I come to you today as a woman gravely agitated, dare I say brutally triggered, by several social network comments by strangers on a supposed quote by Terry Pratchett, of all things. While the comments themselves were too idiotic to quote, they do reflect a trend that I find to be a lot more dangerous than the shrinking bee population. Why? Because bees are not the only pollinators but humour is our only natural coping mechanism for crises of all sorts. If we kill that, we can just shut the door on humanity, turn the key in the lock and throw in a volcano.
The quote: “Satire is meant to ridicule power. If you are laughing at people who are hurting, it’s not satire, it’s bullying.” A quick internet search revealed Sir Terry most likely never said that but it’s nevertheless a statement I like and agree with. Yet since we live in a world where people actively seek things to be offended by, there are those who seem to believe most humour is aimed at people who are hurting, where ‘hurting’ goes beyond any semantic boundary imaginable. And this is scary.
I recently re-watched most seasons of Quite Interesting. I was shocked to realise that most of these would be not just censored today, they would be taken off screen for improper humour. Alan Davies making fun of Stephen Fry being gay. Stpehen Fry making fun of Julian Clary for being gay. A lot of men making fun of women (also women making fun of men but that, I understand, is nowadays not just allowed but actively encouraged).
The first ten seasons of the show are the nightmare of the I-will-no-utter-that-three-letter-abbreviation. And they’re so funny, the first time I watched them, nine years ago, I had to stop around the seventh month into my pregnancy for fear of a premature delivery due to excessive laughter. By the way, I have one of the happiest, easiest-going children I have ever seen. There may be a link and there may not be but the fact stands: humour is good for you.
This, of course, is not to say that all humour is funny to everyone. Of course not. Chelsea Handler is not really my cup of tea, for example. Neither is Woody Allen. Stephen Fry, on the other hand, I love, both on stage and in books. P.G. Wodehouse. Jerome K. Jerome. French and Saunders. Joan Rivers. Oh, if Joan Rivers were still alive, what she would have had to say for the offence epidemic… And I’m sure Mel Brooks, may he live for a thousand years, does have something to say and may have said it. Whatever it is, I agree.
Some people appear to genuinely believe that all humour comes down to people laughing at the poor sod who slipped on a banana peel. Which, by the way, never happens in real life. They had to substitute the peel for the actual thing people used to slip on: horse shit.
Anyway, to say this is a reductive view on the vast realm of humour is to say nothing, so I won’t say it. But I will say it is, yes, offensive. We all live in the Age of Offence so, like so many others, I choose to be offended by views, in this case on humour, that are so far from mine I can’t even see where they come from. Now that a minute has passed from the moment I wrote this, I choose to stop being offended and carry on with my life and rant.
Humour is as essential as vitamins. Sad, sour, unhappy people who can’t laugh at anything have a much worse quality of life than the ones who won’t take life seriously. Notice how all centenarians seem to be cheerful, happy people. There is a reason for this and it’s called a sense of humour. This is what having a sense of humour basically boils down to: refusing to take life too seriously.
Those who have, in addition to a sense of humour, finely honed powers of observation and an inbuilt sense of mischief as well as the ability to laugh at themselves (genuinely, not in the pathetic humblebrag way) are the great masters of comedy in writing and film, and also in life. No, I will not henceforth launch into an ode to Terry Pratchett. He doesn’t need it.
I will launch into a rant about censorship, though. I hear here and there people are trying to tell comedians what to joke with. They are telling them there are no-go joke zones. Now that came out spontaneously but the parallel, if you make it, is true. No-go zones are not good for absolutely anyone and this holds across, shall we say, all genres of life.
Of course, there is a reason I’m taking this personally, just like the people I’ve been criticising for more than 700 words now. I’m writing a humourous novel. I’m not concerned about readership, no. But I am enjoying this novel so much I hate to be reminded there are people who would find the words Natalie and Dan throw at each other most of the time offensive. Which they aren’t. Those two just like to bicker.
Anyway, that took a load off my shoulders and while this blog post is nowhere in the broad vicinity of exhaustive I will take the opportunity to openly call on everyone who came across it: don’t take life too seriously. It’s serious enough as it is. It is also unfair and will never ever be fair. Taking it too seriously yields no benefits, gives us no advantages, and only makes us go grey, bald and wrinkly earlier than we would if we spend more time laughing at ourselves and others. Sure, this would give you laugh lines but these are cute, I promise. I have them.
I leave you with Stephen Fry speaking about a serious problem, the very same problem that gave rise to the offence-seeking hordes and is now trying to censor humour. Shame. I agree with every word he says.
P.S. I know I’ve pledged to stay away from politics. This time I couldn’t. Politicising humour should be a crime punishable by being forced to watch Benny Hill sketches.