The first rule of comedy...

I heard many years ago that the first rule of comedy is...timing. But I've been thinking after the events of the last week that this isn't true.  I heard Toby Halligan on RRR a while ago, saying something else about comedy.  He was explaining the rule of 'never punching down'.  It's been swirling around my head, yet I didn't hear anyone else mention it.

Unless you were blissfully living under a rock, you probably heard the controversy of Eddie McGuire 'joking' on radio that he'd pay money for someone to drown a female journalist.  Not surprisingly the other 'blokes' on air with him joined in the fun.  This was said during white ribbon week, a week designed to highlight and support women facing violence from men.  There was outrage. Eddie was made to apologise (it took him a few goes to get this right) and it looked for a day or two that serious consequences were actually going to result from his 'joke'.

However, just when you think that everyone was finally beginning to understand how this was inappropriate, in steps Jeff Kennett leading the 'but if this was said about a man it would be ok' argument, and Sam Newman well, just being a fucking idiot.  Again, all I could think of was how they just don't get it.

I think the new first rule of comedy should be shared with everyone. Never punch down. Think of a school yard.  There are two kids; one large and one small.  If the large kid starts punching the little kid, it's bullying. It's not fair as they're not on an even playing field.  But if the little kid starts punching the big kid, he's the underdog and we cheer him.  Now, Australia LOVES an underdog.  Watch any sporting contest and teams ridiculously try to claim the underdog status.  They know how much crowds love to cheer for the 'little guy'.  Yet, somehow this is lost when it comes to society.

I guess this is because society is actually set up and controlled by rich, white guys.  Whether we like it or not society has a pecking order.  Life, unfortunately is just that little bit harder for certain people.  And this is the reason particular personal attributes are protected under discrimination law. Gender, sexual orientation, race, mental or physical disability, colour and religious beliefs.

You can make jokes about a particular group, if you are part of that group (disability- think Stella Young's Tales from the Crip, colour -  think Indigenous Comedians Black Comedy or Nazeem Hussain's Fear of a Brown Planet,  gender - think Amy Schumer's Last Fuckable Day etc).   No other group could make these comments.  They are biting satire about the challenges faced in a diverse society.

Getting back to the comments made in support of Eddie.  "If a man said this about another man it would be ok".  Well, yes, this is true.  One white, rich powerful guy making fun of another white rich powerful guy is an equal playing field.  Go for it.  Knock yourselves out guys.  Just stop punching down.

If you see who Eddie was surrounded by in the studio, you begin to understand how this happens.  I tried to picture an alternative, a studio filled with diversity.  Eddie hosting with a woman, a gay guy and a muslim.  Could I imagine him making the same jokes?  Probably not.

The reality that this radio commentary is listened to by many men.  And perhaps this is why it's so vitally important to hear a different narrative.  One that understands Australian police statistics show an increased rate of family violence.  Something Rosie Batty calls an epidemic.   Even our current Australian of the year David Morrison weighed in, stating "let me tell you, there are people dying and people whose lives are absolutely ruined as a result of domestic violence".

For all these reasons, we need to stop and think before we speak.  It's not political correctness gone mad.  It's us, as a society evolving.  Taking a stand to say 'that joke isn't funny anymore'.  It really is as simple as that.


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