Discussion: Comedy in The Age of Political Correctness

Earlier this month, an annual Women in Film and TV award ceremony took place in London. The myriad of industry’s movers and shakers attended the ceremony including Claudia Winkelman, Angela Pullman, and Helena Bonham Carter among others. What better place to discuss important topics and to present your ideas.

Meera Syal in the winners room at the Women in Film and TV Awards 2019 at Hilton Park Lane on December 06, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Women in Film and TV)

Meera Syal

One very important topic is, of course, freedom of speech in the era of political correctness. We caught up with the British comedian Meera Syal and the Canadian stand-up Katherine Ryan to chat about the state of comedy and how political correctness is forming the way we make jokes.

Meera admits from the get-go that she hasn’t done any screen comedy for a while. “It’s quite a difficult one to navigate. There is one school of thought that says everything is fair game and if you going to have free speech then there can’t be any censorship and you are free to turn off.” She continues, “I always worry when any kind of censorship comes in. I think audiences do tell you. It depends on who your audience is but if you want to be in the mainstream, the audience will let you know that you’ve gone too far and you should back off. It’s quite a good barometer.”

To our question about the Twitter phenomenon where just a few loud trolls – who don’t represent the entire audience – might ruin careers with just a few tweets. And some comedians find that they have to backtrack and apologise, Meera noted: “Well, some people don’t. Some people just go ‘I don’t give a shit’”.

Katherine Ryan Sky Women in Film And TV Awards

Katherine Ryan Sky Women in Film And TV Awards

One stand-up comedian who openly admits ‘not giving a shit’ was Katherine Ryan. Vocal feminist, she was cracking jokes about her house being robbed. “The only jewellery that wasn’t taken was the necklace with ‘Feminist’ pendant [the one she was wearing on the day]. I am so appalled that my robber was a misogynist.”

Speaking about the political correctness she admitted: “I don’t worry that people are going to be offended with what I write because I definitely understand nuance and the difference between calling women ‘letterboxes’ and between being edgy with your comedy. I don’t say things that are hateful or drum up the environment where people will be marginalised. I never say anything like that. I think I’m edgy in the right way and if people want to be offended by it, I don’t care about it at all. I don’t give a shit.”

She goes on, “Some people need to be made uncomfortable and that’s the type of comedy that I like to watch and the kind of comedy that I hope to write.”

In Meera’s words, ‘you’ve got to have ovaries of steel [to do the stand-up].’ Which is why she’s never done it. “I’m not made for that world,” she admits.

To ‘offend’ or not to ‘offend’ is a big topic in a ‘nowadays’ world. New words are being added to the list of offensive. Social media giants have been proven to take down posts using hashtags such #learntocode and even #winniethepooh. The debate continues as to where does the freedom of speech end and what topics are taboo.

 

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Meera Syal in the winners room at the Women in Film and TV Awards 2019 at Hilton Park Lane on December 06, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Women in Film and TV)

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