Mark Dolan: Political correctness is killing British comedy
Soon we won’t be able to laugh about anything
The BBC have reinstated the comedy series Little Britain by putting it back on their catch-up service iPlayer. How nice of them. How nice of them to grant us access to a hit comedy series, that of course we paid for. Except it has now been edited down for our own “safety”. Because we are so stupid, we are so intolerant and we are so easily lead, that we can't be trusted with any dangerous material, that just a few years ago was being watched and enjoyed by millions.
Little Britain was the biggest comedy hit for a generation, loved by all communities, across the land. Little Britain was exactly what it said on the tin. A portrait of Britain through the anarchic comedic lens of David Walliams and Matt Lucas. I can't say that every sketch was to my taste, but the programme was suffused with perceptive social commentary, and notwithstanding some of the bawdier, wackier, and more low-brow characterisations, Little Britain was underpinned by astute satire, pitch-perfect performances and keen, penetrating observations. It touched a nerve, it hit home and it made people laugh. It became a hit show not just endlessly repeated on the BBC, but then hived off to Dave and other channels, because it contained within it some human truth, which is the key ingredient for any successful comedy. Comedy is the truth, dressed up in a clown’s outfit. Although I wasn't an avid viewer of this show, what I liked about it, was its universality. It went after everyone in our society. The workshy and unintelligible single mother Vicki Pollard, ‘the only gay in the village’ Dafydd Thomas, the cross-dressing Emily and Florence, responsible for the ‘I’m a lady’ catchphrase. And wheelchair bound Lou, who kept hopping out of his chair, and his long-suffering carer Andy.
Confusingly, whilst all of those characters could be accused variously of classism, transphobia, homophobia or an attack on the disabled. But the Beeb instead choose, among others, the character of Desiree DeVere, for which David Walliams donned black makeup and a fat suit. A lady just as British as Vicky Pollard, Dafydd and Andy. But she gets the chop. Does she not have a place in Little Britain?
You can’t have it both ways. The show was either offensive or it wasn’t. And you can’t cherry pick which offensive bits to take out and which to leave in. The answer is to leave well alone. As a portrait of modern Britain, this is a show that poked fun at all communities all social classes all backgrounds. It was actually diverse comedy at its very best. How can you have a comedy series about modern Britain that doesn't feature people from all backgrounds, races, creeds, colour or sexual orientation. By mocking everyone, it was about the most inclusive show you can think of. Little Britain would surely have a far more serious case to answer, if it had omitted any races or groups from that show. To spare any group their satirical wrath would be an act of prejudice in itself.
David Walliams and Matt Lucas are a comedic double act, touched with genius. Not just the writing, but their fabulous performances becoming whoever they dress up as. Like Peter Sellers ,Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Murphy and others, they become somebody else, in order to process the world we live in and to hold a mirror up to our own lives and our own society.
But the meddling BBC have now been through this archive of comedy and removed troublesome parts. So-called problematic comedy. Except that all comedy worth its salt is problematic. It's got to be. We’ve seen this in the past with trigger warnings about Fawlty Towers and even certain episodes being pulled because of racial language. Except in the case of Fawlty Towers, it was the writer John Cleese who was mocking and satirising the old colonel for being so out of touch and ignorant. But even an anti-racist message, falls foul of the tone-deaf, illiterate sensors. Whether it's decolonising Shakespeare, banning the Rolling Stones from performing brown sugar, a song critical of slavery, which they will now never perform again – well done everyone – no one has the right to touch works of art. They exist as monuments to our story. Even if we now reject or hate what they represent. Some of Bernard Manning’s routines repulse me, but they should sit there on YouTube as a chapter in our history to understand. Western values of liberalism have been eroded in recent years. We've seen the encroachment of totalitarian policies and values on a once freedom-loving country. Lockdowns to control a virus, not a western idea. Cracking down on free speech, straight out of the Chinese Communist Party playbook.
Look at the behaviour of the US tech giants and the worrying Online Harms Bill here in the UK, which could make thinking the “wrong things” a hate crime. But the hypocrisy is spectacular. Vladimir Putin and the Taliban are on Twitter, but Donald Trump isn't. Go figure. If the BBC is willing to adulterate some of its greatest work because of modern sensibilities, what's next? Chinese-style book burning sessions in the town centre?
The day irony died was a month ago when the University of Northampton placed a trigger warning on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, saying it contains ‘explicit material’ which some may find ‘offensive and upsetting.’ The book is a dystopian social science fiction novel, which gave birth to popular phrases such as “Big Brother” and “Thought Police”.
Art reflecting life – you couldn’t make it up.
Let me be clear, something is happening. The state and its institutions, fuelled and super charged by the pandemic, are performing a land grab of our economy, our language, our history, our thought processes, our education and our lives. Aided and abetted by the aforementioned tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Now of course times change, and comedy changes with the times. I'm not sure you would make Little Britain now. Fair enough. But the point about Little Britain is that nobody came out of it well. The truth is that comedy wounds, comedy attacks, comedy hurts. And it has to be naughty. It has to be problematic. Extreme political correctness will always be the death of comedy, because humour always requires a target and a victim. And it contains searing truths, that will always make people uncomfortable. That's its job. The increasingly censorious atmosphere of the modern world, where people are afraid not just to make a joke on TV, but even in real life, in the office, at a dinner party, or on the bus, does us no favours at all.
A college lecturer almost lost his job when joking in a shopping centre lift that he’d like to get out at the lingerie department. Well in my view all of this is knickers. Comedy is a bellwether, a litmus test for a free society, for freedom of speech, and more importantly, for freedom of thought. Whilst I didn't like his joke, I defend Jimmy Carr’s right to do his horrible, deeply offensive gag about the Second World War. Or the comic who dropped me the c bomb last week.
If the politically correct zealots have their way, they will kill comedy altogether. Let's be honest, given so much of the drab right-on stuff we're currently seeing on TV, it's already heading that way. Comedy is another hill to die on, and the definition of a self-aware society, which can laugh at itself. Comedy, unfiltered, uncensored and unedited gives us the chance to reflect, learn and of course laugh. The alternative is a joyless dystopia, where we can't laugh at anything.
Go woke, no joke.
Mark Dolan Tonight is live Friday - Sunday from 9pm - only on GB News.