1:30AM Monday 27 January 2014 Nunhead Heights
Comedy is a mine field.
Yesterday, I did a spot at the The Establishment Club – organized, in part, by Victor Lewis-Smith, the writer. Richard Dawkins was on the bill so I got the feeling this gig was going to be important. In prep I Googled the main participants.
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Seems that last year Victor got into trouble for using comic Mark Steel’s joke on the British monarchy in a piece he wrote for The Independent. The bit lacked attribution or permission. That stuff happens all the time.
This is Mark Steel’s joke which I’ve pulled from a Guardian piece without permission:
“Don’t give me that spiel about them being good for tourism.
Does that mean no tourists ever go to republics like France or the US?
Or if they do, do they climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty,
look down on Manhattan, and say:
‘Well, it’s a lovely view
but the lack of a monarch spoils it somehow’?”
Victor Lewis-Smith has apologized for using it, so all is well.
I have a joke that I have been telling since I moved here and it is very, very, similar. Similar jokes happen in comedy.
“The Royal Family is good for tourism.
You go to Britain to see real Kings and Queens
Working in real Palaces and Castles.
You want more people to visit Auschwitz?
Get the gas chambers going again.
You don’t have to kill a lot of Jews.
Or only Jews.
You can kill Gypsies, Homosexuals
Maybe even just normal people.
Just enough to get the real smell of death in the air.
Hack up a few Tutsis in Rwanda.
Or is it Hutus?
The Killing Fields in Cambodia?
Start killing anyone with eyeglasses again.
Good for Tourism.
Let Britain give up democracy
for higher hotel occupancy.”
Mark Steel points out the silliness of claiming the monarch is good for tourism. I point out the evil of monarchy, at least I hope I do.
Let’s say I hadn’t read the Wikipedia entry and I told my ‘monarchy is good for tourism’ joke yesterday?
I wouldn’t have understood why Victor Lewis-Smith’s face was twitching or why the audience – who know Victor Lewis-Smith – had turned on me, and why I wouldn’t be invited back to do that gig.
And knowing the English, I doubt they would have told me.
At the pre-show lunch – with the Pope of Atheists Richard Dawkins, politico George Galloway, his grumpiness Jerry Sadowitz, comedy producer David Tabizel, organiser Mike O’Brien, my PA/writer Heather Stevens and George Galloway’s lovely wife and kids – George told me a story.
He once told a joke with Monica Lewinsky as the punchline while she was in the audience. He didn’t know she was there and when he found out, he felt horrible and had to apologize. I don’t agree with George Galloway often but after meeting him, I like him very much.
So even great orators can step in a minefield.
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