And still on inappropriate humour…

It may seem that I don’t have much of a sense of humour, or that I am jumping on to every bandwagon that happens to come rolling along involving disapproval of someone trying desperately to be funny. Readers from outside Ireland may not be aware of this, but an Irish comedian, Tommy Tiernan, has come in for strong criticism for making anti-semitic remarks at the Electric Picnic  music festival recently.

If you want to make up your own mind, Tiernan has published the interview session where he made the remarks here – it is right at the end of the session. He has also argued that criticism of his comments has not taken account of the context in which they were made: he was making the point, he says, that comedy has to be edgy and take risks, and if necessary be offensive.

I have listened to the entire interview, and I’m afraid I cannot possibly repeat here what he said in the passage in question. The remarks are grossly offensive, playing on the Holocaust. I also could not help feeling that they did reveal a strong anti-semitic and racist message. But even if that was not intended, there must be some limit to what can be acceptable even in an apparently humorous context. I agree that it is right that comedy should challenge and take risks; but it has gone way beyond that when the ‘risk’ is the expression of cruelty and hatred.

I have seen other appearances by Tiernan and have found them funny. Not this one. And I could not help a sinking feeling when hearing that what he said was applauded by the audience.

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9 Comments on “And still on inappropriate humour…”

  1. Aoife Citizen Says:

    Tommy Tiernan is nasty, first Travellers and now Jews. He is nasty.

  2. Wendymr Says:

    Why are we still not past the days when comedy had to be about picking on a minority group and playing to the audience’s racist/sexist tendencies? Didn’t Irish people have enough of that in the seventies and eighties when every British comedian on TV – Tommy Cooper and Jim Davidson, anyone? – made a living out of racist and anti-Irish jokes?

  3. Vincent Says:

    I’m on dialup, so podcast, I can only dream. Anyhooos, I will reserve opinion ’til I get to a Library and can see it there.

  4. Richard Says:

    I completely agree with your last sentence. It made me ashamed to be a young Irish person, seeing an audience of my peers applaud such bile.

    Tiernan was funny back when he won the Perrier, but Aoife is right. He started down this road a long time ago, with his Traveller jokes and mock-African accents.

  5. Donal_C Says:

    Unfortunately the persecution of both Jews and Israelis is again becoming socially acceptable. Tiernan belongs to the rabble end, and most people int he audience were probably too drunk to remember the next morning what Tiernan had said. A more dangerous development is the trend among academics who want to ban their Israeli peers from participation in international conferences (cf. the 140 Irish academics who signed a letter in the Irish Times this year supporting such a measure). I can imagine the outcry if foreign academics tried to place a ban on Irish colleagues because they disapproved of the Irish government’s actions – or on Zimbabwean academics because of Mugabe’s policies.

    • cian Says:

      It’s hardly a dangerous trend to ban members of the Israeli armed forces (as all Israeli academics must be) from participation in the international conferences. Whatever about Tiernan’s anti semitism, isolating the Israeli state while it continues its criminal actions in Gaza and the West Bank is only sensible. Academic freedom is important. But it pales in comparison to the lives of those who die daily due to the actions of the Israeli armed forces.

  6. Niall Says:

    If we are to ban Israeli academics, should we also ban Chinese academics – occupation of Tibet, Tienamen Square, execution of political prisoners etc. Not to mention Burmese, Iranian, Saudi and many other repressive regimes.


    • I tend to agree with that perspective, Niall – we don’t boycott a whole range of régimes and their universities where the conduct is possibly even a lot worse. What is unpalatable about this boycott is its selective nature. However, my comment should not be seen as defending the Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank.

  7. KevinM Says:

    I promised I’d never do this, but here goes. With respect to what Tommy said (having listened to the interview), his bile was directed at the people who insisted that he treat ‘the Jewish people’ with, he felt, a reverence, that serves, in my reading, a more Zionist approach to Jews being always and everywhere a ‘hounded’ people. This is a problem for Tommy, especially off the back of his “It wasn’t the Mexicans” joke in America. The righteousness and singlemindedness of those specific people’s response to his humour was was made him angry. He seems to say that he ought not be taken seriously on stage, that stand up is, of necessity, transgressive. His anger was addressed to these particular people who approached him rather zealously, not towards all Jews. What furore surrounded Joan Rivers’ routine on 911, asking whether at least a few of the firefighters’ wives were happy their husbands were killed while enjoying their compensation? She was much beloved of many comedians for breaking that taboo. Was the philosopher Theodor Adorno correct, that to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric?
    At the end of the interview Tommy seemed to pull back from his comments in his murmurring and trailing off. But anyway, there’s my tuppence, except to say that everyone is ethnic, and any joke can be labelled anti-something by deploying a blunt intellect to the problem of a joke. For an interesting view on this invisibility of certain ethnicities by the way see Stephen Colbert’s recent “The Word” on the Neutral Man’s Burden
    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/238783/july-16-2009/the-word—neutral-man-s-burden


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