Opinion: Comedy's Guilty Pleasures

Jim Davidson

In music in recent years there has been the phenomenon of Guilty Pleasures. Songs that deep down in your heart you know that you should hate, but somehow you can’t get the tune out of your head. Romesh Ranganathan has a prime example of this in his current show when he talks about how he thinks the lyrics of Blurred Lines are rapey, but the rhythm just makes you want to jiggle your body.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of Guilty Pleasures in terms of comedy recently. Bad taste and political incorrectness don't always stop something from raising a titter in decent people. The other day Richard Herring wrote on his blog about watching Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown’s Boys - D’Movie and finding that “the film made me laugh twice, against my will.” It was an offhand remark that made me think. What is the opposite of laughing against your will? Laughing with your will? Surely a comedian who can make you laugh against your will is actually more talented than one who makes you laugh with your will – you are doing all you can not to laugh and they still make you get the giggles. That is surely something to be admired.

I had the same feeling as Herring last month in Edinburgh when I reviewed Jim Davidson. While most critics gave him two stars and a negative review I gave him three stars and a qualified critique. Obviously I had the usually lefty-liberal misgivings about him, but how could I give him a damning write-up when I actually found myself smiling quite a few times during his stories about bed-hopping and foreign mates with funny foreign voices? Against my will of course.

The baggage that can come with comedy is a difficult thing. In one context something can be funny, in another it suddenly feels wrong to laugh. When Billy Connolly made jokes about hostage Ken Bigley onstage at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2004 there was a bit of a gasp, but it was still funny. A few days later when Bigley was beheaded by his captors the joke seemed less funny. You can feel bad about laughing and even apologise to anyone you may have offended, but it is easier to put toothpaste back into a tube than take a laugh back.

A couple of days ago I saw a clip on Twitter of a man on an out-of-control motorcycle. He was pinballing through heavy traffic and bouncing from car to car. He wasn't going fast and didn’t seem to be harming anyone else or himself. He seemed absolutely fine and the jittery chaos – grainy and in black and white – had a Chaplinesque quality to it. The clip ended with him ricocheting off a bus and disappearing down a hole in the road, which at the time was the funniest of endings – it couldn't have been scripted better.

Yesterday, however, somebody told me that when the man fell down the hole he was killed. So where does that leave me? Obviously I should feel bad about his misfortune but how bad should I feel about laughing when I was unaware of the outcome? I was not being nasty. Should I have researched the incident further before deciding whether to laugh or not? I didn’t realise the event ended tragically. And what if I now watch the clip? The comic timing is still there, it is the same clip. But the back story stops it from being as funny. Comedy can be a complicated business.



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