Rowan Atkinson, of Blackadder and Mr Bean fame, says ‘The job of comedy is to offend’. But I don’t find that very funny.
With the release of his new Netflix series Man vs Bee happening this week, Atkinson’s recent interview with the Irish Times has seen him hit the headlines. And it’s not for a good reason.
‘Every joke has a victim,’ he told Patrick Freyne, ‘that’s the definition of a joke’. When Freyne questioned this, suggesting that comedy should be at the powerful’s expense, Atkinson’s response was:
‘There are lots of extremely smug and self-satisfied people in what would be deemed lower down in society, who also deserve to be pulled up.’
No place for hurtful jokes
There are certainly smug people in all walks of life. But should we laugh at whole minority groups because of an individual? That seems similar to when that same troublesome kid keeps the whole class behind over and over again.
And that’s often not what these hurtful jokes are doing anyway.
Atkinson doesn’t highlight a specific group of people, instead, saying that ‘you should be able to make jokes about absolutely everything.’ But when minority groups are already the butt-of-the-joke in society, we shouldn’t be directing our humour at them.
I’m part of the generation that grew up with Mr Bean. So what surprises me about Atkinson’s comments is that Mr Bean is one of the most inoffensive characters in comedy. A mute full-grown man whose friend is a teddy bear.
It’s equally surprising after the backlash Ricky Gervais recently received for his transphobic jokes on SuperNature – and rightly so.
The smartest jokes don’t hurt people
Clearly, it is still acceptable (for some) to have comedy at the expense of those in minority groups. And it begs the question, why?
Atkinson’s comments don’t compare to Ricky Gervais’ jokes. Yet, it’s still another pillar of comedy upholding the outdated belief that we should laugh at everyone, no matter what. Yes, we can laugh about our politicians and their parties because they often abuse their positions of power. Laughing at the trans community who struggle for equality in society as it is? Now that’s not funny.
It’s times like this that James Acaster‘s response to jokes of this sort pops back up. He sarcastically quips, ‘Yeah, cause you know who’s been long overdue a challenge? The trans community. They’ve had their guard down for too long if you ask me.’
Atkinson’s new series Man vs Bee is about a pesky bee tormenting a house sitter. Released on Netflix on June 24th, I can’t way to see how this comedy criticises all aspects of society.