Is this funny?
Well, yes, it probably is.
After all, simultaneously nailing America’s inexplicable (to British tastes) obsession with big butts and the unbearable awfulness of Kanye (see his horrific Glastonbury performance of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody) without coming off as too mean spirited is quite an achievement.
The Kanye joke has been named as one of the best of the year to emerge from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in an awards ceremony sponsored by British satellite comedy channel Dave that has now become an annual tradition in Britain.
To compile the list, the channel nominated fifty jokes from the festival sourced by its own team.
The shortlisted gags were then put to 2,000 Brits, with no reference to the comedians who told them, who then voted for the jokes they found the funniest.
James Mullinger, a British stand up comedian living in Canada, told the Daily Beast that the award is well thought of in industry circles, saying, “Every year this particular award causes a fair bit of controversy—either because comedians feel that the wrong person has been credited for a joke or because more industry-popular comics have been ignored.
“Ultimately though, like all competitions and like all comedy it is wholly subjective.”
It should of course be noted that these jokes have been published for an award by a mainstream TV channel, with more than half an eye to getting press exposure, so, they are all ‘clean’.
Any comic channeling the obscene excesses of Gilbert Gottfried at the Edinburgh festival wasn’t even going to make the short list.
The Kanye joke actually came in at number 2. If you just clicked on this link to read the jokes (although I should warn you before you depart this URL forever that as the former editor of British GQ’s jokes page, I am what passes for an expert on the matter, and, in classic showbiz fashion, I’ll tell you my favorite gag at the end) here, without further ado, is the full list.
We’ll move on to the cerebral stuff after that.
1. Darren Walsh: I just deleted all the German names off my phone. It’s Hans free.
2. Stewart Francis: Kim Kardashian is saddled with a huge arse … but enough about Kanye West.
3. Adam Hess: Surely every car is a people carrier?
4. Masai Graham: What’s the difference between a hippo and a Zippo? One is really heavy, the other is a little lighter.
5. Dave Green: If I could take just one thing to a desert island, I probably wouldn’t go.
6. Mark Nelson: Jesus fed 5,000 people with two fishes and a loaf of bread. That’s not a miracle. That’s tapas.
7. Tom Parry: Red sky at night: shepherd’s delight. Blue sky at night: day.
8. Alun Cochrane: The first time I met my wife, I knew she was a keeper. She was wearing massive gloves. (Goal ‘keeper’ is a position in soccer).
9. Simon Munnery: Clowns divorce: custardy battle.
10. Grace the Child: They’re always telling me to live my dreams. But I don’t want to be naked in an exam I haven’t revised for.
Some of the nominated runners-up are actually better in my opinion.
Ian Smith: If you don’t know what introspection is, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.
Tom Ward: I usually meet my girlfriend at 12:59 because I like that one-to-one time.
Gyles Brandreth: Whenever I get to Edinburgh, I’m reminded of the definition of a gentleman. It’s someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.
Ally Houston: Let me tell you a little about myself. It’s a reflexive pronoun that means “me”.
Probably the best essay ever written on the British sense of humor is George Orwell’s “The Art of Donald McGill”, which is an analysis of the jocular “penny or twopenny colored post cards with their endless succession of fat women in tight bathing-dresses” sold at British seaside holiday resorts.
Written in the summer of 1941, Orwell’s analysis of the postcards—whose four “leading jokes are nakedness, illegitimate babies, old maids and newly married couples”—is a tender portrait of a country which now seems impossibly old-fashioned.
In his examination of the “sub-world of smacked bottoms and scrawny mothers-in-law,” Orwell finds that the humor of the cards “only has a meaning in relation to a fairly strict moral code.”
As such, he notes that in one card, “A young bridegroom is shown getting out of bed the morning after his wedding night. ‘The first morning in our own little home, darling!’ he is saying; ‘I'll go and get the milk and paper and bring you up a cup of tea.’ Inset is a picture of the front doorstep; on it are four newspapers and four bottles of milk.
“This is obscene, if you like, but it is not immoral. Its implication—and this is just the implication the Esquire or the New Yorker would avoid at all costs—is that marriage is something profoundly exciting and important, the biggest event in the average human being's life.”
What would Orwell make of the society that voted for the jokes published today as the finest examples of British humor?
He would probably be bemused by their blandness and lack of spite. The jokes are not exactly PC, but nor are they offensive, racist or sexist, which for many years was all the famous ‘British sense of humor’ seemed to be.
As previously noted, the methodology of the survey and the need for the jokes to be publicized will have ensured to some extent that the cruder comedians don’t get a look in.
Orwell would also conclude, correctly, that the “fairly strict moral code” under which the British people lived in 1941—especially the tyranny of marriage and the demonization of unmarried mothers—has been utterly swept away.
There’s not one joke about mothers-in-law, illegitimate babies, newlyweds or old maids.
The joke which mentions marriage is not really about marriage—it’s more of an absurdist pun.
Sudden nakedness is the only one of Orwell’s themes still played for laughs in the class of 2015 jokes.
And for all we hear about how modern life has replaced the worship of religion with the worship of celebrity, it’s interesting that Jesus and Kanye West both get a mention apiece, suggesting that our familiarity with the story of the feeding of the five thousand is at least vaguely on a par with our knowledge of Kimye.
I suspect that Orwell, given this list, would be struck by how entirely changed humor has become in the last 60 years.
Back in 1941, as Orwell noted in his essay, “jokes barely different from McGill's could casually be uttered between the murders in Shakespeare's tragedies.” None of these could – except, perhaps, by Hamlet.
For if there is one characteristic that binds the majority of these jokes together, it is their solipsism, best encapsulated by Ally Houston’s riff on the word ‘myself’ and Ian Smith’s gag on introspection.
Over 50% of the jokes are about the comic’s experience, real or imagined – “I did this, I did that. Me, me, me.”
And to those who would argue that this is the nature of stand-up, well, joke number 1, for example, could read, “My mate deleted all the German names off his phone. It’s Hans free now.”
A similar process of editing out the personal pronoun could be applied to almost all the ‘I’ jokes.
So why didn’t the comics do this?
The answer is because then they actually become, just very slightly, less funny.
Just as the audience for McGill’s postcards found his jokes funny because the background of their lives was ‘a fairly strict moral code’ (which actually included the worship of selflessness) so these jokes are funny to us because the overwhelming background of our lives is one in which we are tirelessly encouraged to be selfish.
We are told by therapists, Oprah and the self-help industry to put our own needs first, to ‘detach with love’ from friends or family members who are crazy or troubled and to believe that our dreams are important enough to tell to others. We buy special sticks to enable us to take better photos of ourselves.
Meanwhile social media and the comment box encourage us to assert and believe in the primacy of our own opinions.
Oh, and my (you see? We just can’t help it) favorite joke ever? The one I promised you?
What do you call a Frenchman wearing sandals?
C’mon. It’s a cracker.