Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Just Wrong...

Comedy journalism - by which I mean journalism about comedy as opposed to journalism that is comic - can easily rile those of us who work in the industry. I don't really mean comedy reviews where the scope for upset is obvious, I mean the broader sweep of journalists writing about comedy in general. Any article that purports to "take the comedy scene's temperature" or what have you is bound to annoy those who work within it because we inevitably see it as a more subtle, nuanced and mixed up world.

If you want to write a piece saying that comedy has got more fey/offensive/sweary/scientific/pious/surreal/real/personal/abstract/aggressive/passive/passive-aggressive/stupid/intelligent/subtle/unsubtle/satirical/knowing/gag-based/anecdotal or any other adjective you care to mention it would be easy to find five comedians whose material you could use to support your hypothesis. As the vast majority of people never go to see live comedy in any form your readers will accept your chosen sample as being representative and therefore accept your hypothesis.

To those of us who feel we know better this is annoying. Most of the time any such annoyance is wasted. The articles aren't of much import. They distract a few people during their lunch hour. The fact that a few thousand people read a piece arguing that comedy has recently gone all fey won't do anything to change the comic landscape. The fey comedians quoted will go down just as well that night as they did the night before and the unfey comics will carry on regardless. Pfft.

But yesterday's Guardian piece (and indeed most of the rest of their "comedy special") seemed to go beyond this normal annoyance. It wasn't just wrong, it seemed to be malignly, dangerously so.

It's titled, The New Offenders Of Stand Up Comedy and the idea seems to be that comedy has thrown off the shackles of political correctness and is now setting out to offend. Like I say, it would be easy to find five comedians and use their material to make this - or any - case.

So what's odd about this article - what makes it quite so annoying - is that it takes the material of comedians who are quite deliberately not doing that instead. By cherry picking words and removing all context it steamrollers through facts and makes its argument anyway.

I'm not familiar with the material of all those quoted - and at least one of the comics referred to is really not to my taste - but I have seen a fair bit of Richard Herring's work in the last couple of years. If I hadn't I would have assumed from yesterday's Guardian that Richard was a racist comedian. Or at best, a comedian doing some borderline material about race under a cloak of irony. He's not. His material is explicitly anti-racist. So, the article says:
This year, veteran comic Richard Herring is sporting a Hitler moustache for his show, Hitler Moustache, in which he argues "that racists have a point".

Then there's a new sentence. About another comic. So the summation of what Richard's new show is about is, according to The Guardian, "that racists have a point." What an amazing charge to level at someone.

My understanding of the show is that by attempting to reclaim the toothbrush moustache from fascism (Hitler) for comedy (Chaplin) it opens up a broader discussion about the issues. (I've made it sound dry and pious now... which I'm sure it isn't.)

Rather than arguing that "racists have a point", Richard says, "let's assume they have a point and see where it takes us" and then follows the logical argument through to its farcical conclusions... thus demonstrating that if they have a point it's a horribly flawed one. That's probably not the conclusion you'd draw from the sentence, in which he argues "that racists have a point."

Later in the article it says:
In another routine, he claims to support the BNP's policy to deport all black people from the UK.
Again it's hard to imagine a reader unfamiliar with Richard reaching anything other than the wrong conclusion. I mean... it's pretty clear isn't it.

Only I've seen the routine in question and it does no such thing. The journalist responsible has seen it too. I generally hate it when I see material quoted because not only does it generally work worse on the page, it also robs the comedian in question of the ability to surprise some of his/her audience. So with apologies to Richard, I'll tell you how I think that routine works.

It starts with Richard suggesting that anyone who votes for the BNP should have their right to vote taken away from them. In a lot of clubs this suggestion gets a cheer from the largely liberal crowd. But then Richard points out that taking away their right to vote would be a form of fascism in itself. And he follows the logic through a series of well-if-I-think-that-then-this-must-be-true-and-if-that's-true-I-must-think-this-too contortions with each new revelation being more ridiculous and comic than the last. By following this rat-run of (flawed) logic through he ends up in a confused place where his right-on desire to remove the right to vote from BNP voters means that he also supports their views and so wants to remove his own right to vote as well. It's a ridiculous, circular piece of playing with ideas, of starting somewhere well-intentioned but ending up somewhere ludicrous and the only conclusion any sensible audience member could draw from it is that if you want to defeat the BNP you can't do it by lowering yourself to their level.

Which is quite different to, "In another routine, he claims to support the BNP's policy to deport all black people from the UK."

Like I say, normally articles like this are best shrugged off. But I went to bed thinking about this one last night and I woke up still thinking about it this morning. It's got nothing to do with me. Richard and I do know each other, we're friends but we aren't bosom buddies. But that really isn't important. This isn't the fleeting ire one feels at seeing a friend get an undeservedly bad review. This particular article goes beyond being just plain wrong. Not only does it brand someone as racist it knowingly ignores plenty of facts in order to do so.


chillyspoon said...

