Is it comedy…or just offensive?

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
February 02, 2011, 12:58 AM GMT+0

Are 'offensive' jokes permissible for the sake of comedy? This topic has become an issue for debate among some of our British panellists, as former The Office star Ricky Gervais receives as much criticism as praise for his divisive routine as host of the Golden Globe Awards, and controversial TV comic Frankie Boyle is reportedly threatened with having his show, Tramadol Nights, dropped by Channel 4 over some of its content.

Panellists' views vary considerably on the matter. For some, freedom of speech is more important than the damage done by perceived insults, while others believe that while humour’s role is to push boundaries, there should still be limits. A few people, however, see the offence some comedians provoke as inexcusable.

Some panellists are clear that humour is a matter of personal choice and, as such, feel that comedians should have the freedom to say what they want.

Despite recognition for the often taboo nature of humour, many people felt that gags which target specific vulnerabilities, or certain groups in society, might lead to overly offensive jokes at the expense of others.

A few panellists took the chance to condemn comedy that they see as offensive and unnecessary.

Comedians such as Frankie Boyle and Ricky Gervais (pictured) are often seen by some people as making jokes that hover on the edge of what is ‘acceptable’, and Boyle especially has received a lot of criticism in the press for his biting humour, having made remarks about children with Down’s syndrome among other sensitive topics. However, others defend such routines by claiming that it is the role of comedy to poke fun at controversial subjects.

For his part, Gervais’ recent hosting of the Golden Globes awards received a mixed reception after he made disparaging comments about many of the celebrities in the audience. Critics have remarked that jokes like these are purely in bad taste and shouldn’t be excused, especially when, they argue, comedians like Michael McIntyre (also pictured) can secure laughs with more gentle, observational humour.

All photographs are courtesy of the Press Assocation.