I’m a huge fan of Radio Five Live, as I believe I’ve already mentioned on these pages. It’s that nether region of being too old for Radio 1 and not old enough to admit that I should be listening to Radio 4. I even enjoy the Breakfast Show, even though that means listening to Nicky Campbell for 50% of the time.

This morning, the height of the Five Live zeitgeist was talk of a cartoon featured in the Metro. Below an article reporting Prof Stephen Hawking’s worsening health and recent hospitalisation, the cartoon featured two blokes with one saying to the other, “I wonder if they’ve tried switching him off and switching him back on again.”

Now, that’s funny.

I laughed like the proverbial drain and later on, I told it to half a dozen people at work, and they all performed a passable impression of me from minutes earlier. I imagine those half a dozen people went on to tell other people and those other people would’ve laughed too. And why not? It’s a bloody funny joke. It’s a wonderful joke. It’s the jape of the season. It’s even better than the Fish-sticks joke from South Park the other week (“What are you, a gay fish?”).

But some people — the people who phoned Nicky Campbell this morning — would have you believe otherwise. It’s offensive to Stephen Hawking and it’s offensive to people with Motor Neuron Disease.

I write a bit of fiction. I’ve mentioned that in these pages, too. In fiction terms, I would describe the above as a massive Point of View switch.

It’s quite one thing to find a joke offensive, and that thing is called LIFE. Most jokes will offend someone, somewhere at sometime. In a parallel universe, there’s a chicken crossing a road, spitting feathers because he thinks he’s living up to a negative stereotype. However, finding a joke offensive on behalf of people you don’t even know is quite ridiculous. Offense by proxy, indeed. They have as much right to be offended on Prof Hawking’s behalf as I do to assume that he would find the cartoon fucking hilarious, even though I suspect we all know that he would.

And in any event, the joke’s not really about him. It’s not really about people with MND. It’s more about idiot IT monkeys who’s stock answer to everything is to switch off and back on again. If you want to be offended on someone’s behalf, at least get your target right.

Trey Parker, creator of South Park and the awesome Fish-sticks joke, once said, “Either everything’s okay, or nothing’s okay,” and he’s quite right. If that means that Bernard Manning imitators have the right to ply their trade, then so be it.

For comedy to be successful, it needs to have its audience serving as its mirror. With no reflection, there’s no gag, there’s no laughter, there’s no success.

I went to see Al Murray’s show at the Armadillo in Glasgow last Friday. Upon hearing my plans, Liam, my fellow twitterer, remarked that there’s nothing like a bit of xenophobia posing as post-modern irony to set yourself up for the weekend. For those unfamiliar with Al’s act, he poses as a bartender who looks down on the French, thinks all women should be secretaries or receptionists (a secretary with a phone) and Tuesday nights down the discotheque are reserved for a special variety of relationship.

So there’s that layer of his act. The xenophobic, homophobic, racist, sexist, ageist, Prof Stephen Hawking-ist (probably) layer. Then there’s the layer above that which is aware. That’s the post-modern ironic layer. I believe Al Murray is in the higher, second layer. I don’t, for one minute, think he believes in half of the things he says on stage. A fair proportion of the audience last Friday, were probably operating at the lower layer and that’s why the neuvo-Mannings of this world can still make a living.

But if these attitudes are exclusive to concert halls in £28 seats rather than expressed through spray paint on corner shop walls, maybe that’s good enough for now.

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