A few days ago a comedian friend of mine called me from LA to tell me that he was being sued. A member of the public was suing him for making jokes on the radio which involved African Americans. The man claimed he made too many jokes about African Americans and not enough about white women.
Last week, while doing a gig in the East End, I referred to some members of the audience as “posh white people”. A man barged backstage in the interval to tell me he was offended and insisted I go back on stage and apologise to the audience. I refused. They were posh, white people – that is what they were. He claimed that describing him as “posh and white” was offensive. I said, “Some people would love to be described as posh and white but will never get the chance! You should be grateful.” That offended him even more. In England I find offended people don’t really sue; they just politely write you hate-mail, which is a lot cheaper.
Then, a few days ago, I was due to be performing for an Islamic bank. This is a gig that had been booked three months ago, after one of the bank’s employees had come to see my show and thought it would be a great idea if I did a set at the company’s annual dinner.
All was going well until three days before the event, when I had a phone call. The managers at the bank were worried I might offend someone, so could they please have a script in advance?
I wasn’t happy about it, but I sent them a script nevertheless, leaving out all the black, gay and Jewish jokes. I was left with a short routine about shoplifting in Primark, which I knew would offend teenage mothers only – but then, none of them works for an Islamic bank, so I was OK.
Two days before the event, I got an email from the organiser saying that the bank had held a meeting and decided not to have any comedian perform, for fear of offending the Muslims in the audience. The actual decision was made by a non-Muslim. I heard that the Muslims at the bank really wanted me to perform for them. Shame: just when they’re ready to have a laugh, they’re not allowed.
Who are these people who tell us what we should or should not be offended at? Or who get offended on our behalf? That is offensive in itself. I have written this column six times now, as I am sure someone somewhere will miss the irony of the jokes and be offended at something. But then they’re probably Jewish.
My friend tells me that over in the States, compared to the UK, it’s a case of “My Big Fat American Recession”. It’s affecting people in the strangest ways. Hollywood stars have started to car-share. A man pulled up in a big truck at the bottom of my friend’s drive yesterday asking if anyone wanted a lift to Whole Foods. With America’s reputation for serial killers, he decided to give it a miss.
I was due to fly over to perform in San Francisco, where instead of having four comedians on a show, there are now 23. Shows weren’t selling, so to make sure they sell tickets organisers have put an offer on: buy two, get 21 free. Comics in the States now are like mouldy peaches at Ridley Road Market – you can buy a whole basket for two quid, and the only ones making any money these days are the ones that look like presidential candidates.
The talk is of Obama and nothing else. With their obsession with clairvoyants you’d think Americans would already know the result.
In America, psychics are like pound shops – there’s one on every corner. A few months ago, I found eight tarot card readers along the Sunset Strip, yet only three drugstores. Many people can’t afford medicine, but the message regarding health care is clear. From Obama it is: “I will do my best to get medical help for all people.” From McCain: “Don’t get sick.” Unless you’re posh and white.