I was performing at a small pub in Kidderminster last week. After the show, a young white man approached me. He said, “I really like you – will you come out for a drink with me?”
He looked like a teenager, so I said, “How old are you?”
He said, “Twenty-three.”
I was about to decline, when he said, “Don’t worry, I’ve lived in Dudley, I can speak Asian.”
A woman standing nearby turned to me and said, “Are you offended?”
I said, “No, I thought it was hilarious.” That’s like me saying to Ainsley Harriott, “Will you make me dinner tonight? Don’t worry, I’ve lived in Brixton, I can speak African.”
The next night, I performed in Newcastle to 300 lesbians at a comedy night called Lesbolicious. I walked on stage and said, “Good evening everyone, good evening lesbians.” After the show, a very irate gay man stormed up to me and shouted in my face, “You’ve offended me! How dare you come onstage and say, ‘Good evening lesbians.’ I’m a gay man, and you didn’t acknowledge me.” There were 300 women in this room and five men, all of them sitting at a table in a dark corner at the back. If I had to acknowledge every group of people to avoid offending anyone, I’d be there all night saying hello toall the ginger fat people.
But he was offended, so I said, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
He didn’t know what to say and just walked off.
Of all the things I said that night that could have offended him – paedophilia, anal sex, Chris Evans – he was offended by what I didn’t say, which was obviously, “Hello, gay man sitting at table 42.”
The next day, a tabloid newspaper rang my manager to ask her, “Is Shazia offended by Prince Philip’s remark about the surname Patel?” Why should I be offended? My name’s not Patel and I’ve actually been called worse. But the man persisted: “Are you sure she’s not offended?” I am now being provoked into being offended about things I really don’t care about and there are people out there waiting to be offended on my behalf. If these people are so enthusiastic to help me, I’d rather they just came round to my house and washed my car.
Another woman approached me after a show in Leicester last weekend. “I work for the Metropolitan police,” she said. “I suggested you as entertainment for our recent conference, but my boss said no, we couldn’t have a comedian – people will get offended.”
I said, “What do you think people will be offended by?”
“Making jokes about serious subjects,” she replied.
“That’s comedy,” I said.
“No, you can’t do that, people will get very upset and we will get lots of complaints.”
It then occurred to me that this wasn’t about being offended, it was about processing complaints. This woman was offended in advance, on behalf of an audience, by material she had never heard.
Offence has become contagious; each week brings more new cases than swine flu. I am starting to get really annoyed. Being offended is not like having cancer or rabies; people don’t die of offence. At most, your feelings will be wounded, you will feel displeased or angered, but have a cream cake and watch some X Factor and it will all be OK.
Being offended is losing its impact. When that gay man in Newcastle complained, I really don’t know what he expected me to do. I couldn’t give him a pill to make his anger go away. If I apologised, would that really have helped? Or was he just one of these people who looks for things to be offended about?
We should go back to the good old days of moaning to strangers at bus stops and writing letters to local papers, instead of just accosting people face to face and shouting, “I’m offended, but I don’t know why, I just feel I should be.”
Offence is like the pound: its value is collapsing. Once people used to be offended by Holocaust deniers. Now they’re offended by cartoons. What next? Men in cycling shorts?