Hear hear.

Dave S said...

Agree completely Dave, I'm a fan of Richard and regularly listen to his podcast with Andrew Collins. Some of the topics they cover on that are extreme to say the least, but when taken in context are very funny. It's very easy to take a single line of material and turn the intention into something much more negative. I also know this is not just a fault of the press, when I saw Ross Noble last year he took great offence to someone using a camera. He later explained that he had been caught out on a number of occassions where certain parts of his show have appeared on YouTube which appear to cause offence, but again with parts missing which take out the context of what was a very funny routine. If you're going to quote a stand-up, make sure you quote the whole thing!

Mike said...

Hate to state the obvious, but... that's journalism for you. Great post Dave.

Luke said...

Wow, that Guardian article is fR closer to libel than Richard is to racism.

Bad journalism always does this; chooses a narritive, and then either selects, twists, or simply makes-up the facts to fit.

Joanne said...

I was horrified when I read that article yesterday. It's the sort of misinformed nonsense you would expect to read in the Daily Mail - not the intelligent, leftie Guardian.

I'm glad Richard is considering taking legal advice on the article as it is potentially very damaging to his image, and I look forward to that idiot journalist printing a grovelling apology.

MyCatKevin said...


EVERYTHING is becoming FAR TOO censored these days by people covering their back/corner before everyone else gets there first.

Soon there'll be backlashes against offensive cookin, offensive paper cutting, offensive shopping...

Comedy is what it is for the way that it works and if offense is taken it usually means its working...if not meant offensively.

Many a true word said in jest!

Twitter LisaBPhotos

Anonymous said...

Good summary. The Guardian article was badly written and difficult to follow due to Logan's (wink wink) use of surnames. I had to constantly look backwards to figure out who he was quoting.

Anonymous said...

cant agree with you more comedy is comedy take it as that and these so caleed journalist shud leave it at that as well,

maxormark said...

I've been a fan of Richard since the early 90s and two things are clear: one, he's the last person anyone could accuse of discrimination and two, his comedy often uses hyperbole to point out the nonsense that some people spout.

Sadly, I think the Guardian is following the lead of other media outlets in recognising that getting your stuff widely recognised requires the hyperbole of controversy: the more unexpected the claim. the bigger the buzz.

In the war for page views, truth is the first casualty.

Adam said...

It's also wrong of them to suggest this is a new thing: I remember seeing Ian Cognito about 9 or 10 years ago doing some wonderful material which challenged some of these politically correct boundaries - brutal comedy with wonderful levels of subtlety which would get great belly-laughs followed by an almost audible "hang on - why are we laughing at this?" reaction from the audience.

He also broke our student union with a hammer.

anahavana said...

I saw the 'Hitler Moustache' show Richard Herring is performing, a couple of weeks ago in Archway.

I was really impressed at how clearly and neatly he tackled a variety of 'risky' subjects with such a brilliant mix of comedy and (quite obviously)understanding of the subject in hand. It was a clever and just plain funny performance.

Not that he needed to, but Richard pointed out on SO many occasions just how NOT racist he is. Yet Brian Logan still managed to decide he would miss the point entirely, in one of the most widely read papers in the country. Well done.


Jack said...

The most disappointing bit for me about this article is that it is in what I thought was one of the few decent newspapers left.

To hear/read this type of gobshite in the mail would not surprise me one bit, but to hear it was in the Guardian, that has disappointed me somewhat,

Anonymous said...

In a very similar vein, Herring's rebuttal to the Guardian's piece

demondownload said...

The more terrifying thing about these articles, to my mind, is what they suggest about journalism as a whole. I can spot massive errors passed as facts in stories about areas in which I'm well-versed, but what if all their articles and reports are similarly poorly researched, badly written or have the same level of misattributed or misrepresented quotes and opinions?

I start wondering, how can I trust any stories about anything that I don't already know something about? How can I trust their political reporting, or their stories about civil unrest or international warfare?

What if it's all being passed through the same lazy, lowest-common-denominator kaleidoscope lens that twists the facts I already know so badly?

It concerns me that some (I won't even pretend to believe that they're all guilty of factual ignorance or laziness) journalists either don't recognise or don't care the harm that they're doing to the reputation of their entire industry.

If I wanted ill-based speculation, out-of-context quotes and twisted logic, I'd turn to political bloggers, not a respected news publication.

R M King said...

Something I think some people seem to completely miss is that dealing with the taboo is what comedy does (whichever direction it takes). Talking about sex, death, racism etc through comedy helps alleviate the impact of the harshness of the reality of them.

The fact that this journalist completely tore apart those comedians, what are they really trying to achieve? To me, it's on the same level as forum trolls who seem to slate things just to cause a bit of controversy. Granted, I'm not anywhere near as clued up as I could be on things, but common sense tends to prevail in these situations, shame it doesn't apply to everyone.

Well said Dave.

Daisy-May said...

Great post.

