Belfast Telegraph

Humour has a funny way of being misunderstood

By Paul Connolly

Robert McNeil, who writes for us every Thursday, is one of our wittiest columnists. And I can testify he’s not just a funny guy in print, but a real wit in person as well.

I’ve had manys a chuckle as we exchanged emails and phone calls over the years and not one hasn’t contained a witty response to whatever little piece of adversity we have been trying to overcome.

Robert’s stock in trade is a sideways look at mass culture — very often deploying subtle word plays that, if taken at face value, can be deceptive.

And so it was last week when he turned the piercing laser that is his mind to the subject of the TV ‘star’ Tess Daly, who recently caused a few mild ripples with an excess of cleavage.

Robert wrote she was married to “ chubby comedian Peter Kay ”. Cue outrage from some readers, and even one member of the Belfast Telegraph staff, who pointed out that Daly is actually married to Vernon Kay, who is a TV presenter and former male model.

I mentioned to Robert about the ‘error’ which set him off philosophising about humour and how he sometimes uses deliberate misconceptions of popular culture.

“Last week,” he added for good measure, “I wrote that Nigella Lawson used to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and is married to Arthur Askey.” Nobody complained about that one.

“Glamorous, well-upholstered, blonde, bewitching Tess Daly married to chubby, homely, provincial comedian Peter Kay? Never in a million years!” he added.

Well, not quite. Paul Daniels and Debbie Magee come to mind, and Bernie Ecclestone and a bunch of other non-male models who appear to have a magnetic attraction.

But there you have it. Subtlety, wrapped in irony, cloaked in satire and veiled with paradox: if you really feel the need to interpret Robert’s column, that’s your starting point.

Talking of errors — we did make a real one earlier in the week. A caption on a photograph of an Assembly roadshow in Downpatrick incorrectly stated it took place earlier this year.

We have been asked to point out it was in 2009. Apologies to all concerned.

Finally, as the din surrounding Leveson recedes, there's a need for some proper context.

As the media, led by the BBC, were convulsing themselves about the report, what relevance did it have in the real world?

Some statistics might help: that day Leveson was the 47th most read story on the Mail Online website.

And even on the more serious BBC News website, it was seventh — trailing behind a story headlined “Germany moves to ban bestiality”.

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