Wednesday, 28 October 2009

We must protect John and Edward

The insanity of this year’s X Factor is building nicely, thanks mainly to everybody’s favourite cocky teenagers John and Edward Grimes. Even their name is slightly rubbish. How did they think it up? “Let’s call ourselves Grimes and Grimes, no that will never work, it’s too much like Robson and Jerome, hang on what about if we just used our first name. Genius!” Their continual presence on the show is proof that the British celebrated bloody minded belligerence is alive and well. Cementing their place in my heart is the news that Peaches Geldof sarcastically called them “musical prodigies”. Since her main achievement is being a fertilized egg, I don’ think the twins will mind when their bopping about on national television.

The show also has it’s own baddy Danyl Johnson. Before you rush to defend him remember this, the man is twenty five years old and he chooses to spell his name that way. He has achieved something rather magical this year, making being a brilliant singer really annoying. Every week he comes out, does the whole wide eyed I’m so lucky to be here shuffle that no one buys for a moment ,lobs his mike around for a bit and then blasts his way through another tedious pop song. Our reluctance to take him to his bosom is echoed in the judges sparing comments about his performance. Every week they drearily doll out the most reluctant of faint praise with all the enthusiasm of someone drinking a suspicious smelling drink for a dare. With past contestants we revelled in their vocal acrobatics but there’s something about his personality that gives us a cramp. He was in last week’s final two, which sent his mentor Simon Cowell into spasms of indignation pointing out that it’s a singing competition not a popularity contest. I never thought I’d be saying this but poor Simon, you crazy dreamer, how naive you are.

Stacey, the rambling Essex girl, we love her. We love her so much we even voted for Rachel just for doing an impression of Stacey on last week’s show. She seems genuinely excited to be there and that babbling incredulity is something that can’t be faked, no matter how many times you run up and down the stage mid song.

Speaking of people we just don’t seem to like, Sienna Miller is going through a tough time. The exquisite blonde has made her Broadway debut in “After Miss Julie” a reworking of the Strinberg classic by Patrick Marber. The critics have been less than enthusiastic about her performance and to add to her career woes her ex squeeze Balthazar Getty has been seen out and about with Lindsey Lohan. How depressing must that be, to be as beautiful as Miss Miller and lose your man to a train wreck like Lindsey? You’d feel like there should be an Independent authority you could complain to. There was a lot of controversy in the States when Miller and Getty first got together because of the unfortunate matter of a Mrs. Getty and several mini Getty’s as well. Sienna was branded a home wrecker and labelled “Sluttiena” by certain members of the press. Isn’t it ironic that the word “member’ is also slang for a part of the male anatomy and in this case both meanings of the word work. Sienna’s reputation further plummeted where pictures of her topless with only a sailor’s hat at a jaunty angle to protect her from the Mediterranean sun were published. The couple broke up soon after but, after a few clandestine meeting, there was reportedly hope on Sienna’s side of reconciliation. Then Ms. Lohan fresh from her latest split with Sam Ron, wandered incoherently and slightly off balanced into the frame.

Lindsey coincidentally also had a fling with Sienna’s other ex Jude Law who is also appearing on Broadway. He’s still reeling from the birth of his daughter to a woman he shared a brief Christmas jingle with. The Florida model claims that the little girl looks exactly like her Dad so somewhere in Miami there’s balding, smug baby in a v neck jumper and scarf looking inexplicably pleased with itself. Despite being cheated on by Jude, dumped by Getty and her obvious commitment to independent low budget films the public have never really warmed to Sienna. There’s always been something too shrill; too smug too satisfied about her. She strikes me as the type of girl who flirts shamelessly with her male friends and then acts confused when they eventually asked her out.

Still at least she hasn’t been physically attacked, unlike poor Leona Lewis. The X Factor winner was attacked by a crazed fan recently at a book singing in London. There were reports that the culprit was in fact regular award ceremony stage crasher Kanye West declaring “No disrespect Leona but I really feel Ray Quinn should have won” but they’ve been hurriedly denied. Being an X Factor winner is more dangerous than it looks. Are you listening to that John and Edward? Look after yourselves boys for Christ’s sake.

