Enough with the faux outrage | Alfie Noakes says comedy audiences are getting over-sensitive

Enough with the faux outrage

Alfie Noakes says comedy audiences are getting over-sensitive

I have been running free open mic gigs at Dirty Dicks in London for five years, and we now stage around 20 shows a month there under the We Are Funny banner. I MC around half of the shows and I have noticed, certainly over the last couple of years, a worrying change in the audiences.

At the risk of sounding like some terrible right-wing newspaper columnist, there seems to be a strain of ‘political correctness gone mad’ among ever larger numbers of audiences.

I had slowly but surely become more aware of this over a period, with baseless complaints or audiences failing to laugh at a perfectly good joke simply because it touched upon issues of race.

The lightning point for me was an evening when an act was on stage miming being raped in prison by a large black man. Yes, it doesn’t sound brilliant when broken down to those few words, but the fact is, in context, with the wording, timing and performance it was suitably funny and light-hearted. It really is a case of, ‘You had to be there’.

The whole crowd has been enjoying this act, big laughs and happy faces, until that bit. It just so happened that another act, a big black man in fact, was in the room and buying himself a drink at the bar and so was not paying attention to what was happening on stage. He turned around and was met with a sea of solemn faces looking to him to see what his reaction was… seeking what their reaction should be. All he could say was, ‘What?’ to a roomful of gawpers.

The act on stage and the guy at the bar are friendly. In the break we made the arrangement that the performer who had made the joke would spend the second half of the show sat on the knee of the big black guy, playing up the ‘he’s my prison bitch’ notion. Some of the returning crowd seemed to like that and rested up a bit, others just looked stunned. I don’t believe the room quite recovered from the pointless discomfort and a great night became merely a good one.

I have staged well over 10,000 open spots in the last years and all too often it seems to me that issues of ‘race’ are deemed ‘racist’ – and they are not the same thing. One is a broad topic that ultimately addresses all the people of the world and the other has hateful, negative and prejudicial associations and impact.

Comedians are bright people, wordsmiths, often very liberal, and I accept that we cannot always hope that the crowds will ‘get it’ or keep up. Some might just not have such tastes, I understand the premise of male prison rape isn’t for everyone, be it a black or white perpetrator. But the whole room looking for permission is another thing altogether.

We run a comedy club, it strikes me that the first reaction to a gag should be that it is just that, a gag. This is comedy. We trade in truths, ideas and of course, the funny. Indignity on behalf of others, unless the act is blatant and hateful, is a poison that needs addressing.

During these 10,000-plus performances I have only ever witnessed one act be, in my opinion, openly and directly hateful and racist, and that was from a member of one minority about another minority group. Amazingly, the one time it might have been a legitimate complaint the crowd didn’t spot it. Perhaps being from a minority got this man a pass? Maybe he wasn’t engaging them enough that they were actually listening closely? Whatever got him past it, when guilty (in my eyes) will never be known. However, I can state, the score so far is Racist comment in a set: 1, No racist comments in a set, erm, thousands. Why are audiences, therefore, being so sensitive?

Inspired by what I have described, I have set up a new April Fools Day show known as We Are Funny Types in which 14 hand-picked acts from the open mike community will perform five minutes about their own minority group. It might be straight stand-up on the issues, it could be a character, or it could be a satirical take on a bigot. However the artists decide to play to ‘types’, they will bring the funny and hopefully help to pop the pomposity bubble and take a step towards nullifying this awful trend of (faux) outrage and unneeded sensitivity.

Just some of the ‘types’ who will perform are: a Jew, a lesbian, a gay man, a bisexual, a UKIP supporter, a big black man, a geek, a disabled man and more.

I shall MC the show myself, because who better to steer such potentially controversial waters, in a show designed to raise the issues and push some boundaries, than a middle aged, middle class, privately educated, North European, English speaking white male? I ask you. Who?

• We Are Funny Types is on at Dirty Dicks, 202 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 4NR from 8pm tonight. Details.

Published: 1 Apr 2015

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