Over the Head with a Sledgehammer

Where has subtlety in humour disappeared to?

These days everything is a slap in the face, shouted or blatantly too funny. Very few films or television programmes make use of the subtleties of humour. There are comedians, yes, but very few humorists.

Take Rowen Atkinson’s Mr Bean – a very popular series, but I found it almost embarrassing to watch. His character was, to my mind, too stupid to be funny.

And a similar thing is true of the nudge, nudge, wink, wink school of comics. I suppose that Benny Hill was the leading exponent of this type of comedy. Sorry, I didn’t like his style. Sex can be very amusing, but it should not be salacious.

Another thing, I do like clever puns, after all, Alfred Hitchcock said that puns were the highest form of literature (No Nobel prize for puns – I wonder why not). Terry Pratchett was a master: “Biers was where the undead drank. And when Igor the barman was asked for a Bloody Mary, he didn’t mix a metaphor.”

I suppose I may have a slightly warped sense of humour. I remember the night my mother died. It was two in the morning and I was twenty miles away. The hospital phoned and after I had broken the news to my brothers, I rushed there through empty streets as my father was alone there. I met my father at the entrance to the mortuary. As I approached he glanced at his watch, then looked up at me and commented: “Your mother never did have a good sense of timing.”

Typically English, but for a moment, it lightened a painful occasion for us both, and for that reason I was grateful.

In my book Legacy, the heroine’s bodyguard comments in a graveyard: “I suppose it’s a great place to get shot, saves the expense of the hire cars.” Another black jest.

This article has wandered some, but maybe, just maybe, we could cut down on the coarse, crass comics and promote more genuinely amusing humour.


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