Jimmy Carr died for our sins

The always thoughtful conservative press, aware that many of its readers are missing their traditional fox hunting have introduced a new sport to keep their loyal subscribers busy - comic baiting. Simply take a well known comedian, quote part of their set completely out of context and wait while people queue up to be offended on behalf of others. The latest victim of this new fad is Jimmy Carr. His quip that the current war in Iraq means that Britain will have a fantastic Para-Olympic team was seized on by the Sunday papers and then dragged out by back bench Tory MPs looking to remind their constituents that they’re still alive.

It’s a win- win situation; newspapers get a good splash headline plus acres of pages filled with outraged, indignant columnists and obscure MPs get their faces on telly the year before a general election, the only victim is the comic. He ends up with his material mauled to a misshaped mess, reputation destroyed and public figures can, with complete impunity, call for the end of his career, just for doing his job properly.

Confusingly, injured servicemen aren’t even the butt of the joke. Jimmy was pointing out, through humour, that by 2012 there will be a generation of otherwise healthy men and women maimed and injured due to a war many now see as at best pointless at worst illegal. People should find this joke unsettling and slightly disturbing but the anger is better directed at the government for bringing their country into the conflict instead of the fool on stage for pointing it out. Politicians angrily claimed that the only people with the right to make that sort of joke were the soldiers themselves. I agree, there is a dearth of military men on the stand up circuit at the moment, mainly as they’re a bit busy being blown up. So until they’re less occupied, much like the citizens of Iraq, we’ll have to rely on professional comedians to satirise the war instead, even if, as mere civilians they’re scarcely allowed to.

The evolution of being offended from an occasional frustration to a national game of moral one -upmanship has had a disastrous affect on comedy. Established comics have to choose between playing it safe or potentionally jeopardising their career, jittery producers become reluctant to commission anything that may offend somebody, somewhere and the result is bland opinion less TV and radio programmes that no one; the producers, comics or audiences really care about.

People often wonder why Britain has no equivalent of John Stewart, whose Daily Show became a deciding factor in last year’s American elections. The truth is that a comic with his strong political opinions and passion, exactly the things that you need for satire to work, would never be allowed on television here. The father of modern satire Jonathan Swift wrote an essay “A Modest Proposal” at the height of the Irish Famine suggesting that the Irish people should eat their babies as a way of avoiding starvation. In this current climate there’d be protests outside his house and claims he was glamorizing cannibalism. A democracy prides itself on the freedom of its arts, the ability of its novelists, painters and poets to publish and produce whatever they like. Throughout history comedy, and its swottier sibling satire, has been the Arts poor relation, but it’s comedy’s scraps for free speech that have probably made the most difference to most ordinary people’s everyday lives. It’s time we as a society defended that tradition and comedians stopped apologising.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

I read the news today, oh boy

Nobody expects to agree with The Daily Mail. I have a theory that’s it’s actually a character newspaper, like a paper version of Alan Partridge or The Pub Landlord and is written by a group of very sarcastic left wing hacks. Knocking the right wing ravings of its editorial has almost become a sub genre in stand up itself. The earnest ranting that muslin lesbians from Nigeria were coming over here to spread foot and mouth, the constant referring to World War Two as if, it was not only was still happening but the Allieds might still somehow lose, it’s devotion to their page three blondes; Princess Diana and Madeline McCann. For any budding Mark Thomas, criticising it is like taking candy from a baby, a dead baby. So it’s saying something when even by their subterranean standards, a column that appeared in last week’s newspaper offended so many people that the Press Complaints Commission website crashed. This is, remember, a paper that employs Richard Littlejohn, a man who once pointed out that the Ipswich murder victims were only prostitutes, to write words.

