My father used to love Benny Hill, going as far as calling the man a genius (unlike more modern comedians, naturally). This, much to my dismay.
More to my dismay though, more than even my father’s emulations (which were even more ‘blue’ than Hill), was that this in some respect rubbed off on me, either through enculturation (this quite possibly being the most oxymoronic use of the term ever), or through the passing on of a genetic tendency. No, I don’t run through the parklands in fast-motion chasing scantily-clad women, nor did my father.
There are differences between the pair of us. My father, like Hill, didn’t shy away from sexism or racism. In the last few weeks of his life, he joked, in an ethnically diverse environment he wasn’t accustomed to, in reference to two tumors he’d just had removed…
‘They’re taking good care of me; I’ve had an Italian working away between my legs, and I even got a head-job from an Asian.’
(The removed tumors were located in his groin, and in his head, respectively.)
Admittedly, this is a little more Roy Chubby Brown than Benny Hill (and thank fuck my father didn’t discover him!)
I wouldn’t begrudge anyone dealing with a particularly aggressive cancer, a little levity in the face of the situation, and contrary to most instances prior, Dad granted the felicity of making sure nobody overheard. I guess he gets ten points for timing.
Strip back the sexism and the racism though, and you’re still left with something, even if only a stub; a comedic sensibility approximating the subtlety of Tourette’s.
If the wiring in your brain can reflexively link A to B, where A involves something taboo, and B involves the mundane, blurt it out before someone beats you to it! This, often either as double or single entendre*.
You can have regrets later, but at least you’ll have copyright.
Maybe it’s a boy thing. I say ‘boy’ as distinct from ‘man’ to connote childish competitiveness possibly conflated with male privilege. My Father was boyish, as was Benny Hill. I’d like to think I’m different…
Perhaps I am. Perhaps this post demonstrates a degree of meta-analysis on the matter that separates me**, or perhaps it’s just my being open about it. It seems just a little presumptuous to think that these older men didn’t have thoughts on the matter, even if they weren’t up-front about voicing them.
(A great deal of the avoidance of self-critique in these things, seems to be evasion of the fact that the conclusion has already been observed out the corner of one’s eye. Hence the Roy Chubby Browns, and Kevin Bloody Wilsons of the world, spend their time gesticulating about Political Correctness Gone Mad).
At any rate, I get into trouble. While I don’t do the racist stuff, and I’m not fond of either sexism or cod-masculine self-pity, I still spout saucy stuff at inopportune moments, with little consideration given to the context I’m injecting it into.
While it may be perceived as a come-on by some (having resulted in either a slap for cad-like behaviour, or disappointment when not leading to romance), or just too adult/rude/crude/etc. for the setting by others, it’s really all about A-connects-to-B, in the instance of its inception at least. And it’s a reflex, more or less.
I’m actually regarded as somewhat laconic by a number of people who’ve known me (despite my repeatedly in Pizza Hut, doing a reportedly better line in faked orgasm than Meg Ryan ever managed.) When I say a joke gets past the filters without consideration, it’s not that I don’t value consideration – this post should attest to that.
Ever spat your drink over your monitor, or over a friend, when you’ve heard something funny? It’s not that you want to spit your drink, it’s that you’ve been tickled in the funny part of your brain and an impulse flows forth. It’s like that, except with The Benny Hill Imperative, it’s one part of your brain conspiring to tickle another, possibly to get it into trouble.
(Perhaps if I weren’t the owner of a penis, I’d have already been constrained through cultural expectations; forced either to mature the faculty, or having had the tendency crushed entirely at an earlier age . It’s this, perhaps more than anything, that makes the hyperbolic ‘I’m being censored through criticism’ blokes look really churlish.)
It’s not just double entendres of course. Sometimes the syllables in a pair of phrases, one a commonplace, the other a parody, conspire towards the right rhythm, issuing forth from your mouth in a trial sounding. Semantics only then being realised, when on the bus, the lady with the blue rinse and fur hat looks at you like you’ve sexually molested a chicken.
Even meaningless babble, when you’ve had too much to drink, or have been awake for too long, or you’re young and your brain is still developing, or whatnot, can see the faculty turn on you. People complain of word salad not meaning anything. I complain of getting into trouble because my randomly-generated word salad sometimes does.
Once back in 1992, before I was an adult, there was an obviously bogus story about a pregnant Indonesian man. Add 1992 Australian ockerism, beer guts, discussion of xenophobic smears against Vietnamese communities at the time, teenage sex and possibly low blood-oxygen to the mix, and you’ll get an idea of how disastrous The Benny Hill Imperative can be. I know I didn’t like what came out of my mouth. The worst part is when people think you actually mean something by it.
(And no, this wasn’t a Freudian slip. Although I did have precisely this in mind when I had one at a later date; calling ‘Freudian’, ‘Fraudian’ over at Neil’s***. I remember it well.)
I’ve mentioned the tendency before, in other terms, yet the problem remains the same. It’s an issue of getting in control of the faculty so as to refine the product before it sees an audience (or outright destroying bad lines.) If I have a base criticism of Benny Hill, a suspicion rather than an assertion (unless you count the audience being used as a toilet, I’m not privy to the back-end of his work), it’s that the expectation of an artist refining their product is viewed as akin to censorship. Boo hoo.
I’m not entirely sure if Roy Chubby Brown self-parodies this insecurity (in which case it’s creative genius), or outright expresses it, in his 1993 film U.F.O. What I do know though, is in far as it’s for real more generally, I don’t like it at all. One more jeremiad about the politically correct neutering of comedy from Kevin Bloody Wilson, and I’ll go spare.
Sure, there’ll be people with do-and-don’t lists checking off your material, but there’s always been people like that. There may be cause in specific contexts to be worried about censorship, but it’s not the end of comedy for (self) pity’s sake.
Unless you’re some kind of crude comedic-relativist, you have to accept there are such things as good and bad comedy, and that most likely, good comedy is relevant and well-timed. This suggests cultural context matters. People, in addition to any moral concerns, can make aesthetic judgements about comedy, from feminism, and from concerns of racial equity, without being censorious, and without absolutist rules of do-and-don’t.
(It’s in part because at the end of U.F.O., Roy Chubby Brown, in running away from space-age feminists, enters a blue police box to be transported back in time amongst dinosaurs as a kind of just-desserts, I entertain the possibility that unlike many other ‘blue comedians’, he may very well be onto this issue. This in addition to the movie having a strong and likeable female antagonist, who fires off criticisms of RCB’s antics in a way you’re quite able to empathise with****.)
I don’t have aspirations of becoming a comedian, but my interests in becoming a writer overlap on at least the essentials of these concerns. Having a random-offensive-phrase generator too far divorced from your creative agency (if any) doesn’t make for good art.
Some people, better writers and artists than I (obviously), will have this down pat; new turns of phrase generated, vetted and polished on the fly. I can at least aspire to curb The Benny Hill Imperative somewhat in this direction.
* Credit goes to The Chaser for the observation of Hill’s ‘mastery’ of the singular meaning.
** Yes, there’s also the fact that I’m not a comedian.
*** I’m glad Neil didn’t proof it. It’s a wonderfully apt, if possibly ironic, mistake.
**** Portrayed by the suitably tough Sara Stockbridge (who amongst other needed improvements, should have got the lead role in that failure of a Tank Girl movie).