The other point that I consider in relation to 'comedy journalism' is that, in my opinion, you can't censor comedy. I think it is one of the few arts that can get away with being wholly relaxed; leaving the choice to enjoy it in the hands of an audience that are assumed to be grown-up enough to make that decision. It makes it what it is.

From Ben Elton in the 80's to Frankie Boyle on Mock the Week, via Billy Connolly: Comedy pushes boundries. However, that 'controversy' should be entirely in the hands of the comedian and not thrust upon them for the sake of making a point.

It is just another example of the media reporting on bland issues which are almost completely made-up, and totally useless.

Adam said...

I'm glad you've blogged about this Dave. A shocking article, I very much hope Richard Herring is able to get at the very least a full apology.

Zoonie said...

Good to see.

I did a blog post too using really clear, Google friendly language. I think it would be useful for people to do that, in order to swamp any potential misguided reactions to the very troll-like Guardian article.

I hope Brian Logan's looking back at it, wincing and will grit his teeth and apologise.

thejabberwocky6 said...

Problem is Dave, with the rise of the BNP, its very easy for poor journalists or columners to write articles that seem right-on and left wing for the sake of it and seem great in the eyes of the liberal. Its very easy to start banging on about people who don't understand irony and satire are the same knuckle heads who must vote BNP. I find some close to the bone comedy funny, it doesn't make me racist and in the cases of Jimmy Carr and Ricky Gervais, its so patently obvious who they are taking the piss out of. And it isn't women (per se), black, asian, or disabled people. Very lazy and basic shock tactics to those who are easily offended. Mainly those who object to any swearing in comedy and still find a BBC1 sitcom amusing.

Claire said...

I'm pleased someone had a good educated rant about this.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I was so angry at the articule I emailed the Guardian with the following:
'Brian Logan's articule on the 27th July is an absolute rubbish piece of journalism. In trying justify an argument on standards of comedy, he has ended up misquoting Richard Herring completely. Richard Herring is no racist and states that several times in the show. The articule damages the reputation of a comedian who has never been offensive in all the years I have enjoyed his comedy. This sort of lazy, twisted journalism is the sort of thing I might expect from the tabloids but not the Guardian. I hope a full apology is issued to Mr Herring immediately and publically. If not, I hope he sues you for libel.

Brian Logan tried to provoke an argument about comedy standards. The only thing I'm questioning is the standard of Journalism these days.'

Julie Walker said...

I can’t believe how that “hack” deliberately took Richard’s words out of context, to suit his own agenda. There is hardly a comedian around who is less of a racist than Richard. It must be so horrible to put so much effort into a show, just to have one idiot undermine it by writing rubbish about it, and without even having seen it. I am glad he is taking legal advise, the very least he should get is an apology. It is good to see all Richard’s friends and fans backing him. Thanks for the blog.

Unknown said...

I saw a preview of Richard's show a couple of months ago and I agree, it it has so little to do with what's been cherry-picked for this blisteringly pointless piece in the Guardian that it's amazing the article got the go-ahead at all. I can't see anyone coming to the conclusions Logan did without an uhealthy amount of spite because it must be nigh-on impossible to miss the POINT of the show.

Pete Knight said...

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story: Old journalistic adage.

I gave up believing what was written in newspapers years ago, a couple of story lines where I was involved with the subject proved beyond doubt that facts have noting to do with the story. And you only have to look at political stories to see where any particular papers bias lies, so isn't it fairly obvious that bias could creep into any story?

Columnists write unadulterated opinion, that we all know, and come to expect, but news stories should present the facts so that we can form our own opinion, but columnists shouldn't distort the truth in order to press their personal agenda.

The Daily Mail is a national laughing stock, a purveyor of misery and woe, even when there isn't any bad news, they can pull it out of the hat.

Simple solution is not to buy newspapers!

Dan Sumption said...

A good point, well made. Still, that Scott Capurro is a cunt.

Unknown said...

Good blog Dave. I have to say that not being an avid follower of Richard I don't know alot about his routines or his stand up. I follow his tweets and have been interested in what has been said about this whole debacle that the Guardian has started. It is far too easy for the media to convince people that their opinions and articles portray the truth and if I hadn't have seen or read your article and then Richard's on his website, then I may have fallen into the trap of taking what the Guardian wrote as the truth. It is a shame that so many readers will now believe that Richard's show contains racist material. If people read these things then took the time to find out more themselevs they would realise that the majority of what is written is complete tosh.
It is a shame because I would love it if there was just one newspaper that I could read and have faith in, but after this I may just have to start reading 2000AD again or something. At least I know that is made up!

judec●re said...

Dave. Bit cheeky of me, but just wondering...a few people have let me do their portraits this week (posted on my blog) got a bit of a penchant to do yours. Would you mind?

Tubbs McGuire said...

Hear hear Mr Gorman.

Anonymous said...

Good one Dave,

Have written to the Guardian:

"I am writing to complain about the article written in Monday's Guardian by Brian Logan (The New Offenders of Standup Comedy).