On Thursday last, their charming columnist Jan Moir, took time off from her busy schedule of slagging off middle aged women and Kerry Katona to write a piece about the death of Stephen Gately that was so offensively, unnecessarily cruel and breathtakingly cold that it’s callousness is almost impossible to exaggerate or ridicule. When most people heard that Stephen had passed away on holiday in Portugal, their first reaction was to wonder at the implausibility of it. Tragic early deaths were for serious musicians or doomed actors not cute singers from naff nineties boy bands. It was always hard to take Boyzone seriously. Their first cringe worthy appearance on The Late Late show, their endless cover versions, Ronan’s braying accent that got off the bus somewhere outside Nashville; they always seemed like five men lads who were just having a go. Name the other ones; come on, not Stephen or Ronan or the one who was in Corrie for a while, the other ones. You can’t can you, but you think they’re probably aright, like distant cousins you meet at weddings or funerals. Compared to the professionalism of Take That and the slickness of their successors Westlife, Ronan’s craven ambition aside, they always seemed grateful and surprised they were still getting away with it. Of all of them Stephen was the most harmless. A diddy cherubic faced little bopper, he surprised about three cows in west Cork when he was outed, forced by a kiss and tell in a rival newspaper to admit his preference for men. He followed Boyzone with a brief but successful solo career and then joined the world of musical theatre. He had a gorgeous voice, he looked lovely, everybody seemed to like him.

His complete blandness makes Moir’s viscous attack all the more perplexing. After his sudden death and the normal rumours that surround any young person’s demise, an undiagnosed heart condition was revealed as the medical cause. His remains were being flown home, before his burial on the following Saturday when the journalist decided to launch her own take on his passing. Calmly dismissing the medical reason for his death, she saw it as the only possible result of his decadent lifestyle; death by gayness apparently. She warned any young men who may have looked up to Stephen, in case they were considering homosexuality as a lifestyle option to consider his squalid and lonely death. They’d invited another man back to their flat that night she crowed. She then, using the recent tragic suicide of Matt Lucas’s ex husband as further proof, damned civil partnership as a failure. The gays can’t be trusted with marriage you see. Heterosexual marriage has been booming for centuries, the gays and their “husbands”, inverted commas appearing around the word whenever it’s used in a homosexual context like a pair of gloves holding something dirty, soil it with their horrid ways.

You can say whatever you like about an innocent dead man and let his grieving family be dammed when there’s pages to fill, prejudices to confirm and attention to create. Stephen was buried two days later, surrounded by the family, friends and community that loved, adored and respected him. Moir’s column is subtitled “Are you thinking what she’s thinking?” Thankfully the answer is a baffled and very angry, no.

My date with Stephen Fry

Few people evoke such feelings of devotion and affection in the British public as Stephen Fry. He is the nation’s dream dinner partner, fantasy friend, the thinking fag hag’s crumpet. The main theatre at Bloomsbury was packed full of expectant fans secretly hoping that, at the end of his talk about the short stories of Oscar Wilde, the few minutes it took to get their book signed would be long enough to say something so witty he’d invite them round for a cup of tea later. All of us united in the feeling that we knew him, not just from his decades of TV appearances, radio shows or perpetual twitter updates, but personally, clutching hardback copies of his new book there’s a strange feeling he might actually recognise us.

I used to love Stephen Fry. He was everything teenage me from a headache of a town in the midlands wanted to be; witty sophisticated, English and middleclass. I genuinely thought that once I moved to London our paths would somehow cross and he’d become a benign fairy godfather in my life, doling out advice and witty anecdotes over coffee in his Hampstead kitchen. But then like most teenage crushes once you find out that everybody else had the same fantasy, honesty permitting, I hid my love for the man at the back of the wardrobe like an embarrassing fashion mistake. He changed; became the man responsible for people using unnecessary adjectives in sentences in an attempt to appear witty, the face of exclusive, expensive London that I could just make out through the windows of small restaurants but never enter, he was all the Oxbridge comedy people that were clever and cute and hilarious and worked in Radio 4. He was the world I had wanted and it was full.

