August 06, 2012

The Offensiveness Manifesto

Or A guide to being offended for comedy audience and performers

COMICS: You have the right to tell offensive jokes

AUDIENCES: You have the right to laugh or not laugh at a joke you find offensive. You also have the right to walk out of a show, and most honest promoters will, within reason, give you your money back.

AUDIENCES: You do not have the right to not be offended (in comedy shows, or life generally).

AUDIENCES: You do not have the right to interrupt a performance to loudly to point out how offended you are by it but…

COMICS: That protection only goes so far. If you decide to take issue with someone not laughing or looking offended at a joke (or frame you offensive routine around a piece of audience interaction), you’ve then chosen to enter into a dialogue with the audience. And yes, some people will happily laugh at jokes about kiddie-fiddling, rape and abortion, then not like a joke about lung cancer. That’s not hypocrisy or double-standards, it’s just human.

COMICS: You don’t have the right to attack, belittle or mock an audience member for being offended by something. They can’t help it. And if your ‘edgy’ and offensive routine involves bullying an audience member, you don’t then get to be annoyed when someone else in the audience ‘heckles’ you in the middle of it.

BONUS HINT: there’s basically just one reason someone will be offended by a rape joke. You probably don’t want to try and turn that into a bit of jolly banter.

AUDIENCES: If you’re offended by something and feel there’s a reason it shouldn’t be a subject for comedy, you have the right to approach a comic after the show and calmly explain why. Under those circumstances, you’re far more likely to be listened to and have sensible consideration given to your viewpoint than in the middle of the performance.

COMICS: You have the right to ignore someone that wants to tell you why they were offended after the show. But if they’re being polite about it, maybe you should listen. You may just have different opinions on the matter and that’s okay. Or maybe you’ll see something from an angle you didn’t notice before and reconsider that joke.

COMICS: It’s not a betrayal of the art form to drop a gag because it’s too offensive. Similarly, managing to offend someone isn’t a comedy badge of honour. It’s one less potential fan. If you’re Frankie Boyle then no, you probably don’t need that one person. If you’re a new open spot, you probably do. So if you’re going to offend people, you best be sure it’s worthwhile.

COMICS: You don’t have the right to tell someone they can’t be offended by something. Offence is a reaction, it’s taken, it’s not a considered, though-through viewpoint. You can explain why you, personally, don’t find the joke offensive, but you can’t tell someone that their being offended is wrong. The corollary to that….

AUDIENCES: Offence is a reaction. If it’s three hours after the gig and you suddenly realise that a joke you laughed at the time is ‘offensive’, it’s not. Or at least, it’s not to you. You don’t get to ‘be offended’ on behalf of other people not at the show. The easily offended don’t go to see Jerry Sadowitz or Frankie Boyle for a reason. If you then repeat the joke you think your friend might find offensive to them in conversation, on your blog, or in an e-mail to the Daily Mail, congratulations, you’re now the one offending them.

AUDIENCES: You do not, ever, have the right to request that comics be censored, banned or arrested because you were offended. You do have the right to not go and see them again.

EVERYONE: What offends differs from person to person. I’ll laugh at rape jokes but find the audition stages of X-Factor where kids are set up to fail and then relentlessly mocked hugely offensive and quite upsetting. So I just don’t watch X-Factor. We’re all adults. Just because no subject is taboo for comedy, doesn’t mean it’s necessary to test every aspect of that theory all the time. Nor is it necessary to let everyone know every time something happens that offends you.

Offence is a part of life. It’s not a great part, it’s not something we should aspire to create in others but nor is it something we should run scared of ever experiencing or inflicting. It’s just there. Maybe we shouldn’t make quite such a big deal of it?

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