Stewart Lee on comedy and ‘political correctness’

Stewart Lee, writer of Jerry Springer: The Opera, is confused as to why he and other comedians are continually praised for attacking ‘political correctness’:

With Borat the highest-grossing adult-rated film in the US for 2006, the writing team of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant booming with a second series of Extras, and Little Britain still riding high, it’s clear that the comedy of shock, bad taste and outrage shows no sign of disappearing. But reading about these shows in print and online, they are often described in a way that makes me, for one, feel as if I have been watching different material from everyone else.

He states his appreciation for the good that ‘political correctness’ has done over the years, then quotes The Office writer Stephen Merchant:

“We’re endlessly cited as being non-PC, and yet we sit and agonise for ages over what we put into the scripts, and over whether our choices can be defended, both morally and intellectually,” he says. “We may push things, but we’re always motivated by satirical imperatives.” But the duo’s scripts do use non-PC language? “Yes,” explains Merchant, clearly slotting back into a tramline he has had to follow many times before. “But we deal in taboos and hot areas by appearing to approach them from a non-PC standpoint, but as soon as you even introduce topics that PC has declared off limits, people assume you are trying to be dangerous and politically incorrect. Often we’re all unsure of what to say, for example, in the company of someone who is disabled. These are areas ripe for comedy because of social anxiety, not because the subject itself is intrinsically funny. A joke about race, and about how we react to race, is not necessarily a racist joke. That is fundamental. Political correctness has made the world better for those who might otherwise have been unfairly marginalised, but there is the problem of the idea that you cannot discuss different areas for fear of being politically incorrect.”

The article develops to a broader theme, and is a good read. It also contains the sentence:

At the end of September last year, I was lucky enough to attend the St Geronimo feast-day celebrations at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, while helping out on a Radio 4 documentary about clowns.

That is brilliant. I want to do that.