The man himself, my dream Dad, arrived on stage looking much slimmer than I remembered less Paddington Bear more city fox. Happily his talk coincided with Oscar Wilde’s 155th birthday, and Stephen took us on a whistle stop tour of Oscar’s life. He had a curious way of describing Wilde’s country of origin, admitting that many people didn’t know that his parents were Irish. Maybe it’s the border county blood in me but that seems to me a particularly odd and ungracious way of describing someone’s place of birth. Since Wilde’s persona was that of an outsider aping and dissecting the superficiality of English culture from that period, dismissing his nationality seems a very shallow way of looking at the man’s work. Cultural colonialism aside, Stephen described his early life in Dublin, as a boy so quick at reading his brother could win bets on his swiftness at finishing books, through to his glamorous life at Oxford where his devotion to aestheticism and flamboyant fashion set him apart from the reigning Victorian conservatism of that time. After a brief fling with poetry and a spell where he seemed to be doomed to be famous for being famous; a gifted raconteur and public speaker but with little substantive to show for his extra ordinary mind, he finally discovered his flair for playwriting. It was unfortunately on the very same evening that the theatre world was standing to ovate the opening night of “The Importance of Being Earnest” that the Marquis of Queensbury; the Dad of dear old Bosie-Oscar’s boyfriend from hell, was writing the note that called him a sodomite, and would result in a disastrous libel case, his conviction for sodomy, two years in hard labour, banishment and lonely death in exile in Paris.

Although it is chiefly as a dramatist that Wilde is remembered this night was to celebrate the other side of Wilde’s personality, glimpsed through the short stories written for his children. It was not for his caustic wit and cutting turn of phrase that he was lovingly remembered by his friends but, preserved in his sad, beautiful tales, his gentleness and kindness. In a week where a national newspaper saw fit to publish a column that seemed to revel in the death of a thirty two year old pop singer, this celebration of compassion seemed fitting.

I of course got my book signed, there’s no point holding a grudge. I asked him to sign it for my godson Setanta and he made the same joke about my uniquely named nephew that I’ve been hearing since his birth. Yes, Stephen, just like the sports channel, no I hope he’s not cancelled either. Ha ha. The notion that is was ancient Celtic name slightly longer than it was a TV station eluding him. He didn’t invite me over for tea; he didn’t ask me to Emma Thompson’s house for a game of charades, he didn’t even adopt me. I didn’t mind anymore. I’m not English and middle class, you see. I’m Irish, just like Oscar Wilde.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Knock knock

Whenever I have a difficult decision to make, specifically if it involves that of a sensitive racial nature, I always think: what would a professional ballroom dancer do? Apart from their rhythm and winning ways with a carefully placed sequin, they are legendarily perceptive at judging the racial mood of any country. It’s a little known fact that before Nelson Mandela became everybody’s dream granddad and professional celebrity hugger, he was the fox trot champion of Apartheid South Africa. His canonical autobiography was originally called “My Long Salsa to Freedom”.

So, imagine my confusion when Anton Du Beke professional boogier, a man whose job it is to move to the beat of music and not fall over, was accused of racism. It all began when he hilariously suggested his dance partner Laila Rouass looked like a “Paki” after emerging orange faced from a fake tan session. It has to be remembered that to a ballroom dancer badly applied fake tan is as offensive as a shouting “Alright paedos!” on a day trip to the Vatican. St. Tropez is part of their ceremonial make up, the Umpa Lumpas are their gods, in a way Laila Rouass was offending him.

The Oscar Wilde of the cha cha cha had earlier quipped that he hoped the actress, who parents come from Morocco and India, wasn’t a terrorist. How does he think these up? Luckily the George Mitchell of light entertainment Bruce Forsyth was on hand to smooth over any stormy racial waters. He sagely pointed out that the English had been called “limeys” for years and they didn’t mind. How many English people living in isolated minorities, had the words daubed on their businesses or screamed in their ear as they were kicked to death, he wasn’t sure. I think Brucie is a diplomatic resource we need at the moment. We could send him along to the Left Back, gather the Palestinians and the Israelis around him in some “An audience with” setting and he could tell about the time he and Tommy Steele had been double booked for Sunday at The Palladium and just got on with it, did a tap dance double act and it all turned out marvellous.

