What has happened to humour?

There was a time when we all used to laugh a lot. It may be the economic times we are in or a whole generation of funny people has gone. Whatever it is, I am bereft of this passing. Let’s take an example of where I tried to raise a laugh recently. I am sure we all know about Fifty Shades of Grey. It appears to be causing some kind of furore about eroticism. Oh dear, I thought, been there before. D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure better known as Fanny Hill, Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn and even Voltaire’s Candide have come up against the censor’s marker and cause public consternation. So, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey was just asking for it.

People were discussing it on Facebook. I have not read it and do not intend to. I have each of the above titles and they stand on my shelves because I bought the first three when they were banned and the latter to find out why. Eroticism is disappointing, not that it is my thing anyway. I fed on the controversy and said that I thought it had been written by E.L. Wisty. Who? Most of you will ask. A few older souls will nod, some smile knowingly. E.L. Wisty was a satirical imaginary character played by Peter Cook in the Beyond the Fringe review, later on television. The most legendary sketch is one that tells of his ambition of becoming a judge whereby not having the required Latin made him fail "the rigorous judging exams". So he became a coal miner instead. He passed the exam and said that, "They only ask you one question. They ask, 'Who are you?' and I got 75% on that." E.L. Wisty was a totally bland, monotone know-it-all. Cook normally presented him in the form of monologues and sketches in which he bores members of the public. He was renowned for bothering members of the public on park benches on such topics as newts, tadpoles and royalty. He believed in peace through nudism, inalienable rights, and his friend Spotty Muldoon. One could go on.

A couple of people Googled E.L. Wisty and suddenly the whole tone of comments about Fifty Shades of Grey changed. The point I made had changed that book into the joke some of the people commenting had tried to provoke. I am old enough to remember the character and somehow imagine Peter Cook would have taken the book and put it firmly on the Wisty agenda.

Satire and outrageous humour have persisted until very recently. There are people who probably listen to Radio Four online as I do and hear Beachcomber, Meet the Huggetts (not that funny but OK), the Goon Show and other classics from the 1950s and early 1960s that fed into the golden age of satire. Follow the path and sooner or later TW3, That Was The Week That Was, on television for a mere two years at the beginning of the 1960s will spring to a few minds. It ended abruptly when the BBC gave the reason that 1964 was an election year. It was felt that ‘the show's political material could compromise the corporation's impartiality’. If I may quote an old pal Graham McCann in a book with the title Spike & Co., who said the programme succeeded as it challenged the "convention that television should not acknowledge that it is television, the show made no attempt to hide its cameras, allowed the microphone boom to intrude and often revealed other nuts and bolts of studio technology." Spike in that book title naturally refers to Spike Milligan, his Puckoon and the Second World War memoires series of books are purest satire.

A leap on to closer times and Spitting Image hit our screens in 1984. It is probably fresh in some minds, but finished in 1996, a sad passing. It found fame and durability in many countries with umpteen spin-offs in the USA and versions here in Europe that included Las noticias del guiñol in Spain, Hurra Deutschland in Germany, several versions in Italy and here in France Le Bébête Show on TF1 and the most excellent Les Guignols de l’info on Canal Plus. All lampoon politicians and other public figures. No doubt Fifty Shades of Grey is due a guest appearance by hook or by crook. The title lends itself perfectly.

There is a lot to laugh at. I draw attention to some examples only. Much of it is lead by British satire here, but let us not forget the Simpsons, South Park, Catch 22 or L’il Abner that came out of the many USA examples, Titanic magazine in Germany, Charlie Hebdo and Le Canard enchaîné and several satirist here in France and the whole world seems to love Monty Python’s Flying Circus after all. A lot of good humour seems to have gone, not enough people are laughing. I have only touched on satire, which is my favourite form of humour, but there is far more than just that out there most places. Laughing makes the world go round, somebody once said. I think he or she was right and whether you prefer slapstick, stand up, outrageous situation comedy or any other form, why are you not laughing enough? What, I ask, would E.L. Wisty have made of this state of affairs?

lol, read it couple of weeks back, got quite a good laugh, reposted it on facebook, and got an even bigger laugh from the replies. I love this type of nonsense. I love the onion, and freewoodpost.

try this one out on your religious fanatic facebookers "https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/306526_468257423185271_78281262_n.jpg"

anything shitty written on my wall, i leave it up, to let the person cool down, read over it, and realise what a complete idiot they've been. I'm not once for censorship, particurlarly where one's made a fool of themselves. I do have "custom" groups I share only certain things with, but I always leave in a few contraversial people, to get a mixed bit of banter.

That's the thing, if someone takes the piss, or makes a funny, but lighthearted dig, I'm all for taking the mick out of ourselves. i'm the first one to poke fun at myself/home.

i tend to leave my emotions at check in, before going online, and that makes for a lot of dry, deadpan stuff, and many people take offense to that. Just yesterday I got an inbox of hate mail because of a comment I made about big companies profiting off natual disasters, because I forgot to "pray for the souls", or write about the people being affected before tackling the point I actually wanted to make.
If anything, I get a bigger giggle off the people who cannot giggle than I do from the actual joke, more often than not, lol.

