Here’s why we are not laughing anymore



Whatever happened to comedy? I mean the kind of TV and radio shows which make you laugh out loud, programmes which are so entertaining that you just have to tune in to the next episode to get some light relief from the daily grind.

What prompted my question was reading a book called ‘Funny Girl’ by Nick Hornby. Set in the ‘60s it’s about a clever, curvy blonde from Blackpool who realises her ambition to do comedy. It’s an entertaining read and in between the behind-the-scenes dramas between script writers and actors some of the most hilarious British TV comedies are recalled.

Shows like’ Hancock’s Half Hour’ and ‘Steptoe And Son’ or ‘Till Death Us Do Part’. There was satire in those days too with shows like ‘That Was The Week That Was’.

The programmes mightn’t make us laugh now, humour being a product of the times and they were British humour which was a bit different from ours. But what do we have to give us a good rib-tickling bout of amusement now? Maybe I am missing something but I had to think back to RTE programmes like ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’ and Channel 4’s ‘Father Ted’ (at least we can still watch repeats) where you only need to do a take-off of Mrs Doyle’s cup of tea routine to get a laugh. Or remember Scrap Saturday, with Dermot Morgan’s memorable take on The Boss (Haughey) bawling out his spin man Meara (PJ).

But I couldn’t come up with any recent humour on air.

Maybe this is a sign of the times we live in. It could be that we are taking ourselves too seriously or that life these day’s is just too dire, too grim to make a joke of anyhow. Take the extreme right, for instance, ridiculous as they are in their own way, how can you make hatred, riot incitement, threatening migrants and generation of fake news amusing? On second thoughts, maybe they would be sent up as humour can be a good way to defuse threatening people.

Then there is the whole business of political correctness which makes it difficult even to tell jokes these days. Mother-in-law jokes would go down like lead balloon as being sexist, ageist and might be verging on hate speech, if people ever stop hectoring . about her proposed legislation. And Alf Garnett, the reactionary git, simply wouldn’t be allowed on screen. Let’s face it, you just can’t slag people the way that you used to.

There are a couple of lads I know, who desperate for a spot of humour, used to reenact bits of the Goon Show featuring Spike Milligan and John Cleese doing utterly ridiculous things to cheer themselves up years after the show ended because nothing ever replaced it. There is the point too that comedy has moved off air and into smaller venues with live audiences or moved to social media.

Maybe, though, a deeper malaise is at the root of lack of comedy now. We have been watching the unfolding horror of Putin’s war on Ukraine for more than two years now. A war caused by a man obsessed with claiming back former Soviet territory and accusing the Ukrainians of being like Hitler when he himself is behaving like the Fuhrer.

And what does watching the Israeli bombardment and seven month long war on Palestinians trapped in ruined Gaza do to our minds, following Hamas’ atrocity on October 7? Listening daily to the heart-rendering details of the injuries and starvation inflicted on women, children and civilians who have nothing whatsoever to do with Hamas has a powerful effect.

We feel helpless, powerless to change what is happening and guilty because all we can do – apart from protesting – is to stand and watch. You could have a programme which showed leaders – caught up in politics and conflicting loyalties – who plead peace but fail to do effective things to end the genocide. You might have unwary people say the unsayable, that Netanyahu who, with his right-wing government, wants to wipe Palestinians off the face of Israel.

Or feature arms-gleeful dealers arguing about how to give Ukraine just enough arms to keep the war going. It could be called Carry On Killing but it would be tragic, not remotely funny.

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