Meanwhile The X Factor bandwagon has rolled into town; bring out your unloved and deluded, enthusiasm for regret, innocence for bitter disappointment. When I see the contestants manically sob into the camera with all the creepy enthusiasm of Tom Cruise that this show could change their lives forever, I always wonder: have they not seen any of the other series? Do they really not pause to ponder where last year’s twelve finalists are? Robbie Williams made his comeback live appearance on the first show, performing with the kind of wide-eyed desperate enthusiasm of someone with a gun to his head. ”Do you want us to love you again Robbie?” The producers were probably whispering in his earpiece “Then dance for us fat boy, dance”.

This year’s main talking point is John and Edward, teenage twins from Dublin who can neither sing nor dance but they can jump up and down a lot. They have been described as TV marmite, which I think means you either love them or hate them, not that they’ve got a yeast infection. I predict them lasting for another few weeks before Simon leans back with all the weary judgement of Solomon and acknowledges that maybe he got them wrong and ,to the audiences cheers, admits there was something fun about them . They’ll then be swiftly voted out the following week, journey and story arch completed. This week’s evictees were girl group “Kandy Rain” a name that sounds like an uncomfortable R Kelly B-side. The group of ex- strippers wanted to prove there was more to them than their ex profession so came on looking like, well, ex strippers. Sadly, as the main proportion of the audience is women, the chances of an attractive girl group going far in the competition was about as slight as their outfits. The ladies didn’t help their cause by describing themselves as “sexy”. Nobody likes anybody who describes themselves as sexy. A woman who calls herself sexy is like a man who ruefully describes himself as sarcastic and shy with women, claiming he’s exactly like Chandler from Friends, it just makes everybody want to vomit.

There is also Danyl Johnson, a man as annoying as the spelling of his name. Judge Dannii , who also seems to have come up with the spelling of her name while drunk, made a massive error when she seemed to out the twenty five year old live on air. It later emerged that she wasn’t trying to damage the young man’s chances by stirring up the unconscious homophobia of the British people - she was just attempting to be funny. Oh dear, that’s twice this week Antipodeans have tried to crack a joke and ended up insulting great swathes of the viewing public. When your attempt at humour results in jammed phone lines and campaigns from newspapers to have you fired, maybe just stick with knock knock jokes.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Workplace romances are always tricky. You need to make an effort with clothes, brush your hair every day, fake enthusiasm about spreadsheets and not look like you want to kill yourself at 9.15 when you realise you’ve only been at work for fifteen minutes.

But spare a thought for David Letterman the married late night King of American late night TV chat who was forced to admit live on air to dipping his pen into the office ink. Letterman found a file in his car containing incriminating evidence about his dalliances and a demand for two million dollars or the information would, with flick of a malicious wand , swiftly turn into a book and film. A nervous Letterman was then forced to break the news to the American public with the confused studio laughter suggesting the audience thought it was all just some very strange wind up.

Letterman has become an American Angus Dayton, someone once famous for crowing over other celebrities indescretions who finds themselves in the headlines. Although unlike Dayton, Letterman is actually funny, writes his own material and seems to be doing well out of the scandal. Viewing figures for his show have sky-rocketed with more than a third more people tuning in. Surprisingly, no advertisers have distanced themselves from his show and, compared to the scandal that ensued after Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s little on air blooper, his career does not seem to be suffering.

It helps that he’s built a career around being a little bit dodgy, sleazy but in an acceptable just the right side of flirty way. He’s like the old man at the party that will joke about getting you drunk so he can feel your breasts, make you genuinely worried that he will, but then not leaving you feeling unaccountably disappointed. He once memorably compared Sarah Palin to a “slutty flight attendant”, suggested her daughter was going to get impregnated at a baseball game and got flashed live on air by Drew Barrymore so no one is really that surprised.

Another person suffering from work based romances problems is Polish Roman Polanski, however since the college involved was a thirteen year old girl he’d promised a modelling career to and then allegedly drugged and raped, it’s understandably different. The director fled the US after being arrested for the crime over twenty seven years ago and has been living in Europe ever since. It was only when he flew to Switzerland to accept an award at a film festival that the Swizz party poopers arrested him and are now preparing to deport him to America. Roman has been refused parole and is awaiting extradition after the French government removed their support.

