Sunday, 2 November 2008

In Which Two Comedians, Two Journalists, And A Smug-Faced Moron Are Challenged

C once pointed out to me that I'm not as funny as I think I am. Which, I would imagine, is true, mainly because I don't think anyone is as funny as they think they are. Sooner or later everyone comes out with a line that proves to be a total dud.

Of course, some people are less aware of their official position on the Groucho Marx scale of funniness than other. So it is with Jonathan Ross, a man who is genuinely funny, but takes over so completely any situation in which someone has hooked him into a microphone that one can only conclude he thinks he's being paid by the word, and that everyone surrounding him is on their day off. If Ross was forced to complete a jigsaw puzzle or solve a Rubik's cube in between each quip, television might be better off.

Still, better Ross than Russell Brand, whose own opinion of his Marx rating isn't really so relevant as the fact that the man is possibly the least funny person I've ever seen. Not even the least funny comedian. Given the choice between a Brand gig and an hour's lecture on gingivitis from my dentist, I would choose the latter without a second thought, and not just in the hope of getting a sugar-free lollipop. Brand is nothing more than an expensive rug wrapped around a foul-mouthed twiglet, and topped with the pelt of a particularly vain honey badger. That, my friends, is his shtick. His scarf is funnier than he is. My scarf is funnier than he is. I am pleased that he survived his battle with heroin addiction, but I am happy that my sister survived her last approach toward status epilepticus, and I'd hesitate suggesting she should take up a career in show business.

All of which is my way of saying that, in the grand scheme of things, the recent furore over their comments to Andrew Sachs isn't something I'm liable to lose any sleep over. Prank calls are a pretty desperate attempt to gain laughs in the first place (it's just the entertainment world's equivalent and pointing and jeering in the playground), and although sometimes you can drop something new or intelligent into the mix (or just skewer someone who really had it coming), in general it's just a cheap approximation of comedy, in which the "comedian" stoking up confusion in their victims, rather than doing what they're supposed to do and confuse you. If what they'd done had been funnier (or funny), I'd be more likely to feel like defending them, but they were doing a shitty, shitty shtick and it went wrong (and you have to ask: isn't there someone out there in the country who would deserve being fucked with on air, or at least someone who deserved it more than Andrew Sachs?).

So, in itself, I don't care about their suspension. I would be quite happy with both of them being sacked, not because they offended me with the broadcast (like 99.9% of the people who have complained to the BBC over this, I didn't actually hear the original program), but because one of them is a talentless hack, and the other seems to have colonised the entertainment landscape like kudzu weed. While I take the point that there's was hardly the most offensive comment broadcast this year, or probably in that week, there is a genuine difference between saying something rude about someone, and actively being obnoxious to unwitting people who are just trying to go about their day. It's an invasion of privacy, and doubly bad in this case since it's not implausible to suggest Baille didn't want the radio-going public to hear about her dalliance with Brand (I notice Peter Thatchell doesn't think this matters because she's a burlesque dancer, apparently the choice to reveal yourself in certain ways means you no longer get to object to any other revelation, either). That's why Marina Hyde comparing this incident to someone on Mock The Week saying that the Queen is so old "[her] pussy's haunted" is flawed. It's not a pleasant image, and with all these things the less someone seems to deserve a kicking the more objectionable these things become (and I have no problem with the Queen, so long as I don't have to meet her, which would be embarrassing for all concerned), but no-one rang up Buckingham Palace and tried to tape the Queen's response to such a charge, nor was the comedian plausibly claiming direct experience with which to back up the claim.

Like I say, then, Ross is an egomaniac, Brand less than worthless, and their transgression boorish, intrusive and totally without merit. So let them get hung out to dry, I say. I don't even mind that most people who complained didn't originally hear the broadcast; the idea that a complaint can only be made at the exact time the comment is made, and by those listening at the time, is transparently ridiculous. I grant that without hearing the comment, I can't be sure that it hasn't been misrepresented to me (though I've read enough accounts to be fairly sure of the basics), and so I'd want to hear it for myself before I actually complained, but I don't actual need to be an "eye" witness or anything.

On the other hand, though, this "outrage" has led to Richard Littlejohn once again rising from the wood-work (I haven't heard from him since I stopped reading his column on the advice of my doctor, and my friends, and everyone within hearing range of my indignant splutters) to point to this situation as evidence that the BBC refuses to tolerate questioning (which is an interesting position to hold after two suspensions and a resignation). And he's always worth giving a kicking to. Hyde does an admirable job herself. Why, she asks, with the world in the middle of a financial meltdown at least in part caused by fat cats deciding that they needed to be that little bit fatter, is he wasting his time slapping around the BBC because someone that worked for them turned out to be an arse?

Where is Littlejohn's righteous anger on that other obscenely arrogant "nationalised industry", the British banking system? Why, in weeks of financial meltdown, has he not once found himself able to summon even a hundredth of this level of ire to rail against the people who caused the mess, and the misery that will befall his readers as a result? After the Lloyds boss made the bonus announcement, Littlejohn led his column with some anecdote about a scaffolder who'd apparently been unfairly threatened with a £300 fine.

Frankly the most surprising aspect of Littlejohn's latest display of his spectacular lack of priorities is that he hasn't found a way to blame either homosexuals or the Lib Dems for any of this. If it can't immediately be reduced to a story about Littlejohn's unbelievably romanticised past, when men were men and receiving a beating from Matron was a formulative experience, then Littlejohn isn't interested. Anything not directly comparable for the halcyon days of yore that never actually existed in the first place, and Littlejohn has nothing to say (by which I mean he remains entirely silent, as oppose to his usual habit of flapping his gums without saying anything of the slightest substance). The man isn't a journalist in any meaningful sense, simply a man who repeats rumour and gossip and then confidently asserts that it wasn't like that in his day. As a commentator his hackery is so total and so obvious that refuting him is as easy as it is pointless. I spent some time wondering whether I should dip into the copy of Littlejohn's Britain that A gave me as an "ironic" Christmas present last year, but I realised eventually that it couldn't possibly entertain on its own merits, and countering his arguments would be like trying to convince a monkey not to chuck its excrement around.

In summary, then:
  • Ross needs to shut up for at least 80% of the time his smug face can be seen on screen;
  • Brand needs to shut up entirely forever, donate his clothes to posh drapers, and devote the rest of his life to finding a way to erase his existence from the public conscience;
  • Thatchell should stick to discussing human rights violations instead of positioning himself as the universal arbiter of offensiveness (though he does correctly point out there are others who should also be run out of town with pitchforks before the two clowns mentioned above);
  • Hyde's comparisons aren't that good, but she's a useful person to have around when right-wing blowhards need a good kicking;
  • Richard Littlejohn is the worst person in the world outside of rapists and murderers.

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