Stephen Merchant takes on the humourless left

The co-creator of The Office says comedy has been put in a PC straitjacket.

Thomas Osborne

Topics Culture Free Speech

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As just about everyone in Christendom now knows, comedy is being smothered by the PC left. But it wasn’t always like this.

As the comedy legend and co-creator of The Office, Stephen Merchant, reminds us, there was a time when the left stood up for risqué comedy and the right to push boundaries. Speaking with the Observer magazine about his recent return to stand-up, he says:

‘It seems to me that there’s always been [a] policing of comedy… I think the difference is that it used to feel like it was the right that was policing it. It feels like it’s the left that’s doing it now, and it’s allowed the right to become the arbiters of free speech. Which does feel like quite a significant shift.’

Merchant is spot on here. A few decades ago, the loudest voices demanding censorship tended to come from the religious right. Today, it is the woke left’s zealotry, oversensitivity and humourlessness that pose the greatest threat to comedy.

In the Observer interview, Merchant says even his own comedy has suffered. ‘You’re more cautious because you don’t want to spend weeks on Twitter trying to justify a joke you were just experimenting with’, he says. ‘Putting out the fires is exhausting. You do feel like there’s a sensitivity [among audiences] to the words before they’ve even heard the joke or the context. And that is inevitably a straitjacket of sorts – it quashes experimentation.’

According to Merchant, there is now a ‘prescriptive list’ of topics that comedians are allowed to joke about: ‘Everything else is off-limits, which is a hard thing to navigate when you’re trying to be creative.’

Today’s comics desperately need to take on this new puritanism, just as a previous generation took on the old.

Thomas Osborne is an editorial assistant at spiked.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Culture Free Speech


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