A petition of International artists has sprung to Roman’s defence including Martin Scorsese, Salman Rushdie and Woody Allen. Here’s a note for you, if you’re ever in a position where you’re accused of a sex crime with a young woman and Woody Allen rings up offering to be your character witness, make yourself a cup of tea and then take a hard, cold look at your life choices.

The defenders of the director have asked for the crime to be judged in relation to the decade it happened in, hey it was the seventies crazy things happened; we wore terrible flares, we loved Lava lamps, we buggered the odd child, relax, hey let’s watch “Charlie’s Angels”. I was born in the eighties, so I think it means that should I wish to I can sink Argentine vessels that are attempting to escape, because that’s just what we did then. The second line of defence is that since he is such a gifted film maker his crime should be considered in light of his incredible talent. This means that should you stumble home late from work, hair stuck to your face after another rainy evening and gratefully switch on your bedroom light to find Steven Spielberg in your bed, eating your food, downloading porn onto your computer as he gloats at the dirty protest he has decorated your entire room with, all he’d have to do is produce a copy of ET and legally you couldn’t touch him. It also means that if you like this column I could probably take some of your crisps without asking. The final line of vindication for the wee man has been the alleged victim’s unwillingness to press charges or even talk about the case publically. Her reluctance is not , it’s argued ,that of a middle aged woman unwilling to revisit a traumatic event from her childhood but proof that she thinks in hindsight that it’s all been a bit of an overreaction and besides it was ages ago!

Roman Polanksi ; giving the seventies ,sleaziness and the passage of time itself a bad name.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Rock on Tommy

Have you ever worried that you’ve really put your foot in it? Carelessly assumed an overweight woman was pregnant, mistakenly let slip a friend’s fumble with another mate’s man, accidentally seemed to, not only support the Jewish holocaust, but actually wish more had been killed? Yes? Then you’ll know exactly how everybody’s favourite Navan man Tommy Tiernan feels after an innocent interview with Hotpress magazine got a bit Mel Gibsony and the media called for the man, who once forced The Late Late Show to go to adverts, to be slung out of the country. How did this happen?

Back when curly haired Tiernan first won our hearts and the prestigious Perrier comedy award his signature style was stories about his adolescence fighting the mindless authority of petty teachers and the unthinking small mindedness of the midlands town he grew up in. However, fifteen years as the unchallenged King of Irish comedy changes a man and perhaps scared of becoming part of the establishment; a Brendan Grace for the Bebos, the safe jester for the Celtic Tigers, Bertie Ahern with jokes (although the latter’s banking material is hilarious…), he has transformed himself from the Ireland’s white headed boy to the son everyone’s slightly worried about. Travellers, Madeline McCann, children with Down Syndromes the handicapped, nobody escaped Tommy’s wide eyed rants.

Certainly in the infamous Hotpress interview he didn’t seem like a raving fascist sympathiser. Asked by a member of the audience if anybody had ever taken umbrage with his risqué material, he expressed frustration at the delight certain people take in being offended, a blind, humourless, superiority achieved without actually listening to what he was saying. He recalled an encounter in America where two members of the audience took offence at a joke he had made about the Jewish people’s involvement in the death of Jesus. Bare in mind, that this claim is one of the most clichéd, hoariest of attacks, akin to calling Irish people alcoholics, about as controversial and topical as any two thousand year old event can be. It was this closed minded rush to be offended, to judge, the dreaded dead thoughts that George Orwell warned against, when people stop thinking for themselves and just know, that annoyed the comedian. He then joked that he hated Jews anyway and that he wished more had been killed in the holocaust. The audience then laughed, not because he had single-handedly transformed a wet tent in a field in Ireland into the Nuremburg rally but because after listening to him talk eloquently for over half an hour the audience decided he was making a joke not suddenly revealing himself as an insane fascist Jew hater.

But perhaps we have to ban anybody mentioning anything slightly controversial unless they highlight the fact that they’re not racist mad men first? It wasn’t like Tiernan just walked on stage and said “How’s it going? I’m Tommy, who here loves The Holocaust? Am I right?!” Are we that immature and insecure as a society and have such little faith in people that we can’t take it for granted that a comedian is making a joke? We all know racism is bad, that the holocaust was a tragedy, but it’s not a comic’s job to remind us what we already know. Audiences tend to make a Sartrian choice; you are attracted to people who confirm what you already think anyway. There are plenty of genuinely borderline racist comics out there; happily exploring the same issues with a lot less sophistication than award winning comedians. If the former is the only comedians who feel safe making those jokes than that is not a healthy, balanced place for comedy to be. As for less sophisticated people being inspired and missing the subtleties of Tiernan’s point, stupid racist people can be inspired by a pint of milk, we can’t hobble intelligent discussion in case a few missing links miss the point.

Race, especially in a country going through the teething pains of multi culturalism like Ireland, is something that demands to be talked about openly and honestly. Earlier in the Q&A session he made fun of an audience member’s accent who happened to be from Africa, causing a collective clenching of the audiences cheeks. He pointed out that if the man had been from Dublin they wouldn’t have minded. The audience laughed at this because he was right. Would it have been more tolerant and helpful to ignore the way the audience were treating that man differently just because it stemmed from the audience’s gaucheness rather than their hatred? Tiernan is Irish; one of the unexpected upsides of being an occupied people for six hundred years it that at least we escape post colonial guilt. When Tommy takes the piss out of an African’s accents there’s no ghost of white man on the plantation or last days of the Raj. If a British or American were to do the same, they would have their own context to explore. Tommy was one man gently taking the piss out of another.

And surely that is the point of comedy- to take the piss. Comedy is societies release valve, it allows us to acknowledge subjects that we can only safely deal with in the bubble wrap of a joke. If you can’t joke with someone, you’re suggesting that they can’t handle it, they’re different; the ultimate insult to anyone. When something dreadful happens, it’s your gut reaction, a survival instinct, to find the funny in it, even if it’s just the crappy text messages that circulate after a major disaster-there’s a point to them. The world is cruel, random and unfair, the only way we can claim some of it back for humans is by laughing at it. Why shouldn’t people take the piss out of the Holocaust, Jew or not? Is there a correct way to respond to the murder of millions of innocent people? Is it not crasser to single the Jewish people out as too delicate, too sensitive that they’re unable to have a sense of humour? Real racism, real cruelty happens not when people think they’re better than other people, but when they’re not acknowledged as people at all. Joking with someone is surely the most humane, beautiful, honest part of our interaction on this planet, a knowing look, a rueful acknowledgement that life can be a bit shit but we’re all in this together.

However, are missing children, minorities with no voice of their own and victims of head injuries deserving of Tiernan’s savage wit or lazy targets for a comedian rapidly getting bored and indulgent? Can comics rant on stage with impunity about whatever weird ramblings are tugging at their cerebral cortex? Luckily not. When Seinfeld star Michael Richards was caught on camera phone calling a noisy member of the audience a nigger and ranting that he wanted to bring back lynching, it effectively ended his career. The clips shows a struggling comedian and a frustrated man trying desperately to win back the crowd by being shocking rather than making anything close to an intelligent point. In the clip the comic is humiliated by a member of the audience who delivers the one line that silences all comedians; “You’re not funny”. No matter how racist you are there’s no answer to that. When Tiernan recently appeared on television and make a series of wisecracks about travellers there was silence from the audience and complaints from the viewers because they didn’t relate to his point and didn’t appreciate him thinking they would. Most normal audience members aren’t morons, just as most people are not closet racists waiting for their anti Semite Spartacus to tell it like it is, they won’t sit there and think, oh so Jews are bad then? If they really think you mean it, you will get booed and jeered off stage. Because real racism, real bigotry, is not loud, it doesn’t shout on stage or make quips to interviewers in front of film crews, real bigotry exists in silence, in the darkness of politeness, good manners and secret BNP list that no one wants made public.

The comedian has a sophisticated, delicate contract with the audience to voice their unprocessed thoughts, hopes and fears; if the comedian blinks and suggests something they don’t agree with the contract and spell is broken. That freedom for one person to stand in the glaring, probing spotlight and speak his or her truth to the darkness is surely worth defending by the audience and respecting by the comics. The fear that real honesty means that we’ll all be exposed as bigots certainly says more about the critics than the comedians.