Richard Herring has been completely misrepresented in this article, which has featured poor journalism, cherry picking of quotes and tabloid 'gotcha' hucksterism.

This badly written, uninformed, unintelligent article did a great disrespect to your readers and was not written to make a serious point, but seemingly to frame the people mentioned and associate them with unacceptable material and outdated comedians from the past.

I expect sharp, concise, accurate and intelligent information from the Guardian, as my paper of choice. However, I have not bought the paper today and if similar uninformed sub-Daily Mail articles appear in future, I will kick the habit of buying a daily paper altogether."

Kathy said...

I know his work isn't as well known outside of America, but after the recent death of American journalist Walter Cronkite, the issue of what journalism has become in recent years has been re-energized. News and journalism as a discipline is no longer a credible secondary source. The only way to really know anything anymore is to experience it first-hand and get the information from its primary source. The re-interpretations of the "truth" which are masquerading as news or any other documentation of fact means that none of them are trustworthy anymore.

The real question is, why did this happen? Is this the outcome of a series of poor decisions made by the scores (hundreds? thousands?) of people who have been in a position to choose truth or sensationalism and they simply chose sensationalism until it became the norm? Or is it because journalism, nearly always operating as a for-profit venture, has decided to cater to a majority (and is it truly a majority, or are the people who want integrity not yelling loud enough?) of people who will ignore news unless it seems edgy or controversial (and thus, usually at least a stretch of the truth if not an outright lie, built to titillate viewers/readers)?

Put simply, why is it exactly that so many cultures on our planet seem to have simultaneously decided that the truth is too boring?

Unknown said...

Thank you for being able to articulate for better than I could how angry I was when I read the article. I've followed Richard for a long time now and all through the excellent podcasts.
The article is represents Richard very badly and I hope he is successful in whatever action he might choose to take.

Danny The Jackal said...

I'd always thought that everything the Guardian prints is true. Not like Murdoch's papers, where everything is lies.

Who can I turn to now? Who can I trust?

charlietabloid said...

Great article Dave, well reasoned. The article annoyed me when I read it on a train yesterday and I have been reassured by the widespread cyberslagging it has received. Especially galling to see a comedian who makes a great effort to provoke thought and to examine issues with subtlety and nuance be so lazily tarred with the brush of controversy-mongering or "ironic racism".

Beki said...

My jaw literally dropped reading Logan's article. I've had a week of ranting and mumbling to myself about newspapers and journalists; from simple mispelt place names to blatant sensationalism.I'll add this sorry article to my rant pile *sigh*

Rand Hobart said...

Top post Mr Gorman.

As has been said, that's the media for you. If it's not churnalism (recycled press releases), it's often malformed, misinformed twaddle.

Are there any real journalists left in this country, one's we can rely on utterly...?

The verification thang below says 'AmyChuf'. How wonderful is that!! :D

Riles said...

Very good comments Dave. I read Richards thoughts on the subject yesterday through twitter, and it is clear that this has concerned him personally in a way that just isn't justified.

This is nothing new. Brendan Burns was celebrated widely for doing the exact same thing now that he was criticised for in the same article - I note the comments made about Cog earlier in this article too, god alone knows how the author of that article could have interpreted his routine.

There are some concerns about people taking elements of these routines literally and out of context to support their own prejudiced views - see the Al Murray comments, the irony being that the journalist in question has based his whole article on the same cherry picking that he himself criticises/

Unknown said...

Well said, sir. Hopefully the Guardian's famous corrections column won't miss this one out.

Simon said...

Well said Dave. let us all grow Hitler/Chaplin moustaches in support of Richard.

Matt Goddin said...

Good post and as someone who listens to their podcast I have to agree this is a massive misrepresentation. I would have to say I am less surprised than some that the Guardian published something like this, I have stopped reading it because of the amount of hype and misrepresentation it contains about things that I have a passing knowledge about.

Dave said...

The guy used the phrase "Post-Ross-And-Brand", which makes him both a rubbish writer and a twat.

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight...Herring likes to put dog shit through Asian people's letterboxes? What a bastard! Shame on him, and that Michael Legge fella who helps him.

Mattatat said...

The moral of the story is, do not trust ANY of the papers. In the same way that you can't have one rule for the Green Party and one for the BNP, one must weigh a Guardian article up on the same scale as a Mail piece.

Top post btw Dave. Letter writing may be a dying art, but in it's place stands Blogging....

tinpanally said...

Fully in agreement with your post Dave, and those above. It is irresponsible journalism.

Samdee said...

Pfft indeed. Hear, hear Dave, I'm glad you got that off my chest.

Felicity said...

Well said Dave, such lazy, terrible journalism makes me feel quite sick. It's so easy to take parts of a routine out of context and make them seem like discrimination. I hope to see an apology from the writer - I am offended.

Chris Nicholson said...

