Russell Brand has apologised to Andrew Sachs for answerphone messages left during the former’s Radio 2 show. Now, I listened to that particular episode yesterday, and I laughed a lot. And I’m the first person to turn off comedians who crudely insult people for laughs – that’s not my thing at all. So I think this is all a bit odd.
This particular episode had been on my to-listen list for a while, as the guest co-host was Jonathan Ross. I’m a great admirer of both men, and I was looking forward to hearing them spar. And I wasn’t disappointed – I like that kind of fast wordplay and wit. I don’t remember thinking they were doing anything particularly offensive or awful, but here’s how the BBC described their actions:
Both Brand and Ross made obscene comments about Sachs’ 23-year-old granddaughter on a series of messages which they left on the actor’s voicemail during the segment.
That’s one way of phrasing it, but it’s hardly fair. They make it sound like a cruel prank, which it wasn’t – if you listen to the show, it’s clearly neither malicious nor deliberately insulting. Russell had, it turned out, slept with said granddaughter, and he and Jonathan agreed that this was something they definitely shouldn’t mention. Like, you know, the war. But when ex-Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sachs wasn’t in, they got his answerphone. And while trying to think of a message, things degraded into innuendo. I’m sure you can imagine. They later agreed that they felt bad about this message, so phoned back to apologise. This took a few phone calls, and the final one was pretty much ‘sorry. we’re sorry.’
I found it pretty funny. Others likely didn’t, which is fair enough. But to call it anything more than joking around is to assume a certain malice on the part of the presenters, which I don’t see. If you’ve spent any time watching or listening to Jonathan Ross, he’s obviously either kind, liberal and decent, or one a hell of an actor. Russell Brand is less someone I’d like to be friends with1, and he can sometimes be unpleasant during his trademark flights of verbal diarrhea, but when push comes to shove he has – to my view – a similar sense of kindness.
But still, even if you’ve never heard either of them before, listening to the show in context should clear it up. They simply weren’t being nasty.
It’s unfortunate that Andrew Sachs apparently reacted badly, and I suppose the whole thing hinges on his reaction. Many people would, I suspect, have found the messages amusing. But that’s just unfortunate, and it shouldn’t be difficult to explain and demonstrate that no offence was intended. But a quick google blog search finds lots of reactionary right-wing whiners calling for them to be sacked. Which isn’t surprising, but is a bit pathetic.
These situations always remind me of the spectacular hissy fits after Jonathan Ross asked David Cameron whether he’d ever masturbated over Margaret Thatcher. Lots of prudes old right-wing prudes decided it was 1875 and any talk of sex in public should result in a jolly public hanging, or at least the stocks. It’s vulgar and disprespectful and blah get-off-my-lawn blah. They, as ever, failed to appreciate that rational people can talk in this way without being unpleasant. It’s about intent, not the simple words themselves. If you watch the video, the style of interview and questioning is obviously not cruel or malicious, and the reasons it’s funny are interesting in themselves. I’m not going to start analysing the comedy, but if you can’t figure out what’s going on there, maybe you shouldn’t be commenting on appropriate behaviour. If you don’t find it funny, fine, but to declare outrage and indecency and disrespect is making yourself look like a stuffy, empathy-less Victorian with no sense of nuance. If you can’t handle jokes about masturbation, I really don’t know what to say.
Anyway. If you’d like to hear the show for yourself, it’s still on the podcast feed here (it’s the show from the 18th October).