollins will appear on the show all next week alongside BBC News presenter Louise Minchin because Chiles and Christine Bleakley have time off. A source said: 'Everyone hopes Adrian will sign but bringing in [Hollins] shows they're preparing for life without him if needed.'

Coronation Street actress Sacha Parkinson met her boyfriend when he approached her for an autograph outside the soap's studios, a report has claimed. The actress, who plays student Sian Powers, started dating Ben Mercer last year and the couple are said to be 'smitten' together. According to the Daily Mail, the pair's romance began shortly after Mercer spotted Parkinson on one of several visits to the series' Manchester studios. When he approached the star, the nineteen-year-old is said to have asked her to sign a book before requesting her phone number too. A source told the newspaper: 'Ben is a keen autograph hunter and is a regular outside the studios. He has most of the stars' signatures and when Sacha became a regular he approached her. She was happy to sign his book so Ben asked for her mobile number. Sacha did and after a couple of days Ben asked her out on a date. She agreed and [they] just hit it off.' The insider added: 'Ben no longer has to wait outside for autographs, he gets Sacha to get them for him.'

Millions of British people are missing out on watching high definition television because they have not purchased the right equipment, a new study has claimed. According to the British Video Association, six and a half million people in the UK wrongly assume that they are watching HD programmes or films on their TV sets, when actually they have not connected equipment compatible with the advanced picture quality. After surveying nine thousand five hundred viewers, the BVA found that fifty five per cent of British households have spent hundreds or thousands of pounds on a high definition television set. Despite thirty per cent of those questioned thinking that they could watch HD television or Blu-ray discs at home, only fifty eight per cent of that group had taken the necessary steps to connect the right equipment. Many households had failed to acquire a set top box, games console or Blu-ray player capable of running high definition programmes and films on their television sets, meaning that they were still watching standard definition pictures. 'In the run-up to the World Cup even more people will be looking to invest in HD, but they need to be aware that a high definition television alone does not mean that they are watching content in high definition,' said BVA spokesman Simon Heller. 'You are only getting a high definition experience if you are watching content via a bolt-on high definition set-top box, a Blu-ray player or a PS3 console.'

Maureen Lipman has criticised the lack of investment in one-off television plays. The veteran actress claimed that the days of the TV play are 'numbered,' arguing that broadcasters do not have the money to invest in projects which cannot be turned into a full series. 'They've got no money to do it - you have a crop of British films this year, which are basically television plays in my opinion: An Education, Nowhere Boy, Fish Tank, all these films would be Play For Today and we'd discuss them the next day,' she said. Well you still can discuss them the next day, Mo, you've just got to go to the pictures to watch them. 'Now there's no plays on television, only series, because plays 'don't have a hook.' The great days of television plays are numbered.' Her Ladies Of Letters co-star Anne Reid added: 'My husband was very much in favour of the single play. He said it was the only way to discover new writers. No-one's going to sit down and write a whole series, people get started by writing one play. But they don't seem to think there's an audience for the single play.' I have to say that, as with similar comments made last year by Annette Crosby and Tony Garnett, I do find this rather wistful nostalgia for a mythical golden age of television to be, frankly, no help to anyone. Yes, there certainly were some great one-off plays produced in the 1960s and 1970s (and some rubbish as well, we just tend to remember the good ones). And yes, television is certainly different now to how it was then. And, it isn't necessarily better. But, then again, television was different in the 1950s from how it was in the 1970s, it's a form that is in constant evolution. Change happens, in life, in art and in entertainment, you can't be a Luddite when it comes to that. Well, you can, but it's counter-productive, ultimately. Some changes are for the better, some are, arguably, for the worse, but if you complain about the process of change, in and of itself, then you're like King Knut trying to hold the waters back, all you're going to do is get wet. The simple fact is that the new writers who would've been writing for Play For Today thirty years ago are now getting their break on TV writing for EastEnders. Just like Maureen's husband, Jack Rosenthal, who started as a writer on Corrie in the 1960s. Just like Alan Plater, John Hopkins and Troy Kennedy Martin who all kicked-off their careers on Z Cars. Society has changed since Play For Today and The Wednesday Play and Armchair Theatre. But, I mean, the kind of topics that you used to get covered in those fine anthology shows are still being covered now - in Easties and Corrie, in Holby and Casualty, in Waking The Dead and The Street. In the week that the BBC are showing the first episode of Kay Mellor's A Passionate Woman I find it very curious to see a drama professional complaining about a lack of challenging, articulate, edgy, realistic drama in the modern TV landscape. But then, three times as many people are likely to watch Britain's Got Talent when that comes back as will watch A Passionate Woman. So where, exactly, does the blame lie here? Just another one to pop into your toaster and see if it comes up brown.

And finally, Myleene Klass is reportedly hoping that a new project will help her to 'crack the Australian TV market.' And, if it means that she spends less time on my TV screens, dear blog reader, then Keith Telly Topping is behind Myleene all the way in this venture. You go for it, girl. Ideally, as far away as possible.