I very rarely write fan emails/letters to anyone, but felt compelled actually send a sympathetic email to Richard Herring about this silly Guardian article.

I'm mixed race and have had a baffling array of nonsense thrown in my direction through my life. Some of the racism comes from ignorance, but not all of it. A lot of it comes from complex and multidimensional roots. To dissolve it into "liberal angst" vs "Daily Mail tut-tutting at immigrants/BNP skinheads racial hatred" does the whole issue a disservice.

A bit more risk in observational comedy about the whole issue is the only way forward. I'm glad that you felt compelled to write about the whole sorry Gruniad article too. From a disillusioned Guardian reader.

Rod said...

It's just journos doing what they do best - talking shit. On a plus note however, the article mentioned that Richard Herring has a podcast to which I immediately subscribed, so - publicity and all that...

Anonymous said...

Is it just me that's loving the irony that, in defending Richard Herring from accusations of a they're-all-like-this mentality, so many of the commenters here are showing exactly such an attitude towards journalists?

Anonymous said...

So you've raised your head Brian? Finally thought of something to say...? Well even if it isn't you I know you will be reading this blog you sad, narcissistic, failed comic. I remember your first gig and you was shit at writing then. I still read the drivel you churn out in your ego column and I agree with the backlash you have caused.

Never have I read so many jokes of other peoples in a review as I do in yours. Ridiculously lazy, just filling up space and words. Or is it that you think YOU are making the reader laugh not the comic? Actually I don't know what you think or if you do? All I know is that I really cannot stand you, your journalism, your smug face and that you cheat on all your boyfriends.

Lets hope the comedy fraternity deal with you in a better way than I would!

Thanks Dave.

Anonymous said...

I was once telephoned by a so-called journalist from the Daily Mail. She didn't identify herself as being from the Mail otherwise I would have told her to p*ss off straight away. She asked me questions to which my answer was mostly, "I don't know enough about the subject to answer your question." In the paper her questions were turned around to become my quotes. This is the sort of shit one expect from the Mail. I hoped I would never see similarly underhand practices in the Guardian. The writer should be sacked.

Tim Abrahams said...

heheheh. Dave you do like to go through journalists work line by line don't you? Although i haven't seen Herring's show, I think on the strength of previous posts, Logan's only mistake was to include the English comedian in his article. When you look at the piece as a whole Herring is only a minor part of it. Of course you are right to suggest that you can make all kinds of statements about comedy if you pick a certain number of comedians but Logan is a good writer and deserves to be listened to.

His general thesis - that you are now able so be more offensive about women and make more jokes about minority groups than you were able to 10 or 20 years ago, I think is true. That's more important than what he says about Rich Herring's act alone. And even if he does misread Herrings act - I haven't seen it yet so I don't know - he comes out clearly in favour of his right to do what he does.

To suggest that the Guardian critic doesn't know what he's talking about because he hasn't seen enough shows is unfair, Dave. He's probably the best writer about comedy working in the country and his opinions come out of a love for stand-up as an art-form. He knows his stuff and treats comedians not just as entertainment fodder but serious professionals. The article is well-researched - with the aforementioned caveat for Herring - and well considered. In co-opting Alexei Sayle's analysis of the power relationship between audience and performer he's actually explained a lot about comedy without it becoming facile.

Despite its poor-showing at the box office BrĂ¼no is the key here. It's certainly the most talked about comic film of the year and Logan has got to the heart of it - the way it makes a "bonfire" of "liberal anxieties". He actually gives Herring the key point to the whole article.

"If you're doing a brilliant piece of irony and someone takes it literally...that's not your fault. It's their fault for not being intelligent enough to get it."

He's celebrating the right of comedians like Herring, to do what they do. Just because he doesn't couch what he says about the comedians in superlatives, perhaps the only language of criticism the poor benighted egos of comedians can cope with, doesn't mean he is unsympathetic. He actually treats comedians with more intelligence than some of them deserved. (I would argue that this is the case for Brendan Burns. But that's personal taste.)

Yes, he's certainly used the most volatile moments in Herring's act to grab the attention of the reader but his analysis I feel, is bang on. I can understand why this has irritated you, given its focus on Herring but he actually agrees with your arguments about comedy even if he disagrees with you about a single act. He's actually unearthed and analysed something that anyone who has watched comedy for a decade or more and has a brain must surely have noticed.

Still, it bodes well for Edinburgh. The Festival hasn't even started yet and you are already tearing into the critics. It's like a blood sport.

Clare said...

The sensationalisation in the press at the moment and the terrifying lengths newspapers will go to to get readers' attention makes me angry every time I get on the tube and see everyone reading the free papers. It's a shame that more 'liberal' papers are no less to blame.

Dave Gorman said...

Tim Abrahams: heheheh. Dave you do like to go through journalists work line by line don't you?

Me: Grrr! Silly, silly me for reading!

TA: His general thesis - that you are now able so be more offensive about women and make more jokes about minority groups than you were able to 10 or 20 years ago, I think is true.

