Matt Richardson

Thoughts On... "Remember The Secret Policeman's Ball"

December 27, 2004 | 4 Minute Read

A few weeks back (or maybe more, I cant remember), Biscuit and I went to see the premiere of “Remember the Secret Policeman's Ball?” at the Prince Charles Theatre. The Secret Policeman's Ball's are comedy shows put on by Amnesty International to promote itself. Lots of comedians joined in, and give their time to perform, to raise money and promote awareness of Amnesty International. The premier was of a documentary that reviewed the history of the ball's, and interviewed a whole lot of the people involved. At the premiere, Rowan Atkinson and a few others participated in a Q & A session with the audience.

Firstly, I'd never even heard of the Secret Policeman's Ball, so it was quite interesting to hear about it, but, to be truthful, I nearly fell asleep during the documentary part.

But the really interesting part was when Rowan Atkinson was talking about the comedy, and where it crosses the line from being funny to being offensive. His main view was that pretty much anything goes, and it really dependson whether your audience finds it amusing as to whether you continue down that line. He was also concerned with how some topics are becoming taboo for comedians to joke about. The general line was that comedians (and the rest of us) need free speech to work, and they should be allowed to talk/joke about anything they want to (as long as the audience at the time finds it funny).

I'm kind of in two minds about it all. On one side, free speech is decidedly necessary. Without it, well, we'd all be stuffed. But, on the other hand, I find it bad when people make a joke about something I hold dear, and I'm sure that a lot of people feel that way. So, if a minority of the audience finds it offensive, and the majority find it funny, the comedian will keep going. Going by Rowan's logic - this doesn't cross the line, but a chunk of the audience will be put out to some degree.

However, that begs the thought - there will always be something that offends someone, so you cant win. But that is also another possibility - is there joke material that doesn't offend people? Yes, I think there is, but (and here's the catch) its only about 5-10% of the existing joke material out there (not that there's a limited supply of jokes, but you get the idea). It comes down to consideration for others, and trying not to offend.

With me - I don't mind if people disagree with me, or even argue civilly with me about various things, but when it crosses the line into mocking or jokes at my expense, I'm not the happiest. I'm sure I'm not alone with this. With comedians, there's only one microphone, so you cant even argue back (well, you can heckle, but that doesn't count).

Its also a wider thing that just comedy - society is supposed to be accepting of all things, but rarely is. There's always something or someone thats the butt of the jokes.

I'm kind of not making a lot of sense here, but hopefully you get the idea.

One example of the comedians “crossing the line“ is when Billy Connelly made a joke about Kenneth Bigley (the guy who was kidnapped and executed in Iraq not long back). I wasn't there, and I don't know the situation of the joke - apparently it wasn't quite as tasteless as it sounds. But. With a topic like that, its obvious that there will be some people who find it offensive. So, should he have said it? Apparently most of the audience found it amusing. So, I don't know.

Another interesting point is the recent play Bezhti that was cancelled after threats of violence by Sikh Muslims. Apparently it goes a bit far, and depicts rape and murder in a Sikh temple. So, I can understand them being not too happy about the whole thing. But, a lot of people were up in arms and saying that theatre needs to be able to controversial like this. The thing is, was it really necessary to get the playwrights ideas across in this fashion? Could he/she not have picked a non-offensive method of delivery?

I don't really know where I'm going with this, but hopefully I've started you thinking about it. I'm not sure if there is a 'solution' to this, or even if it needs a solution.

Have a think about it all, and write a comment. I'd like to hear what people have to say, and think about this kind of thing.

Tagged: On Generalities