Why it’s wrong to ‘call out’ people like Trevor Noah and Dan Harmon for the off-colour jokes they made in their past

This is really about politics, not bad humour. It is war, and each side is trawling through archives to find ammunition

 

Shaparak Khorsandi
Friday 27 July 2018 12:40
Comments
James Gunn fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 by Disney over offensive tweets

In the most recent attempt by right-wing Twitter archaeologists to avenge the sacking of Roseanne Barr, US comedian Sarah Silverman has become the latest wisecracker to have past tweets or jokes dug up. Barr was recently dropped from her sitcom, begging the question: how much of a relentless liability must she have been for her bosses to sack her from the sitcom they named after her? The final nail in Trump enthusiast Barr’s coffin was a tweet when she likened Valerie Jarrett, former advisor to Obama, a black woman, to an ape. She did not stand by her joke. She apologised, she blamed it on sleeping pills, deleted the tweet but her bosses had had enough and got rid of her.

Outraged, the right (particularly the alt-right) lamented the loss of so-called “free speech”, a battle cry that so often comes from those who are narked that you can’t be a pernicious racist twat without backlash.

ABC cancels sitcom Roseanne following Roseanne Barr's 'abhorrent' racist Twitter rant

But they neglect to acknowledge that the principle of free speech means being able to speak without censorship or restraint. It does not mean “without repercussions from your employer”, nor does it mean people have to listen. You can be sacked, thrown out of a pub, have your social media account shut down if those who run them don’t want their patrons to be exposed to your nonsense. You can’t say whatever vile tosh you like and expect people to still want to work with you, watch you, or buy tickets for your shows.

I have said jokes in the past which I no longer like or stand by. Every comedian has. Comedy is like an iceberg, constantly moving forward and you have to move with it if you want audiences to continue to relate to you. I may have moved on from those jokes, but I am not ashamed that I ever made offensive jokes. It’s how I found my “persona” and how I learned to read the room.

Sometimes, when you’re on stage, very politically incorrect things come out of your mouth. In this job it take a hell of a lot of time, experience and self-awareness to be able to trust and act on instincts without being a slave to fear. Even then, you can still misjudge. In a live show, where the audiences can see the whites of your eyes, feel the vibe in the room, they are more forgiving. On Twitter, or on TV, things seems more black and white and you run the risk of misrepresenting yourself. It’s a hazard of the trade. Sometimes you read an audience wrong and have to furiously back pedal or accept that tonight, they hated you.

Happily, I’m not famous or successful enough for my own dumb jokes to be of interest to alt-right campaigners, but the likes of Sarah Silverman, James Gunn (writer of Guardians of the Galaxy) and Dan Harmon (writer of Community and Rick and Morty) have been hauled up for historic paedophilia jokes.

Their true fans, those who are fans of the comedy genre, understand that we are not the jokes we made 10 years ago. I’m guessing that the people who berated Silverman for the tweet she wrote in 2009 weren’t fans of hers to begin with, and used the opportunity to try and tear her down, to highlight the injustice they feel about Roseanne.

James Gunn’s tweets about rape and child abuse years ago have got him sacked by Disney. But it’s Disney. What were they meant to do? They employ Mickey Mouse, for God’s sake.

It’s a shame for him. I get that. It has nothing to do with the work he does today. I get that too, but if we think Barr’s bosses have the right to sack her, then James Gunn’s supporters need to accept his fate. I’ll be honest, I hated paedophilia jokes as much 10 years ago as I do today. Horses for courses, I guess. Sensible people believe in second chances, in contrition and as creative people, both Gunn and Barr can forge other ways to be artistic. It’s not all about prime time and staggering wages.

The alt-right, who screech about free speech and endorse all sorts of vile jokes and comments, are now feigning outrage and offence at old tweets of Silverman and others. No one is buying that they are offended. Nevertheless, the left have to take the hit; after all, right-wingers have also had past tweets flagged up to discredit them. This is really about politics, not jokes. It’s war, and each side is trawling through archives to find ammunition.

There were calls to boycott Trevor Noah’s tour because of a ghastly joke he made about Aboriginal women not being attractive back in 2013. I saw his show that year at the Soho Theatre. He didn’t make that joke and his set was thoughtful and self-deprecating. He doesn’t need me to defend him, but if you love comedy, you’ll understand that good comics constantly evolve.

If, even after a comic has apologised (which Noah did a long time before the footage of his routine was unearthed), you still decide that one routine or one joke is the sum total of who they are, rather than putting up with standup comedy, you’d be better off just sticking with bingo.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in