Where is the love?

Stephen Drayton wonders why comedy has to be so dark?

I've recently returned to stand up comedy. Through the 80s and early 90s I made a reasonable living touting my daft, lowbrow humour around. When I found myself in the family way I needed more security and better hours and frankly, the scene was getting very corporate, so I got a proper job.

Some ten years later I decided to return to the fray, and having dipped my toes in the comedy water have found that tastes have changed somewhat. Daftness is back, which is good for me, but so is dark bitterness, comedy of embarrassment and gags about rape. What's that that all about then?

To see how well I compared to the new talent, I took part in a So You Think You're Funny? heat. 16 acts from the north battled it out in a sweaty working men’s club.

There was a great compere, with an audience who showed their patience as they had act after act trotting out the same old, same old. Topics included: wanking, fucking, paedophiles, Jade Goody, knobs, more wanking, Stephen Hawking, Madeline McCann and yet more wanking. And coming on her tits.

The acts that didn't mention their onanistic habits stood out a mile, but there were very few of them. Some acts were going well, but still had to resort to cracking one off. The other topic that made me feel as though we were back in a Working Men’s Club in 1972 was the atrocious way women were mentioned: slappers, tarts and whores, mainly.

Why are male stand ups resorting to material that will alienate half their audience? Or don't women mind? On a recent 8 Out Of 10 Cats Josie Long made a comment that she felt guilty about finding Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attractive, 'in the way that you do when you see a picture of a “sexy rapist” in the papers'. Call me old fashioned, but gags about rape are pretty hack and insensitive, aren't they?

Are today's new comedians pushing back boundaries in the way that comedy luminaries such as Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce did by mentioning the unmentionable? By laughing at the idea of the rapist, are we taking away his power? I don't think so.

Has the notion of 'edgy' now taken hold, the axis of Gervais and Carr with their ironic take on taboo subjects meaning that we can now talk about anything as long as we do a 'I don't really mean it' look whilst we're doing it? It's all right to take the piss out of a bloke with Motor Neurone Disease, just because we're just mucking about?

So why are stand-ups restricting themselves to such narrow boundaries? And why so brutal?

There's a big wide world out there, not everyone is tossing one off every minute of the day, and can anyone find endless mentions of rape, Stephen Hawkins and Madeline McCann entertaining?

Where’s the joy? Where’s the love? Where’s the light? Are times so dire that today’s comics reflecting on hard times by using dark matter to illustrate our collective pain, or just taking the path of least resistance to get a reaction? I feel it’s the latter.

Or am I oversensitive?

Published: 1 Jul 2009

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