13/06/2019

Jo Brand And The Acidic Joke

Telling jokes can be hard. As a comedian you get people come up after a gig and say how they could never do what they just saw. We seem to have a fear of trying to be funny and it not working.

I used to think that the biggest worry was getting booed as if you were Laura Kuenssberg trying to ask Boris Johnson a question.

It seems I was wrong. If you make a joke you could find yourself wanted by the police. That's the message from the fallout of Jo Brand's comments on BBC Radio 4's show Heresy.

The comedian was talking about the recent trend of throwing milkshakes at right-wing figures. She said, "I’m kind of thinking, why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?"

She phrased it as a question and the answer would be, "Because throwing battery acid would be wrong and a lot harder to find on the menu at Five Guys."

Even though the comments weren't explicitly made about Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage he took them personally as he was one of the recipients of a lactose-based protest. While campaigning in the run up to the EU election in May he ended up looking like Big Bird from Sesame Street had been in a tree above him.

Nigel tweeted, "This is incitement of violence and the police need to act."

All of this over a joke. Somehow it turned into a philosophical debate about humour online akin to working out of trees make sound when falling. Using the joke defence caused many commentators to say that they don't find it funny.

So what? You're not in charge of all humour. The definition of a joke isn't that it is found funny by every person who hears it. That can't be the deciding factor or we would have a situation where you could incite violence but only as long as you land the gag well. If you fumble over the punchline or don't use the rule of three you're off to jail.

The audience at the show's recording laughed so it is a joke in that sense. It is also a joke in the sense that she didn't mean it. If you listen to the show there is no point where you think Jo is likely to be shopping for car battery repair kits online.

If you were left in any doubt about if The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice presenter was about to turn to violence she added, "I'm not going to do it. It's purely a fantasy, but I think milkshakes are pathetic, I honestly do, sorry."

Nigel Farage must understand what it is like to threaten something without expecting to be taken seriously. He once said he would, “don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines” if Theresa May failed to deliver Brexit. No one was calling for the police to look into the colour of the trousers he'd be buying just in case.

A joke, of course, could still be inciting violence but who do we think she'd be inciting? Do we think that some lift-wing lone wolf was almost ready to tip and it was a comedy show on BBC Radio 4 that would push them over the edge?

Is it a funny joke? I don't know, but she certainly has the right to make it. Ordinarily it is the Brexit supporters who will take to twitter to champion free speech, to bemoan the trigger warning requiring snowflakes who take comments too seriously and to rail against those who seek to no platform the pubic figures who say things that may cause offence.

It would normally be the right-wing voices complaining that too much police time is spent investigating online comments when real crimes go unsolved.

Genuine threats of violence are to be abhorred. That's not political. If you have seen some of the online hate directed towards the likes of journalists like Carole Cadwalladr you will have seen how vitriolic people can be. Hate is prescent on all sides of the political spectrum.

Even throwing milkshake at people is a terrible development in debate and that's the point I think Jo was making. Throwing milkshake is pathetic.

It seems that some members of the left think that right-wing views are like heartburn, mainly in middle-aged men and can be cured by milk.

However, it is also pathetic to race to claim offence. Trying to strip out all humour from a comment to frame it in a way that lets you be upset. That makes you look like a bit of a joke.


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