Why some punchlines are beyond a joke

Politics
Culture

We all like to believe we’re making a difference. As a political comedian – aside from doing benefit shows for good causes – I like to believe some of the humorous points I make on stage might actually get audience members thinking and even change a few minds. Strangely enough science seems to agree with me and various pieces of research have suggested that jokes are more likely to affect people’s opinions than facts. Which is pretty worrying in itself.

Leftwing political comedy is a bit of a niche market, though – too one-sided for TV or radio companies to sniff around much. You can blame that one on facts, not jokes. As Stephen Colbert said in his White House Correspondents’ dinner turn in 2006: ‘Reality has a well-known liberal bias’.

But what is mainstream comedy doing with its power to change perceptions? Recently I’ve been thinking about three types of people who seem to be standard victims for comedians, and wondering whether it’s really so very funny.

Firstly, ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers or accident-claim lawyers... You can barely mention these people without eyes rolling and muttering about the entirely apocryphal story of someone who got a billion pounds because there was a fly in their soup. These evil money-grabbing bastards demand ordinary people who’ve suffered injury – due to the negligence of others – be given the money to cover their medical bills and convalescence!

(Obviously I’ve got a tonne more respect for their colleagues – the lawyers who defend big companies besieged by these petty, self-centred asbestos-inhalers and radiation-absorbers.)

They’re just making life difficult for the good guys – those hard-working business investors who could otherwise wring out a few cents of extra profit, while only causing a couple of avoidable workplace deaths a year.

Secondly, on-street charity fundraisers. ‘Hilariously’ referred to in the UK as ‘chuggers’, a contraction of ‘charity mugger’. How rude they are, bothering you in the street asking you to make regular donations to the sick and needy – and do you know they get paid for it? Disgusting, isn’t it? We all know only bankers and corporate lawyers should get paid, not charity workers. And it’s not as if regular donations are actually a lot more helpful to charities than one-off contributions which make it difficult to commit to funding long-term projects.

(I much prefer the people in the street who stop you to actually sell you something you don’t need or want. Round my way it’s usually a paint-balling experience. Cool, yah? It’s like having a war but super-fun. Take the kids.)

And finally, health and safety experts. Ugh. You know the dull, dull, dzzzzz boring people who insist that companies supply hard hats to employees on building sites and that ladders not be made of polystyrene or cheese…

I mean they’re just making life difficult for the good guys – those hard-working business investors who could otherwise wring out a few cents of extra profit, while only causing a couple of avoidable workplace deaths a year.

And as long as the mainstream shows this level of disregard for balance, I absolutely won’t apologize if you find my work one-sided. That does mean you probably won’t find it on TV any time soon.

Kate Smurthwaite is currently working on a new series of online videos: patreon.com/newsatkate

Thumbnail photo: Jon Cartwright

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