Veronica Lee: Bernard Manning's ghost is among us

The 'irony' defence is nonsense. Our comics are just being lazy and base

Share
Related Topics

There have been a few low points during the past month, when I have been sitting in darkened rooms listening to comics of varying talent at the Edinburgh Fringe, but the nadir was reached when I was judging the "So You Think You Are Funny" newcomers competition. Miming masturbation and ejaculation over a young woman in the front row, one posh twenty-something male comic gleefully told the audience that they had just witnessed "the death of feminism".

I'm past being shocked when it comes to women being baited by stand-ups, so endemic is it, but this really depressed me. What does it say about our society that this well-educated and no doubt well-brought-up young man thinks that this material is acceptable?

I'm sure, if questioned, he would the use the "it's ironic" defence that comics always use when anyone objects to dodgy or borderline racist, sexist or homophobic material, but I cannot see where the irony lies in such an aggressive act. And I'm certain he wouldn't have dared do that riff with a man.

Maybe he took his cue from the more established comics on the Fringe, for whom rape jokes are de rigueur. American Reginald D Hunter accuses women of "emotional rape" (whatever that may be) in the battle of the sexes; men have the strength to overpower a woman physically, he says, but women can destroy a man by being a shrew. Oh Dr Freud, you should be living at this hour...

The "irony" defence is nonsense, of course. Comedians are really being lazy and base. When it is used properly, irony is a fine tool, not a bludgeon. Intelligent comics use irony to subvert jokes and preconceptions. The joke is on them, and by extension, us the audience, when the penny drops that the comic is saying the complete opposite of what we thought he was about to say.

Two very funny and clever stand-ups, Canadian Pete Johansson and cockney Micky Flanagan, both present themselves as having been lotharios in their youth and have explicit sexual material about their wives. But just as you think they are victimising women, they turn the joke on themselves and they are exposed as foolish oafs rescued by the love of a good woman.

I don't believe the majority of comics are misogynistic – indeed, most agents and publicists in comedy are women and all say how respectful their clients are – so something more calculating must be at play. The foundation of comedy is recognition of shared experience, so these performers must hold a mirror to our sensibilities.

Perhaps today's young comics – nearly all educated and middle-class – assume the battle for equality has been won and they therefore can do crass, sexist material with impunity because, of course, they don't really mean it. But the popularity of their material tells us there is still work to be done.

Once stand-ups like Bernard Manning were ridiculed by a generation of alternative comics proud to call themselves feminist. We have now come full circle. Maybe, as that distasteful young comic said, feminism really is dead because, were Manning still alive, he would go down a storm at the Fringe.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Theresa May  

Democracy and the police: a system in crisis

Nigel Morris
 

Mary Beard has taught us all a lesson in how to deal with online bullies

Louise Scodie
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone