Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Scottish Play, political correctness and the death of comedy

Gosh, I've just realised that I did something very naughty in my post The Day of Reckoning; I mentioned The Scottish Play by its proper name. Oh dear, now I will be cursed with even more bad luck! Perhaps I should explain - just in case you don't know - but in the thespian world to mention The Scottish Play means doom and gloom and certain disaster - actors drying up, breaking legs and falling off the stage. The production is cursed!

The Scottish Play is, of course, the play by William Shakespeare How can I say it? .....If you shortened the name Macdonald or their well know product you'd have the first half of the name and if you thought of a nickname for Elizabeth you'd have the other half.....

Hmm... that was challenging eh?

There are a number of theories as to the origins of the curse but I think the most interesting (although probably the least likely) is that Shakespeare stole some of the lines of the play by observing a witches coven and later when the witches saw a performance they were so offended they cursed it. It's a nice little story isn't it? But I suspect it's more likely an actor hammed up his role, got booed off stage and made up a story that the production was cursed to cover up for his inadequacies!

Of course The Scottish Play is a tragedy so it lends itself to such dramatic stories but who hasn't laughed at one of Shakespeare's plays? I sure have! However, I believe it is now becoming increasing difficult for teenagers to appreciate what is now essentially an ancient language. I'm no longer sure that studying Shakespeare in depth for 14- 16 year olds at school in the UK is appropriate. Sadly, maybe it would be better for Shakespeare to be left to those more interested in literature at 16 -18. I say this with a heavy heart as someone who has read numerous Shakespeare plays and been lucky enough to see some of our finest British actors performing at Stratford. However, I believe our young people are so distant to our language now with the advent of texting, email and such like and their lives so consumed by immediacy and commerciality that I think it would be better to establish a love of literacy with texts that are easily understood and then move onto the likes of Shakespeare at a later date. There are some terrific modern classics out there so the examining boards really have no excuse not to liven up the curriculum.

Shakespearian comedy performed at its best is marvellous. I love it. But then I love laughing and I love making people laugh too but unfortunately comedy in the UK is changing for several reasons. One of these is political correctness... Comedy, often by its very nature, can walk a fine line between an obvious joke and being just plain rude and insulting. Even with visual slapstick sometimes one might wonder whether it is acceptable to laugh at someone who trips over... as indeed we might in real life. But what the new creed of political correctness fails to recognise is that the average adult knows the difference between what is funny and what is offensive. I believe too that those on the receiving end of a few jokes are usually mature enough to know the difference. Yet, our present British government seeks to repress individuality and freedom of speech with Acts of Parliament which may have good intentions at their core but which can also be interpreted in such a way to prosecute anyone they wish... and that could by default include comedians. Interestingly, one of our foremost comedians, Rowan Atkinson, has become prominent in speaking up for those of us who believe free speech is being repressed;

"I believe that it is the reaction of the audience that should decide the appropriateness of a joke, not the law of the land. For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic. " (Letter to The Times 2001)

Later he wrote to The Times in 2007;

"This “tick the box if you’d like a law to stop people being rude about you” is one way of filling the legislative programme, but there are serious implications for freedom of speech, humour and creative expression. The devil, as always, will be in the detail, but the casual ease with which some people move from finding something offensive to wishing to declare it criminal — and are then able to find factions within government to aid their ambitions — is truly depressing."

Political correctness has now become stifling in the UK; it would appear the movement that was instigated to protect individual freedoms now, ironically, destroys them. Ludicrous wordspeak too has replaced pure common sense. For example; I should no longer use the word "handicapped" unless in relation to golf or racing, I should not say someone has a "carer" but they have a "personal assistant or enabler" and I should not say a toilet is a "Disabled Toilet." (Unless it is not working!)In fact, I should call it an "Accessible Toilet." (Yes, that's despite the fact they're usually locked!)

Personally, I believe it's time for the government to stem this tide of political correctness; their socialist tendencies are running amok. It's quite something when a man known for being a clown is more respected than the politicians who make the laws.

But it would be as well if some comedians could police themselves. Over the last few weeks despite the world wide economic crisis a debacle involving one of our younger comedians, Russell Brand and TV presenter Jonathan Ross has repeatedly made headline news. During Russell Brand's Radio 2 programme they left messages on the answerphone of Andrew Sachs, the actor who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers, a great comedy classic sit com. In these telephone messages they talked about sexual relations between Russell Brand and Andrew Sachs' grandaughter. Frankly, it was childish and puerile behaviour and after the press got wind of it the incident generated over 30,000 complaints.

Today, I learnt that Russell Brand has been voted Best Stand Up Comedian at The British Comedy Awards. I've no idea who votes for these things but I can't believe honouring Russell Brand will do anything but damage the voice of real comedians. His childish humour will only spur on those who seek to curtail freedom of speech and the comedy contingent should have been wise enough to recognise that. He isn't a martyr to the cause he's a fool - and don't mean in the comical sense of the word.

I never seen Russell Brand live and at present I've no desire to and that may sound judgemental but I've seen him on the television a number of times and he's yet to make me smile, let alone laugh. I've seen many comedians live including Frankie Howard, Dave Allen, Jim Davidson, Julian Clary, Freddie Starr, Marcus Brigstocke and even Ken Dodd! And when Russell can make me laugh enough to want to go the theatre to see him I'll review my opinion. I'm all for giving someone a second chance but making a hero out of him is not perhaps the wisest decision.

