Yes, you can talk about race

But do it properly, says Caimh McDonnell

Warning: The following words are written by an edgy comedian – prepare to have your mind shredded by burning hot bullets of truthiness that you will almost certainly not be able to handle.

It’s my favourite part of my stand-up set, I’m standing on stage miming making monkey noises at a pair of screaming black children – ahhhh, comedy gold. Yeah, I’m not afraid to do ‘race material’ I am hence better than most other comics – actually I’m not ‘better’, I’m ‘edgier’ which is way better than ‘better’. I stand there basking in the adoring glow of my audience’s appreciation; finally someone has had the balls to take eight-year-old black girls down a peg or two.

Actually, the above happens about half way through a five-minute routine I do about taking my girlfriend’s nieces to the zoo. The story works on the oldest of comedy principals, it’s about how innocent actions can look entirely different when taken out of context – in this case, how a white haired man doing an impression of an albino gibbon can look like a psycho racist. I am in fact neither ‘edgy’ nor ‘a comedy genius’ (although if this article gets published on Chortle, I will be using those quotes on my next Edinburgh poster… come to think of it: *****)

In his recent Correspondents article, Norman Cho states ‘No white comedian would dare take a shot at an ethnic minority however well aimed that shot might be’ – mostly correct Norman – that’s because taking a large bunch of people, lumping them all together based on ethnicity and attributing to them a defining characteristic will most often be racist and, more importantly, lazy. It’s the kind of shit the Portuguese do and I hate those pricks.

In my experience, not all members of ethnic group A, talk like X, believe Y and shout Z at the screen in the cinema. As groupings go, people who wear Bluetooth headsets have more in common than, say, Asian people and are frankly, much more worthy of being rounded up and detained indefinitely.

Comics, and not just the ‘ethnics’, will however have a go at the BNP and the EDL because membership of such an organisation means you have voluntarily signed up to a set of beliefs that most people believe are abhorrent and worthy of ridicule. That is not a double standard. In lose terms the BNP are to most white people what the IRA are to the Irish, Al Qaeda are to Muslims, Charlie Sheen is to the other one and a half men – a small subset whose views are not condoned by the majority of the aforementioned grouping.

If a whole room full of people take offence at a joke, it is probably not because they are all too dumb/politically correct to get it. If several rooms react in such a way, it might be time to put the burning cross down and take a long hard look at yourself.

Norman – I’ve not seen your set or heard your joke about ‘the sense of entitlement of some ethnic minorities’, for example – but here are some possible reasons it didn’t go down well

a) The audience did not agree with the core statement that some ethnic minorities exhibit the sense of entitlement that you refer to.

b) The joke was in fact about how that perception was wrong but this was unclear because it was badly worded – quite possible, seeing as you referred to it yourself in an article you wrote as a joke about ‘the sense of entitlement of some ethnic minorities’.

c) It wasn’t funny.

The most common mistake new comics make is believing that when certain jokes don’t work, it’s because they’re too ‘edgy’ for the audience – whereas in reality, it’s mostly because the joke aren’t funny.

The paedo joke is a classic example. As Steve Bennett pointed out a while ago, the paedophile has become modern comedy’s version of The Mother-In-Law (both abhorred but in fairness, always willing to babysit – deconstructionist Boom! – you’re welcome). You can of course make a joke about paedophilia but it better be actually funny and not relying on lazy shock value. The same goes for race, well thought-out and well-delivered material works on any subject. You can take an audience anywhere but there better be some funny when you get there.

Take it from me, I’m Irish and we are comedy’s master race.

Published: 18 Mar 2011

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