To everyone who hasn’t heard it, I warmly recommend Piers Morgan’s magnificent diatribe against ‘utterly, pathetically illiberal liberals’, aired this week on the Ben Shapiro Show by the California-based internet platform, PodcastOne.
I know Piers isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, vilified as he is in particular by holier-than-thou actors, academics and bien pensant broadcasters who despise the 63 million Americans who voted his chum and sparring partner Donald Trump into office.
But open-minded people the world over will surely acknowledge the truth behind his warning that vindictive attacks on free expression by those who claim to be liberals have become a ‘massive problem’.
TOM UTLEY: I warmly recommend Piers Morgan’s magnificent diatribe against ‘utterly, pathetically illiberal liberals’, aired this week on the Ben Shapiro Show
As he puts it: ‘What’s the point of calling yourself a liberal if you don’t allow anyone else to have a different view? This snowflake culture, this victimhood culture … everyone has to think a certain way, behave a certain way …
‘It’s all completely skewed to an environment in which everyone is offended by everything, no one is allowed to say anything and no one is allowed to say a joke.’
In this stifling atmosphere of political correctness, Morgan argues, it’s no wonder that voters turn to forceful, populist leaders who say it’s all nonsense.
Bang on cue, this week has thrown up a host of examples of nonsense from self-appointed censors determined to take offence where it’s clear none is intended.
It began on Monday with a fatuous row over the pun selected by a public vote as the winner of Dave TV’s award for the Funniest Joke at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival: ‘I keep randomly shouting out ‘broccoli’ and ‘cauliflower’ — I think I might have florets.’
Now, some may agree with me that Olaf Falafel’s one-liner was a little on the lame side.
In my view it wasn’t a patch on previous winners, such as Tim Vine’s 2014 entry: ‘I’ve decided to sell my Hoover — well, it was just collecting dust.’ Indeed, if I’d had the last word on this year’s contenders, I’d have given the prize to Ross Smith, who came fifth with this effort: ‘A thesaurus is great. There’s no other word for it.’
But then of course something that tickles me may well leave others cold. Humour is a matter of personal taste, after all. Believe it or not, I even have a friend who, inexplicably, fails to find anything funny in the works of P. G. Wodehouse.
Swedish comedian – who goes by the name Olaf Falafel – said performing at the festival is as painful as ‘pregnancy’ but he returned for his seventh year to deliver the winning gag. He is pictured wearing a party ring biscuit over his eye
Equally inexplicably, some claim to be amused by Nish Kumar’s pious Lefty platitudes on BBC2 satire The Mash Report. But whether we find Olaf Falafel’s 2019 winner funny or not, it should be abundantly clear to the meanest intelligence that he meant no harm by it.
Yet this didn’t stop a Tourette’s Syndrome charity from mounting its high horse and demanding an apology for his insensitivity.
Said Suzanne Dobson, UK chief executive of Tourettes [sic] Action: ‘Humour is a great way of educating people — but not only is it not funny to poke fun at people with Tourette’s, it’s not even that funny a joke, is it?’
In the spirit of these times, I should say at once that Tourette’s is a hugely distressing condition for sufferers and their families, and my heart goes out to them. But isn’t it sometimes healthy — cathartic, even — to laugh at life’s cruelties, instead of wallowing in victimhood?
Whatever the truth, Falafel was far from alone this week in being told by po-faced virtue-signallers that an attempt at a joke was no laughing matter.
Gary Lineker mocked his Match Of The Day co-stars Alan Shearer and Danny Murphy for being bald, which has now triggered BBC complaints
Next to incur the wrath of the politically correct was Gary Lineker, who drew official complaints to the BBC over a joshing remark at the expense of his Match of the Day co-hosts. ‘It’s a strong start to the Premier League season,’ he said. ‘Real hair-raising times … unless you’re Alan Shearer and Danny Murphy.’
The camera then panned to the two pundits — neither sporting a single hair on his shining skull — laughing and shaking their heads, as bald as eggs.
In most circumstances, I’d be reluctant to defend Lineker — himself as preachy a peddler of virtue-signalling pieties as you could hope to avoid.
But it’s surely preposterous to add balding men to the growing list of victims entitled to official protection from jocular comments. And I write as a 65-year-old growing distinctly thin on top myself.
But for those who seem to revel in taking offence, the week had hardly begun. Next to complain about an -ism was 80-year-old Phyllis Hidden, after a visit with her husband Robert to the Riverside Hotel in Kendal, Cumbria.
She said she was left ‘incensed’ and ‘shaking with anger’ when she discovered that instead of a table number, a waiter had entered the words ‘old people’ on the couple’s bill for lunchtime drinks and pate.
‘It’s a terrible thing to label people like that,’ she said. ‘Age shouldn’t be what defines you.’
For heaven’s sake. Even in these hypersensitive times, can it really be thought offensive to describe an octogenarian as old? You’d think a product of the wartime generation might have a thicker skin.
Scroll forward, next, to Wednesday, when the nation’s guardians against -isms turned their fire on the Army, accusing it of sexism because regiments light-heartedly refer to sewing sets carried by soldiers as ‘housewife kits’.
The pair (pictured on the show) chuckled at their co-presenters joke at their expense
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said the phrase was outdated. Lib Dem armed forces spokesman Jamie Stone condemned it as sexist and embarrassing.
Not to be outdone, the SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes said that language was extremely important and ‘clearly someone in the MoD needs to get with it in terms of coming into the 21st century’.
More depressing still, an abject MoD has surrendered to those who’ve complained, declaring that the term housewife kits ‘no longer has a place in the forces’. God help us all if our defence chiefs ever have something more serious to fret about.
Which brings me to yesterday morning and yet another storm in a teacup, whipped up by illiberal liberals who seek to silence and punish attempts at humour that offend them.
This time their targets were the BBC’s John Humphrys and former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who appeared to make light of an incident at the World Tango Championships in Buenos Aires, in which a Russian contestant was disqualified for punching his dancing partner, who happened to be his wife.
John Humphrys was accused of trivialising domestic violence yesterday after cracking a joke about a Russian dancer who punched his wife
Appearing on the Today programme, Mr Davis told Humphrys: ‘I guess this is our last tango.’ ‘It is indeed,’ said the veteran broadcaster, ‘but I promise not to punch you if you don’t punch me.’ At which Mr Davis said: ‘Ah, very good.’
Cue a storm of outrage from the likes of Labour MP Chris Bryant, who suggested the Today host should resign, tweeting: ‘How on earth can it be right for John Humphrys to JOKE about a man punching his tango partner?’
Now, whether or not you agree with me that there’s something intrinsically funny about a spat between tango dancers, isn’t it seriously deranged to suggest Mr Humphrys was in any way condoning or encouraging domestic violence?
To illustrate what I mean, I commend Graham Greene’s wonderful short story, A Shocking Accident — in my book, one of the finest pieces of comic writing in our language.
In it, a housemaster struggles to suppress his laughter when he breaks the news to a nine-year-old boy that his father has been killed by a pig falling on his head from a balcony in Naples.
Greene’s brilliant achievement is to bring home both the tragedy of the boy’s bereavement and the comedy of the circumstances of his father’s death.
But woe betide any latter-day Greene who told such a tale today. He’d have the humourless champions of political correctness crashing down on him for making fun of pig-related fatal accidents (of which there are many, I see from the internet).
So I end with this pledge: as a heavy smoker and drinker, I fully expect to die of something painful and unamusing, such as lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.
But if I should happen to be killed by a pig falling on my head, I give you all my permission to laugh out loud.