Wednesday 13 September 2023

Comedy and Hostility

Howard Jacobson, ‘Have You Heard the One About Auschwitz?’, Standpoint (June 2013):

Take on tears and tragedy and you meet no resistance; take on laughter and comedy and you walk into a steepling wall of hostility. The very enterprise sets up false expectations, the silliest being that if you write about comedy you must play the comedian yourself. Which is closely followed by the philistine objection that comedy, alone of everything else we do and think, must not be subjected to critical thought. Intellection kills the joke, it’s argued, as though, like some arcane ritual, comedy loses its divine mystery in the presence of philosophy or criticism. And this is before we get on to disagreeing about what is or isn’t funny. Certainly, what you find hilarious your neighbour won’t. And not only won’t he find it funny, he will be angered by it, for offence attaches to the very ambition to amuse. We are indifferent to tears that don’t flow. Maybe next time. But for laughter that lies stillborn in our belly we cannot ever forgive the father. Whoever goes out on a limb, therefore, declaring for this comedian or comic writer or another, risks a double-wrath — for being too much the intellectual in support of comedy that isn’t comic and for spoiling that which has no value anyway. Good luck with that.

The article is archived here.