Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Musings on Jokes and Offensiveness
I've been musing on some new material and basically sketching out the possibility for a new bit that I hadn't fully thought through.
I sort of wrote it, looked at it, wondered about it, and then abandoned it quite hastily but the thought process I've been through made me stop and think so I'm sticking it out there as an interest piece.
If the original concept for the joke offends, please accept my apologies and continue to read as that's the whole point really.
The basic concept for the bit was:
On Friday my car broke down, and when I pulled on to the hard shoulder I lucked out massively and ended up next to a man with an empty transporter lorry who was going my way and offered me and my car a lift.
Jammiest. Sod. Ever.
Now, I accepted the lift totally aware that it could be one of two things about to happen:
1. The start of an excellent true story Rom Com about how I meet the unlikely love of my life (sorry Alan) and we are eventually played by an aged Paul Rudd and whichever 21 year old is currently Hollywood old enough to be dating 55 year old men on screen.
2. I get raped and murdered and dumped in a hedge just off the A1(M) where it's quiet.
Neither happened so I guess I just must not be as pretty as I thought.
Immediately I wasn't really happy with the end of it... something feels gross about that idea. I don't like mentioning rape during something that's supposed to be comedy - it's not funny. So, I thought I'd take the rape part out as it seemed gratuitous and unnecessary and making light of something I don't want to poke fun at.
Obviously, without the rape the joke doesn't work any more really because there's not an obvious connection that a murder would be "beauty" related. I totally know and understand as well that this is the case with real world rape (as opposed to joke world rape) - I'm not making that connection on any level, I'm just talking in terms of a superfluous cognitive connection strong enough for a joke to work.
So I thought, no, I'm going to abandon this joke I think. It's unpleasant, I don't know how to make it funny and something I'm comfortable with so I think I'll just leave it.
Then, I wondered why I wasn't so worried about the murder part of the joke.
My general rule of thumb for deciding how I feel about telling a joke is "Who is the victim of the joke?"
If I would be ok telling that joke in front of someone who could see themselves as the actual victim in the joke, then I am ok telling it. If I'm not, then I shouldn't be telling it because I'm obviously worried it's offensive.
In the joke above, I think I am the victim. I am eventually joking about my own big headedness, vanity and appearance.
But I'm still not OK with it.
So, by mentioning it in the way that the joke is, I think I am also making real world murder and rape victims a victim of the joke by connecting their experiences to beauty?
Is it implying blame on the real world victim by assuming in the joke world that there is a cause that they may have carried with them?
Or, is there nothing extra offensive in the joke other than the fact that it uses something horrific to get a cheap laugh?
Which brings me back to the question of why it was definitely the rape, not the murder, that made me flag it up and abandon it.
Has rape, rightly, been too flagged up recently as an area for strong concern and attention to make sure we're dealing with it properly? I know in the comedy world "rape gag" comedian is synonymous with "hack" so maybe I'm ultra cautious because of that.
Is murder still cartoony and generic enough to be gotten away with? Is the word "murder" overused enough to be the linguistic equivalent of a mouse bashing a cat with a mallet? If I specified a type of brutal murder would that make it not acceptable?
I don't know yet. Sorry there's no conclusion! Just musing on jokes and acceptability and stuff.