No offence

Bailey urges comics to be cautious

Bill Bailey has urged fellow comedians to be more careful about causing offence – and says that Jerry Springer: The Opera overstepped the mark.

And he also said Danish newspapers were ‘irresponsible’ to publish cartoons showing the prophet Mohammed, which infuriated many in the Muslim world.

Bailey told an audience at the Edinburgh Festival Of Spirituality and Peace last night that comics had a duty to consider the impact of their routines, especially among cultures that didn’t have a tradition of free speech.

He said: ‘In our world – Western, pluralist and democratic, – there’s an assumption that you can make fun of anything There are no constraints or censorship. That is a great freedom we shouldn’t take for granted. You can use it irresponsibly

‘The climate we’re in now, after the Danish cartoons, means you have to be very careful. But to actually engage with a subject you can’t just be making fun of it to cause offence. The challenge is to find other ways of doing it.

‘We live in this culture of irreverence and mockery. We thrive on this. So when there is a huge outcry over a cartoon, we look at it and go ‘what?’ and thing the response is disproportionate. It’s not a bomb, it’s not tangible, it’s odd to us that an idea could have such a galvanising effect.’

He said his main problem with the cartoons was that they were ‘amateurish, heavy-handed, and shoddy,’ adding: ‘It’s not a very subtle or funny gag.  The newspaper was irresponsible to publish it knowing the offence it would cause.

‘There’s an obligation on you [as a comic] to pick your words carefully. Comedy shouldn’t be a blunt instrument, but a subtle tool. Before you put anything on stage you need to think it through, and consider all the reactions you might get. Every subject is up for grabs, it’s the way you do it that’s the key.

‘With Jerry Springer: The Opera, I can see why people would be offended, given the subject matter and how it deals with Christianity. The question is “is the end result valid?”. Is it worth all the offence it’s going to cause? And in that, I think Jerry Springer did overstep the mark.

‘Now, instead of being seen as a work on its own merit, its notoriety has scuppered its own intentions.’

Bailey said the biggest controversy he ever caused was with a routine suggesting the donkey carrying Mary to Bethlehem be given cocaine to get her there before the inns were full – but mostly because some thought it irresponsible to suggest giving drugs to animals.


Published: 22 Aug 2006

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