Is political correctness really killing comedy?
There’s no denying that certain jokes wouldn’t fly nowadays but as the genre becomes more diverse and inclusive it means audiences are getting comedy in a different way that is just as funny.
However, there are some comedy stars seem to think the shows that launched their careers would be deemed too offensive to be made today.
Here’s what they had to say on the subject.
James Buckley – The Inbetweeners
The 31-year-old actor made his name as Jay Cartwright in the E4 show, that first aired ten years ago but believes that the comedy series about four awkward teenagers wouldn’t fly nowadays.
“I think that when The Inbetweeners was around, everyone understood the context – that they were kids”, he told Digital Spy. “There used to be a sympathy, where you could almost forgive them, because you can’t really have a go at someone for being stupid – that’s not really their fault.
“Nowadays, it feels very black and white with comedy. There’s no in-between, it’s just, ‘This person said this on television – isn’t that terrible?’ and it’s killing comedy, because you’re not allowed to joke about anything, it seems. There seems to be a joke police, nowadays.”
Steve Carell – The Office US
The Beautiful Boy star might be best known for his role as Michael Scott in the US version of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s British comedy series. Like David Brent, Michael is inappropriate when it comes to issues of race, gender, sexually and all sorts really, but now Carell thinks his character wouldn’t be accepted in today’s climate.
Apart from the fact that I just don’t think that’s a good idea, it might be impossible to do that show today and have people accept it the way it was accepted ten years ago,” he told Esquire. “The climate’s different. I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behaviour.”
“I mean, he’s certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That’s the point, you know? But I just don’t know how that would fly now. There’s a very high awareness of offensive things today — which is good, for sure. But at the same time, when you take a character like that too literally, it doesn’t really work.”
John Cleese – Fawlty Towers/Monty Python
The veteran performer doesn’t exactly say the shows or films wouldn’t get made now but does criticise those who argue that some of the jokes in them were mildly racist. In Fawlty Towers, Cleese wrote several jokes about German and Mexican people that wouldn’t be accepted today and he thinks that is a problem.
“If you start to think ‘ooh, we mustn’t criticise or offend them,’ humour is gone, with humour goes a sense of proportion, and then as far as I’m concerned we’re living in 1984,” he said during a Big Think talk.
Certain episodes of Fawlty Towers were stripped of the racist gags when they’ve been played on television in recent years and the BBC’s Head of Comedy Shane Allen said they probably wouldn’t commission the Monty Python lads today.
Not because their material is offensive but because sketch shows should feature “a diverse range of people who reflect the modern world”, not “six Oxbridge white blokes,” a description Cleese was offended by.
“BBC’s Head of Comedy puts Monty Python’s lack of originality down to a surfeit of education and racist bias,” he tweeted. “Unfair! We were remarkably diverse FOR OUR TIME. We had three grammar-school boys, one a poof, and [Terry] Gilliam, though not actually black, was a Yank. And NO slave-owners.”
Matt Lucas and David Walliams – Little Britain
“It’s a different time now.”
The comedy series aired for three seasons in the early Noughties but featured a lot of content that would be considered racist, sexist, fat-shaming, transphobic and discriminatory towards people with mental health.
Both Lucas and Walliams admit that Little Britain hadn’t aged well and it would not come back in the same way.
“Little Britain is about 15 to 16 years old now, we all got old,” Lucas said on Loose Women. “I think you would do things differently now. There was a character who was a rubbish transvestite who said ‘I’m a lady’. She was fun at the time but I think we look differently at the transgender community now and it would be very hard to do that.
“We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now,” he said. “Society has moved on a lot since then and my own views have evolved. Now I think it’s lazy for white people to get a laugh just by playing black characters.”
Walliams agreed in an interview with the Radio Times: “It’s hard to say specifically how it would be different. There’s all kinds of tolerances that change.
“People understand people’s predicaments more now. Maybe it’s, ‘We see this differently, we’ve got more information,’ and it would be a different type of joke.”