Since when did lewd, crude and rude become funny? These days, it seems vulgarity is the dominant brand of comedy and I, for one, hope its days are numbered. Let’s be clear: whether it’s slapstick, satire or even sitcom, comedy has always been somewhat irreverent, but I feel comedians of our generation have gone too far.
I’m not the first person to have recognised the growing trend for comedians to rely on sexual innuendos, expletives and obscenities in their shows and sketches. The Big Fat Quiz of 2012 made the headlines for the litany of vile jokes made by James Corden and Jack Whitehall about the Queen, Susan Boyle and gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt. Ofcom received thousands of complaints. It was nothing new. Four years earlier, comedians Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross were fired by the BBC for their crude comments, a scandal that became known as Sachsgate where the complaint toll rose to nearly 45,000, and were forced to apologise. But, despite the public outrage, both men remain on TV with their careers and the respect of their peers intact.
Another perpetrator is Leigh Francis a.k.a. Keith Lemon whose perverted sense of humour is exposed on a weekly basis in his panel show, Celebrity Juice, that contains simulations of sex acts, Declan Donelly of Ant & Dec fame being offered a “motorboat” by a naked woman and reducing the female team captains to demeaning nicknames, Holly Willough“booby” and Fearne “Boy Tits” Cotton. And, “smash your back doors in”, Keith’s favourite expression, is one of the many ways he promotes violence in sex. Not only are these examples repugnant, they have a detrimental impact on society as they perpetuate the stereotype of men as sex-hungry predators and women as weak and submissive. They also feed into the culture of “body-shaming” young people, both males and females, and judging them purely on the size of certain parts of their anatomy.
So, why is this brand of comedy seemingly so popular? Why has Celebrity Juice won an NTA for Most Popular Comedy Panel Show? Why has Keith Lemon been allowed to host Through the Keyhole and turn a family entertainment show into one where he drools over Sarah Harding’s knickers? Perhaps it is shock value, or he is preying on a tendency for young viewers to equate outrageous with funny, as though we’re somehow rebelling against our parents if we tune in, or maybe it feels less cheap and nasty if you’re the audience in a glitzy television studio.
The reason I resent this humour so much is because people like Keith Lemon are role models for young people and make it seem acceptable for guys and girls to use these insults masquerading as jokes. And when they are repeated in the university common room, on campus or in the workplace, they’re suddenly not so amusing. They’re downright disgusting. And highly offensive. And, if we object, we’re criticised and labelled frigid or pathetic when we have every right to resist being subjected to this abuse.
It’s easy to go with the flow, laugh along or think because it’s daring, it must be funny. Of course, it would be a terrible shame if comedy became so PC that it was rendered completely bland and banal, but humans are supposed to be the most sophisticated creatures on Earth so we should be capable of making it clever, imaginative, creative, not full of sleazy quips and gross gestures. In the meantime, I believe there needs to be more regulation in terms of media content and greater punishments for comedians who overstep the mark and, lastly, I hope students think twice before they switch on these shows for their comedy fix.