Me: Quite possibly. And like I say, it would be easy to find examples to back it up. So using an example of someone who does the opposite seems a little off.

TA: That's more important than what he says about Rich Herring's act alone.

Me: Normally I'd agree with you. But he basically labels Richard as racist... which is quite a charge to throw at someone and not quite so easily shrugged off.(Oo look, I'm doing that line by line thing you like so much!)

TA: To suggest that the Guardian critic doesn't know what he's talking about because he hasn't seen enough shows is unfair, Dave.

Me: I wholeheartedly agree. And that's why, I, um, didn't. Just reread my post. I didn't say that he hadn't seen enough shows. Que?

TA: He's celebrating the right of comedians like Herring, to do what they do.

Me: Actually, he's celebrating the right of comedians like Herring to do something he doesn't do. Which is the crux of my argument.

TA: Just because he doesn't couch what he says about the comedians in superlatives, perhaps the only language of criticism the poor benighted egos of comedians can cope with, doesn't mean he is unsympathetic.

Me: No. Like I say, it's not "the fleeting ire one feels at seeing a friend get an undeservedly bad review" it's the fact that it wholly (and I think knowingly) chooses to misrepresent someone's work because the falsehood is a better fit for the thesis. Seriously, it's not a matter of interpretation. What is someone who's never seen RH perform to think on reading the article? I can see two conclusions...
a) that he's openly racist
or b) that he's one of those modern, ironic "racists" that can be misunderstood sometimes but who is really just trying to shock.
The thing is, neither of those things is true.

TA: Yes, he's certainly used the most volatile moments in Herring's act to grab the attention of the reader but his analysis I feel, is bang on.

Me: No he hasn't. He's made not-volatile pieces seem so because he was writing an article about volatility.

TA: I can understand why this has irritated you

Me: Y'see, I don't think you do. I think you think I'm irritated in the way that I describe being irritated by any such comedy-has-become-very-whatever articles. I'm not. If I was I'd have just shrugged it off as one of those things.

Maybe you think that Richard is doing material that treads delicately through the grey area of borderline racism designed to challenge an audiences' cosy comfort levels and that I and BL fall ever so slightly apart on how we receive such material. That would be a reasonable - if charitable - reading of the article. But it would also be wrong. That's not the case.

Richard is doing material that explicitly says racism is wrong and argues against it. It's not in code and it's not in terms that only the irony-sensitive intelligentsia will pick up on - it's explicit. Which is where I have a problem with the article.

I don't have enough knowledge of the other comic's he quotes to know how accurate he's being there but when the one thing I know well is handled in what seems to be a downright dishonest fashion I'm forced into treating the rest of the article with suspicion also.

Seriously... imagine being described in a national newspaper as a racist? I imagine you'd be quite hurt by that.(Assuming you're not one.)
I doubt that having someone say, "Ah, but it's not so bad... because, yes, while he accuses you of racism, ultimately he defends your right to be a racist" offers much in the way of consolation.

Ben H said...

I do wonder if the level of accuracy in the "golden age of journalism" was really that much higher, or whether it's just that now, distortions or mistakes by journalists are so much easier for non-journalists to rebut.

Anyway, that doesn't excuse Logan's appalling distortions in that piss-poor article. It just makes it more less likely that he'll get away with them.

Is he a freelancer or Guardian staff? If the former, it'll be easy for them not to use him again, as he's shown that he is willing to submit untrue, libellous copy to fit his preconceived angle.

And it is clear that Logan was not writing his genuine (mistaken) opinions; he was just cynically going for an angle. I submit for your attention this 2006 Guardian article about how comedy has a duty to offend:


It's by Brian Logan.

Jimmy K said...

The best comedy has always had the ability to make people slightly uncomfortable and challenge our values.

The best journalism should be able to start the debate about edgy comedy and bigotry without resorting to maligning someone by taking an act out of context.

willcobbett said...

Ha ha ha. Herring (overblown dead beat 90's yesterday man) has been hounded and persecuted by the Guardian for being a bit o' a Narrrzi. Fucking mint.

Liberal are commies who read the Guardian and buy Fair Trade tea. You bastards would line us up with just the same fervour as any NKVD man in Stalin's Russia, but have the problem of how to environmentally power the crematoria.

Good old Herring.

Anonymous said...

"So you've raised your head Brian? [etc.] - Hey, and in order to bolster your point just invent opinions and even a whole identity for your interlocutor in order to justify your position. Then top it off with an implicit threat of violence.

And the ironic funny just keeps coming.

Tim Abrahams said...

Apologies for misunderstanding the fourth thing. (It's quite handy the way you split things up.)

No where in that article does Brian Logan call Richard Herring a racist. No where. The entire point of your ire is based on the quote "he argues 'that racists have a point'". That's not Brian Logan speaking in those quotation marks, that's what Richard Herring said or some daft press person who Herring should have on a shorter leash said. Don't say that kind of stuff, if you don't want journalists to pick up on it.

