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Not such a laughing matter at the Secret Policeman’s Ball

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 Jackie Gregory
WVoN co-editor 

The first two jokes were about breasts made by two middle-aged millionaires in suits. Ha, ha and ‘tits’ to you too.

It didn’t get any better.

Welcome to Amnesty International’s ‘Secret Policeman’s Ball’ raising money to combat torture and injustice  through post-post-post-ironic-we’re-all-liberals-now-so-we-can-be-fuckin-sexist boys’ own humour.

The show, broadcast on Channel 4 on Friday night from the Radio City Music Hall in New York, had already been slated before the curtain went up for a lack of female comics on its line-up – because of course British comedian Sarah Millican standing there shouting ‘hooters’ would just not be funny. Ever. Full stop.

Ok there was Sarah Silverman on the bill, whose humour was all directed against herself, but that was about it.

The opening duo David Walliams and Ben Stiller eventually managed to stop spewing out names for random parts of the female anatomy to shuffle off stage looking pleased with their night’s work.

Following shortly in their footsteps came Noel Fielding and Russell Brand who had three minutes to coerce people into becoming Amnesty members.

To do this they picked on one non-member – a woman. Brand called her ‘a stupid cow’ three times, a selfish bitch more than once, a vindictive woman and ‘Hitler with a perm’ before accusing her of getting off with Kim Jong-il – all in 180 seconds.

After shouting “I’m going to grab her” Brand hauled the woman up on stage and went into a routine about 10 women being stoned to death in Iran for adultery, suggesting he was responsible because he was the one having sex with them (groan, mutter, yawn, think up a new routine you sad,  so last decade, comeback lothario).

No doubt Brand was poking fun at regimes who arbitrarily pick off, abuse and kill women for just being women, but I am not sure a casual TV viewer on a Friday night who has no idea of what Amnesty stands for would get it.

Call me a patronising old cow if you like but I’ll eat my bra (36C, Mr Walliams) if a few thousand watchers didn’t just chortle at Brand hurling chauvinist vitriol  – he’s such a lad – and missed the bigger picture altogether. ­­­­­­­­­­­

It would have been more edgy to stand up on stage and read out the list of human rights abuses around the world and the various bizarre but too real torture methods used.

Have you heard the one about Afghan men having their genitals twisted, wrenched and given electric shocks?

I’m sorry though that I switched over to the Graham Norton Show (where the four male guests laughed about dating and groping women) before Liam Neeson came on stage to introduce Burmese comic Zarganar, but I caught up with it here.

He was jailed in 2008 for 59 years for standing up and telling jokes against the regime, and released last year in part due to pressure from Amnesty. He felt no need to shout ‘hooters‘ to get his message across.

Zarganar said The Secret Policeman’s Ball would never be allowed to be shown in his country  – and too right we are fortunate to have freedom of expression in Britain and the US.  But this freedom is precious and shouldn’t be constrained by what dominant males pass off as humour.

It certainly doesn’t mean sitting back and accepting all the tired old balls which Brand and co want to throw at us.

  1. YES. Exactly. I have been supporting Amnesty for many years because of the work they do for women, and I was appaled when I watched this programme. Calling Sarah Silverman a ‘sweet slice of arsehole’ was the final straw for me.

    • Who called her that??! (I did google the phrase ‘sweet slice of arsehole’ to try and find out…I so need to stop expecting that sort of thing to go well …yeurgh! Seriously: yeurgh.)

  2. As a member of Amnesty International I am very disappointed by this show. Considering their current campaign against violence against women worldwide, the perpetuation of tired old sexist idiocy is contrary to what Amnesty stands for and is directly oppositional to its campaigns.

    Freedom of expression is of course paramount. But context is also essential, and given the fact this gig was specifically to benefit Amnesty International I believe the sexism and, frankly, questionable humour given the campaign currently underway will actually work against the group.

    I am so disappointed…

  3. Amnesty need to sort out what they are doing. To allow sexist jokes is completely beyond the pale. I despair.

  4. Jane Da Vall says:

    I think condemning Amnesty for ‘allowing’ sexist jokes plays into the hands of those who use freedom of expression as a shield for bigotry and prejudice. Condemn Brand & Co for choosing to tell those jokes, and condemn Amnesty for choosing to put Brand & Co on the bill, knowing, as they should have, what would follow.

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