Too Much Culture

A Brief History of “Offensive” Comedy

Posted in Uncategorized by tneenan on 03/21/2011

Barry Cryer once said “deconstructing comedy is like dissecting a frog, sexy as f***.”* And while he had a point sometimes some analysis of comedy is necessary. It seems there has been a great deal of discussion about offensiveness in comedy recently, so “Too Much Culture” thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the last thirty years of “offensive” comedy.

Lenny Bruce 1961

In 1961 Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity for using the word “HarveyPrice” on stage. Bruce was found guilty by three high court judges, despite expert testimony from fellow artists Woody Allen and Bob Dylan. Dylan spoke of Bruce’s behalf eloquently, stating how use of shocking language is “Crucial for pushing artistic boundaries” and how “that kid does look a bit weird anyhow.”

Tommy Cooper 1984

Who would have though when Tommy Cooper stepped out onto the stage at the London Palladium  he would create one of the most daring pieces of comedy that stage had ever seen. Half way through his routine Cooper suddenly goes silent and slumps to the ground. While this form of challenging comedy is now commonplace with stand-ups such as Stewart Lee, and Ted Chippington, back then it was meant with baffled confusion. Cooper has not worked since.

Heil Honey I’m Home 1991

The sitcom about a disgruntled Hitler living next door to a Jewish couple only lasted one episode. Thousands of complaints flooded into the BBC, attacking the shows uninspiring lighting design, shoddy direction and absence of clear protagonist motivation in the second act.

Seinfeld 1992

There is no denying Seinfeld is one of the most beloved sitcoms ever, but the show tested its fans loyalties with the episode called: “The Don’t Have a W*nk Contest.” The episode features eighteen uses of the word “masturbation” seven uses of the word “W*nking.”

Brass Eye 2001

Chris Morris has always been a challenging creative force. But the Paedophile Special of Brass Eye proved too much for some. The Daily Mail headline read: “Ban This Sick Filth.” Which was ironic as the opposite page featured a 15-year-old Charlotte Church being sexually assaulted by five paedophiles accompanied by the headline: “The Daily Mail Completely Endorses This.”

Russel Brand / Jonathon Ross 2008

The kings of controversy, Brand and Ross caused a whole heap of trouble with their mischievous phone call to Andrew Sachs in 2008. Brand resigned from his job, the producer in charge of the show was demoted, while the corpse of Alexander Graham Bell was exhumed and publicly flagellated. A spokesman for the Pope also made a public apology for his creation of the concept of sex.

Ricky Gervais 2011

Ricky Gervais’ 2011 Golden Globes performance was a little too much for some people. Gervais clearly didn’t care who he offended or how badly some of his material was written. In fact you have to admire his bravery and willingness to deliver devastatingly bland wordplay and be damned with the consequences.

*or something like that