Yes, it probably would've been better to make a caveat for Herring's act but anyone who reads the comedian's erudite, considered answers would know why he's doing it. You are being very unfair on Logan.

The article is not about volatility its about playing with the taboo issue of racism. This is something that Herring is doing and it is therefore completely valid for him to be included.

If you've not seen those other comedians then you should because what Logan says about them is true.

Dave Gorman said...

Tim Abrahams: No where in that article does Brian Logan call Richard Herring a racist. No where.

Me: Well, I think the sentence,This year, veteran comic Richard Herring is sporting a Hitler moustache for his show, Hitler Moustache, in which he argues "that racists have a point" would lead many people to a different conclusion. It's at best ambiguous but I'm sure a lot of people would read that and think the show tried to argue that racists at least, y'know, have a point.

If you don't believe me, take a look at this blog:

They read the Guardian. They hadn't seen the show (which they acknowledge) but their assessment of it - based on the article - is that "he apparently dishes up straightfaced endorsements of racist ideas"

Even if you think it's not what the article says, surely the fact that some people have taken it to mean that is something that ought to raise concern.

TA: The entire point of your ire is based on the quote "he argues 'that racists have a point'". That's not Brian Logan speaking in those quotation marks, that's what Richard Herring said {SNIP}Don't say that kind of stuff, if you don't want journalists to pick up on it.

Me: Actually my ire is based on what seems to be a wilful failure to acknowledge all of what was said because it suited the article to do so.

Maybe people should be more guarded when speaking to journalists... and actually I think the fact that Brian is a respected comedy-writer is one of the reasons that it has caused so much upset. It feels like some kind of cliched tabloid stitch up tactics have been employed in what people expected to be a thoughtful Guardian piece.

Only those involved in the interview know the full nature of what was said... but if someone says something like, "by arguing that racists have a point and pursuing the argument to its logical conclusion what I end up doing is demonstrating that they don't actually have a point at all" I think it's wrong to sum that up as "in which he argues that racists have a point."

I mean... it doesn't seem like a fair appraisal of what was said even if, yes, those words fell in that order. But there would be no way of explaining the idea without leaving oneself open to such misleading abbreviation so if the idea really is that one shouldn't "say that kind of stuff, if you don't want journalists to pick up on it" then there just won't be a way of a serious newspaper writing a serious article on this subject.

TA: Yes, it probably would've been better to make a caveat for Herring's act...

Me: I agree

TA: ...but anyone who reads the comedian's erudite, considered answers would know why he's doing it.

Me: I disagree. As demonstrated by the link above. Someone clearly didn't draw that conclusion and in truth, if I didn't know different I would have assumed from the article that Richard was playing with fire in a very risky way. The fact that his anti-racist message is actually very clear isn't reflected in the piece at all.


Dave Gorman said...

TA: You are being very unfair on Logan.

Me: Just because I haven't couched what I've said about the journalist in superlatives, perhaps the only language of criticism the poor benighted egos of journos can cope with, doesn't mean I am unsympathetic. I jest.
It's nothing personal, really. But it's an article about a difficult and emotive subject. There would be no point to the article at all if the nuanced handling of race or gender politics in comedy was an easy thing to do. It's something that upsets some, delights others and is obviously open to misunderstanding.

I think it follows that, just as a comic has to think about where their responsibility for what they say on stage begins and ends so too does a journalist have to think hard about his/her responsibilities. (You could argue more so because the words of a national newspaper hang around forever online whereas a stand-up routine disappears into the ether at the same time as it is spoken.)

So a comedian stops to think, "Will people think I'm racist if I say this?"
Some people wouldn't go near the subject. Some would do stuff only if it was impossible for anyone to misunderstand. Others would accept that stupid people won't get it but that it's not
their fault and others still just wouldn't care a jot. (And no doubt there are some who are actually racist.)

I think a journalist should put the same thought into how they describe people. I think Brian got it wrong on this occasion. I think he described Richard's work in a wholly inaccurate way and while this would normally elicit a pfft and a shrug on this occasion it didn't precisely because of the nature of the subject. Because people could read it as suggesting that RH was racist - or at least playing with racist ideas - and that's such a serious thing to get wrong.

TA: The article is not about volatility its about playing with the taboo issue of racism. This is something that Herring is doing and it is therefore completely valid for him to be included.

Me: Actually I'd suggest that the issue of racism isn't taboo at all and never has been. It certainly wasn't taboo in the 80s and 90s on the alternative comedy scene when many people were discussing racism on stage and in song. It's actual racism that is (rightly) the taboo not discussion of it as a topic.
There are comics saying things that would not have been tolerated 10 years ago (by audiences and fellow comics alike) and on that point there is an article to be written.

Some of them are using so-called "ironic racism" and it is fair to question where the irony begins and ends. But this isn't what RH is doing and I think the article implies he is.