Hmm... that was a bit of a rant for Mrs T wasn't it? Ah well, here's something to cheer us all up. It's Rowan Atkinson trying very carefully not to mention The Scottish Play....

Now that IS comedy!

Copyright JaneTurley 2008.


  1. That was one of my favourite SlackBladder clips.

    I hate squirrels. I hate them with their long tails and their stupid twitchy noses.

  2. You can't beat a bit of SlackBladder can you?!

    Those silly stupid squirrels should be shot!

    Bang, bang!!

    (I went off on a bit of a rant on that post didn't I? Must remember to take the medicine.)

  3. I was in a bar up in Edinburgh this year and was told that Ronnie Corbitt (born and bred in Edinburgh can you believe) kicked off when someone took the piss about his height. Talk about people in glass houses!
    In construction, manholes are no more, they are now inspection chambers, I'm just pleased we didn't let women get their way totally...

    Russel Brand - thought he was funny in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And I am right in saying that the said bloke's grandaughter is on the game, isn't she? And childish as it were, is business not booming for her now. All reliable info you understand from the gutter press! Great rant Mrs T.

  4. I wouldn't call it a ranty Mrs T..1276 words is barely a rant! *cough*

  5. Now Gary, what is this dubious statement about "women getting their way..." Are you blaming women for all this PC rubbish or something else?! You wanna fight with Mrs T eh? It could be messy! (And I'd bet on myself to win - Not telling the odds though.)

    Mrs T does not read the gutter press...I'm assuming you saw that slanderous statement whilst you were eating your fish and chips. I thought Andrew Sach's GD was just part of a raunchy dance group? Hmmm... do you think the other story might have evolved from people trying to salvage RB's career by making out that his personal revelations aren't of consequence because GD might be a whore? Hmm.. food for thought.I say
    let her make her money from this nasty episode; she could have sold her story to the press ages ago if she wanted... but she probably decided against it... cos who in their right mind would want to admit to sleeping with RB? He makes Bob Geldof look like Fred Astaire.(Yep, and I bet his mascara runs! Oh how manly...YUCK!)

    Um... was that another rant?! Damn these hormones Gary, I need more chocolate!

    Blimey! I thought Ronnie Corbett was just putting on an act. You mean he really IS that small?!

    Sy, if you think that's a rant you should have heard what I said to MAD last week. I have no doubt it'll be used in customer training sessions entitled

    Customer From Hell


    "This is the customer who has lost it - whatever you say you will not win; she will always have the last word. So blow your brains out now or she will do it for you."

    I'm not saying I was eloquent; I was extremely eloquent in a Mrs T adjective full kind of way.

    (Descriptive, not rude you understand.)

  6. Ooh, horrible thought. Do you think there's a corner of YouTube where Real Customer from Hell at Shop Checkout videos get leaked? Maybe I'm having my 15 minutes of fame (it was at Tesco) and I don't even know it!

  7. Ah well Mrs B, Mrs T was so enraged she even went so far as to say;

    "..and I hope you use this recording in your training sessions so your employees know how incompetent you are..blah, blah, blah....."

    Well...that's the edited version anyway.

    So that's my 15 mins of fame - at MAD'S training HQ! (And it was at least 15 mins - but they deserved it for wasting in total nearly 2 entire days of my life on the phone to them and BT.)

    Um..that was another rant wasn't it? I promise to be on best behaviour tomorrow. Honest..but by God if there's a fly in my soup.....

  8. A double rant, I like it. Looks like you're in a cage on this one Mrs T, just don't invite too many prods with a stick! And careful of any INSPECTION chambers when you're out and about we wouldn't want any accidents from 'your lot' to report. Ouch! Was that another prod?

  9. And it took you how long to get fed up with political correctness run amuck?

    My dear lady, the P.C. Mafia has been rearing its ugly head even longer in the States.

    Which is something that you simply get used to here.

    Otherwise, nice rant and nice segue. I'm impressed.

    Of course, being from the States, I'm impressed by anything British.

    Almost anything.

  10. If they're using the tape in their training sessions, surely they should be paying you? Hey Mrs T! This could be our Get Rich Quick scheme. Whaddyathink? Has it, as they say in the corporate world, 'got legs'?

  11. Ooooo Gary, you are living dangerously! Mrs T has a forked tongue so watch out!!!

    Welcome back Georgie, I must pay you a visit and see what's up on your side of the pond. It's even more PC in the States? Lord, I don't know I would cope with it - it drives me nuts. I think the PC thing really took hold with the current labour government who came to power in 1997 which was just after my first child went to school; it was when I had the direct involvement with an institution controlled by government that I realised the full effect... and having observed the changes in education over the last 13 years or so things have a lot worse. I could rant on this for a long time because it has grossly affected the quality of education as well as just plain common sense; I recently had to remove one of my sons from school because his adrenaline gun for his allergy expired on that particular day and the school said they would not adminster it, not even when I very eloquently pointed out all the reasons why it was perfectly safe to use. Boxes are there to be ticked and common sense and reasoning have flown out the window. Everything is black or white, there are no grey areas. I find it all quite depressing; I'm constantly fighting for my children's education; it isn't enough to send them to school and think they will learn to read and write. Sometimes I wonder where we will be in 20 years.

    Mrs B,

    If that tape ever gets in the public domain I will be more famous than Russell Brand!


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