Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

We all love a good laugh? You've got to be joking

Everyone knows the British love a good moan. We're famous for it. People come from all over the world just to watch us stand dutifully in queues complaining about having to queue.

Whining about the weather, politicians, teenagers, buses, how Christmas comes too early, how there are too many immigrants clogging up our over-generous welfare system - it's a national sport, isn't it? We wouldn't be half as lovably eccentric if we didn't do it pretty much all the time. We've turned moaning on radio phone-ins into an artform. We've even made hilarious TV programmes celebrating the country's proliferation of grumpy old men and women. Such fun!

You do have to be careful though. Comedian Jack Whitehall is the latest celebrity to be tripped up by this endearing British trait.

Invited on to Channel 4's Big Fat Quiz of the Year in order to be irreverent and controversial, he made a joke about Prince Phillip's bladder and was immediately struck down by the mighty roar of that gleefully vocal social sub-section, The Outraged Royal Defenders.

Some 165 viewers called Channel 4 to complain about the off-colour comment which, although funny, mentioned a member of the Windsor family, whose internal organs were comedy ring-fenced decades ago. Whitehall obviously didn't know this. A cheeky young Turk, he is nevertheless, unlike the misanthropic goading Frankie Boyle, a rather affable, well-brought up chap who likes to be liked. He may have made the novice mistake of thinking that, because Prince Phillip himself has spent his life insulting other individuals, races and nations, he is fair game himself. It is important that Whitehall learns the hard way that he was wrong in this.

There are already calls for him to be banned from the upcoming National TV Awards, bolstered by the ceremony's executive producer George Mitchell advising him to 'bow out gracefully' after what the Daily Mail called his 'obscene' performance. Whether Whitehall keeps his slot remains to be seen, but we can rest assured that, if he does, there will be lots of complaints about it.

Whitehall has probably realised now that those who regard themselves as having a jolly, typically British sense of humour - wasn't Dad's Army brilliant? And The Vicar of Dibley? - are often the same people who like to complain about those who invade their consciousness without sharing their values/accent/habits/generation/taste in clothes. This attitude may indeed be part of the DNA of a nation which reluctantly restored independence to a bunch of inferior but frustratingly bull-headed countries it used to control and protect for their own good.

And just as we were coming to terms with that galling loss, along came political correctness to wind us up even more. Suddenly it wasn't the done thing to deride/make servants of the working classes, tell jokes about Johnny Foreigner, or assume superiority on the basis of class, age or skin colour. No wonder we became such superlative complainers - unlike those folk in poor African townships, always bloody laughing, we had lost something very valuable.

So now we moan about disrespectful Jubilee coverage (4,487 complaints last year), unfair X Factor results (1,488), and Rastamouse (200 - most about the CBeebies cartoon's use of unBritish words like 'rasta'; 'We are not living in Jamaica' said one angry viewer). We complain about chatty train commuters, disabled benefits scroungers, gay couples who want to get married. Sometimes we even get to ruin careers, or mess up happy families. Great larks! And did I mention what a fantastic sense of humour we have?

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