He's directly addressing the issue of racism and the only reason it wouldn't have been doable ten years ago is that ten years ago the BNP hadn't just won a shred of respectability in a European election.

TA: If you've not seen those other comedians then you should because what Logan says about them is true.

Me: I've seen most if not all of them but not in a long time so I can claim no knowledge of their current work. As I said before (I think) by getting it so wildly wrong about Richard it left me unable to trust the rest of the article.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I couldn't agree more and it sounds like Richard's grateful for your comments, but don't you think the typical journo exists primarily to create a furore? I'd never heard of this Logan bloke previously, but am now having to resist Googling him!

It's likely that anybody reading the article out of context would not be aware of the response - While anybody hearing said response is presumably going to be 'on-side' already.

I'd like to believe that the majority of people who would actually read the article would have enough about them to take Logan's comments with a pinch of salt. Having done so and obviously discovering Richard's expressed views perhaps "there's no such thing as bad publicity" after all.

Apologies for the sycophancy, but you really are "up there" - Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

"Logan is a good writer and deserves to be listened to."

Well based on this article he is a rubbish writer who deserves to be ridiculed.

To claim that there is a "new trend" in comedy by cherry-picking a few examples from the multitude of comedy styles out there is lazy and pointless writing.

To resort to a complete misreprentation of a comic's material as part of this cherry-picking is journalism at its worst.

To write something which strongly suggests that an individual is racist, when you know that they are not, is either very bad or malicious writing.

Maybe Logan is indeed a good writer who just had a very, very poor day at the office and will apologise for this badly written article - or maybe he is just a rubbish journalist who is happy to use the worst sort of tabloid tactics

Dave Gorman said...

I think Brian Logan's follow up piece in which he makes things a little clearer is worth reading: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/jul/31/richard-herring-brendon-burns-comedy

For what it's worth, I think that wraps things up nicely.

I would apply Wogan-Wig-Logic here and conclude that he really wasn't trying to stitch people up.

Wogan-Wig-Logic works as follows: Wogan's hair looks like a wig, ergo it is not a wig. Because if someone like our Tel wore a wig, he would get one that is more convincing than that.

On my reading of the original "New Offenders" piece it looked so much like Brian Logan was trying to stitch people up that he can't have been. He's a better writer than that. If he wanted to stitch people up he could do it more subtly.

I don't believe him when, in the follow up piece I mention above he says, "Herring was quoted extensively for the piece, and the most contentious quote appears to be his "racists have a point" remark – which is how he paraphrased the argument of his new show, Hitler Moustache."

By which I mean, I don't for one minute think that Richard did paraphrase the argument for his show in that way. But I do believe that Brian Logan mistakenly thought he had and that he thought it was so obviously a joke that he didn't need to point that out.

And that, I think, was an error of judgement. "He wishes I had pointed out that he was joking, but I didn't think I needed to. It is, after all, a comedy show." doesn't quite stand up for me because it still doesn't get across the most important message.

Jokes can make an argument. A joke about racism can make the argument that racism is wrong. A racist joke however, reinforces the idea that racism is right. Or at least tolerable. Or even, just one of those things. So even if the reader is meant to assume that Richard is joking, they have no way of knowing where on that spectrum it falls. I read it as a suggestion that his comedy makes the argument that racists have a point. I certainly think those less well versed in comedy would draw that conclusion.

But this is nit-picking now because the follow up article makes it clear. Hurrah.

As well as Brian Logan's clarification, two of the comics who were upset by the original pece were given space in the paper to make their case also.

Brendon Burns' response is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/jul/31/brendon-burns-standup-comedian-brian-logan

And Richard's is here:http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/jul/31/richard-herring-standup-comedian-brian-logan

The fact that large numbers of people thought individuals were being labelled as racist means that - whether intentional or not - it needed clarification.

It's had clarification. And those who felt maligned have had the right to reply also. Which all seems fair enough to me. It's a happy world.

Chris Nicholson said...

I agree with you, Dave. I was glad to see that clarification of the article happened in quite a controlled fashion. Both comedians had their say, as well as Brian Logan making the case for the original article, but realising he'd misrepresented people.

My belief is that it was tiredness or an off-day for this particular journalist. He's normally written well in the past. Indeed, I was surprised at how blinkered some of the original article was; but also some well-written valid points in the mix too. Certainly, from the way Richard talked about the original interview, it sounded like Mr Logan wasn't paying a huge amount of attention anyway. Whether that was because he'd single-mindedly decided on the opinion piece already or whether he was just knackered during the last interview with Richard is possibly open for debate. I prefer to go for the latter option, as I like the happy world scenario too!

Chris Nicholson said...

Although having said all that, I wasn't remotely amused by another Guardian article this week, taking a pop at "Father Ted" and Graham Linehan - that really was a poorly written journalistic piece on comedy. It seems The Guardian is having a very odd week in taking poorly aimed potshots.

But I guess that's for another forum!

Anonymous said...

well said. shoddy journalism.