@ Cate - we also shared the cheese v guns thing on the FB page and the reactions were unbelievable. Have a look if you want a giggle.

Paul Merton - funniest man alive.

LOL@Brian's last comment.

Cate, I posted the same picture, and got a lot of "anti French" stuff, from "raw milk and cheese will kill you all", to "pity you don't have gunz-then there'd be less of y'all".

Then, recently, I posted something about how certain folks in the UK were claiming an Irish olympic boxer as "their own".... Well, the amount of anti-Irish bull i got by not only English people, but by Welsh, and Scots also (Go-team GB, get it?) Bear in mind I'm talking facebook here, and these are FRIENDS of mine, lol.

Oh Cate, of course the Eye and all the progs you mention do belong in, but I was making a sketchy point rather than writing a typical Paul Merton (love his humour) shopping list - it is endless. Fifty Shades of Grubby White is getting so many joke blogs that I am guessing the average age of readers is 94 which is about the dividing line between those who are online and those not nowadays and will thus see those blogs. However, not only did I not get Beavis and Butt-head in but no Boris, Dave, George, Frankie, Valerie or Carla (now that is a great joke...). As for irony free tatoos, well just a US passport says that, they have an irony lobotomy directly after birth - oh did I dare say that? Excuse me, please nuke me for that infringment!

You're so right, Zoe. Everyone seems to feel they have the right to impose their own opinions and values on everyone else. Just look at Edinb'g recently, where the airport took down a poster advertising the Picasso exhibition (it featured a cubist nude) because some passengers found it offensive. It had been on the Londen tube for yonks, etc. After some outcry, they put it back up, but still... Makes you wonder. Oooh, mustn't upset anyone, ever!

Brian, as you mentioned you use facebook, you'll see why the sense of humour has gone out the window, swelled human ego, leading to a heightened sense of self importance among certain folk, and political correctness have done it in. I liked Irish political satire, in the form of "bull island", and also the current affairs "the panel", but I think both have been scrapped for being politically incorrect.

All you have to do is post a political/witty meme on facebook, and watch how many people will be quick to tell you "take that down", or "oh,how rude". People take everything as a personal attack on them. i recently was discussing (among total strangers on a forum) the idea that Iran had nukes pointing at a US warship in the middle east. As soon as I questioned why the ship was all the way out of US waters in the first place, I got attacked, not with reason, or logic, but with "hey, Frog, we saved your ass", and "what would a frog know about how the world works" (because where I LIVE in in France, most Americans, as soon as they get pissed off with me, they assume I'm French, and attack that, instead of respond rationally)

People think it is up to them,personally, to defend their nation, religion, colour, sexual orientation, whatever. Everyone is on a crusade now.

Humour is still alive and kicking IMO. If you Google Fifty Shades of Grey and look at some of the blog posts about it you'll find some hilarious posts on it - I particularly reccomend Cassandra Parkin's effort http://cassandraparkin.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/adventures-in-trash-fifty-things-that-annoy-me-about-fifty-shades-of-grey/ and there's also this from Saturday Night Live http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK8Lr_HL3eY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

On radio there's The Now Show, The News Quiz and I'm Sorry I haven't A Clue (OK, not satire but still very, very funny after 40 years), on British TV there are topical satire programmes like Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week, comedians like John Bishop, Russell Howard, Rob Brydon, Lee Mack, rare appearances from Armstrong and Miller & Mitchell and Webb, sitcoms like the brilliant (and satirical) Twenty Twelve and Not Going Out...

Quite a decent amount to be going on with.

Captain Mainwaring, Captain Mainwaring, he's being ever so mean to me!

Remember Basil slapping his head? Watch it when we meet, manuela! G'night!

Yeess, Meester Milne. I haf a manuel for ze printer, a manuel for the compooter, lots of manuels!

Sheila, do you have a Manuel?

Given our new occupation here at Le Fáilte Towers, Sybil and Basil deserve a mention, don't you think?

OK, lots of luvverly nostalgia - but how do we get the rest of the world to laugh? Solutions, theories, etc required by return :) By the way, wat about 'Ello, 'Ello then?

I like political satire, so the Yes Minister and Prime Minister series do it for me, and so timeless. Recently read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and whilst not quite in the same league but still funny, and yes it is likely to be relevant in years to come.

Hey Janet, there's no proof that stressing about something actually helps you to fix it. A good laugh however, while it won't take the problem away, can lighten your mood for a moment. That gap where you let in the ray of laughter is sometimes just what it takes for a 'possibility' of an idea to emerge. Don't give up. Grab a Black Adder DVD, or The Good Life, or Fawlty Towers, or Absolutely Fabulous or or or... The 2 Ronnies, or even find yourself some friends with a good sense of humour. Again, it won't solve all your problems, but it might help the time your passing now feel a little lighter. Give yourself a break :)

Brian - Call me old fashioned, but the Navy Lark, Dads Army, Black Adder, Pete & Dud, Benny Hill (still showing on French & Belgian TV) The 2 Ronnies and Harry Enfield all merit a mention (I can't think of any replacements for these in todays comedy shows) and not failing to mention Coluche, Thierry Le Luron, the Collaro Show, 'H' (on Canal +) amongst others?

Humour…don’t make me laugh…