Comedy should be a regulation-free zone | Liam Lonergan contributes to the censorship debate

Comedy should be a regulation-free zone

Liam Lonergan contributes to the censorship debate

Rene Girard, in his study of scapegoats, wrote that 'persecutions […] generally take place in a time of crisis, which weaken normal institutions and favour mob formation.' He also argued that this mob, once mobilised to take action, looks for a convenient pariah to purge from its community – to rid society of 'the impure elements that corrupt it' – so that they can restore the natural order.

Medieval poet Guillaume de Machaut tried to blame the Black Death on the Jews who were 'poisoning the rivers'.. The Christians of the Roman Empire were routinely fed to the lions for practicing a faith that aroused suspicion amongst the pagan population because of its secret rituals and 'Thyestian banquets'. And a former estate agent from Clapham was hanged by the collar of his turtleneck for crimes against comedy.

Daniel O’Reilly (aka Dapper Laughs) – as we all know - is a viral star who made his name on Vine. His signature style of 'comedy' is the kind of Lad shtick favoured by teenage boys and young men.

It’s usually employed when playing a game of one-upmanship or bar room 'Dozens'. It’s in the same tradition as The Aristocrats joke. Even though the payoff for that is a simple reversal – a scatological / incestuous / paedophilic family act having a quaint name like The Aristocrats – the fun is in ticking off as many taboo subjects as possible. Stewart Lee, in a review of Paul Provenza and Penn Jilette’s documentary about the joke, wrote: 'I began to feel as if I was being dragged through a trench of filth, and the violence against women in the various versions of the story became so relentless that when Bob Saget described one of the male performers smashing his penis repeatedly into a drawer I was almost relieved.'

The Dapper Laughs model involves the same strain of misogyny; the rape joke; and a lot of class-clowning. It’s base-level and unsophisticated; a contemporary Goat Boy (Bill Hick’s Pan-like alter-ego who celebrated 'rampaging libido' and delivered lines such as 'Why do I like young girls? Because there’s nothing between the legs. It’s like cotton candy framing a paper cut.')

The thought process underlying it seems to be: 'rape' is a word and subject that cuts through the veneer of social graces so let’s keep saying 'rape'. This provides the jolt of illicit language and the subversion of an issue that should be spoken about in sober tones. You begin doing this stuff when you’re in adolescence and, due to the arrested development of most modern males, continue to practice it way past its expiry date. Susan Orlean, in an article called The American Man, Age Ten, from a 1992 edition of Esquire, spent time with a young boy and was shocked when he applied his 'rank goofiness' to discussions about Aids.

Revisionists are responsible for the process of sanctification that Lenny Bruce has gone through since his death but he certainly didn’t rise above such politically incorrect material in his life time.

Here’s two examples from Albert Goldman’s definitive biography Ladies and Gentleman Lenny Bruce! 1) While tummelling with his best friend Joe Ancis in his Jewish lower class tenement, he told him about the time he 'was babysitting for a friend and he finger fucked his five-year-old daughter' and 2) 'Lenny would lure all the children from his building into his car, and, leaning out the window and talking to the terrified mothers, threaten to kidnap the little dahlinks unless they were better treated by their parents.'

Civilisation functions under the aegis of the social contract. 'Broadcast civility, while keeping private meanings to yourself,' Adam Gopnik wrote in an article about taking his driving test (The Driver’s Seat). But the best stand-up is about turning this inside-out: transmit the private sanctum of your mind to the audience – regardless of whether it’s at odds with people’s delicate sensibilities – and allow people to respond to the alchemical process that transforms life into humour.

Other comedians should respect that. They should do everything they can to make the comedy world a regulation-free zone and, even if they don’t like what he’s doing and know that it’s shit, they should snatch Dapper from the jaws of the lion.

Published: 12 Aug 2015

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