Kevin ‘Bloody’ Wilson. (Pic: Ross Swanborough)
Kevin ‘Bloody’ Wilson. (Pic: Ross Swanborough)

'We’re not too PC for comedy, we’ve just grown up'

AN eastern states' newspaper ran a lamentation last week featuring the combined comic talents of Kevin "Bloody" Wilson, Rodney Rude and Billy Birmingham, who were all worried that political correctness has killed comedy.

Well, their careers at least.

"The soft new generation of PC-wary comedians need to grow some balls and not worry about pleasing the audience," Birmingham said.

It seems what was possible, and passable, as comedy in the 1980s is no longer welcome in Australia. The claim is it's been killed by the heavy-handed sledgehammer of political correctness - the enduring bete noire of old-fashioned comedians and right-wing politicians.

But it's nonsense isn't it?

Perhaps, Australia has evolved over the past 20 years.

Jokes featuring "coons'' and "boongs'', are no longer considered to be all that funny by most. The country has certainly evolved faster than some of its more aged comedians. This is a good thing.

The other thing that has changed is that many who were once the silent butt of these jokes - Indigenous people, gay people, transgender people, ethnic minorities - now have a voice and ability to hit back.

It's not even true to say, as Birmingham did, that comedians need to "grow some balls'', implying the present crop aren't funny because they are just too timid. That's also nonsense. Some of the best comedians in the world operate right at the edge and often topple over it.

American comedians such as Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer and Chris Rock. England's Jimmy Carr and Scotland's Frankie Boyle have made careers out of shocking audiences. They are brutal, but also funny.

Billy Connolly has remained relevant and funny from the 1970s until today. Connolly has never been described as PC.

Rodney Rude (anyone sensing a theme?)
Rodney Rude (anyone sensing a theme?)

 

In many ways there has never been more freedom of speech than we have today. There has certainly never been more avenues for people to express an opinion - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We live in an age where no opinion goes unexpressed for long.

Do people sometimes take offence too quickly? Yes. Do we all need to tolerate conflicting views with more civility? Obviously. Could we do with a little less kneejerk labelling of people as either "racists'', "fascists" or "socialists"? Probably.

One of the problems is that the extremes of both sides of politics want to dictate what freedom of speech means. The right has a particularly odd view of freedom of speech. Their current obsession is to label views they don't agree with as "PC gone mad'' or "virtue signalling''. Virtue signalling being some sort of stance to prove how morally pure you are.

It's an odd phrase as anyone who uses it is essentially guilty of exactly the same crime, they are just signalling their purity to a different audience.

Such phrases are also used to try to delegitimise opposing views without actually arguing against them on their merits.

Then we have the famous glass jaw of many on the right. We have seen right-wing columnists sue comedians. Pauline Hanson told Australians "to toughen up a bit'' when it comes to insulting and offensive speech. It must have been a different Hanson who sued a comedian who took the piss out of her via the medium of song.

Another free-speech warrior Cory Bernardi, posted "Freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of speech are all under threat by the politically correct social justice warriors'' on his website, while trying to get the ABC to sack a comedian for a rude joke.

Was the joke which featured on Tom Ballard's Tonightly funny? Probably not. Was it offensive? Yes. But you can't be for some freedom of speech and not others.

It happened again last week when US comedian Michelle Wolf fronted the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner and proceeded to roast everyone in sight. The left, the right, the media, the government. It was a blistering performance and some people were upset that Wolf had the temerity to joke that Donald Trump's press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was a liar. Indeed that she burned "facts'' to make her eye make-up.

Trump was upset, the right-wing media were apoplectic, there was a rush to defend Sanders and denigrate Wolf. Presumably, they thought Wolf should have been a little more politically correct and a little more polite. Expressed a little less freedom of speech. That she should have not quite as much, as Birmingham puts it, "balls".

Michael McGuire is a senior writer at the Adelaide Advertiser.



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