Cultural Racism and British Stand-up Comedy

The second form of racism to be examined in humour is ‘cultural racism’. There are culturally racist logics that are placed in humour. These have connections to other forms of prejudice and embodied racism, and can also be analysed via Bauman’s thesis on the ambivalence produced by order-building systems.

A critical discussion of cultural racism is offered to explain how it demarcates between groups and discriminates against an ‘other’ on the basis of an identification of cultural difference, rather than the bodily encoding or race difference that constitutes embodied racism. Cultural racism is subsumed under the category of a modern order-building system, as outlined by Bauman, because it attempts to order post-racial perceptions, and in doing so, creates logics that manage the image of the cultural ‘other’. This section also highlights the connections between cultural racism and other forms of prejudice. After this, I discuss whether racist humour in this context has a working-class emergence and style.

Three rhetorical themes that appear in humorous co-agitators are outlined. In specific readings these have the functional effect of supporting cultural racism. The first rhetorical theme develops from cultural racism being a form of coded racism that appears in response to the increasing unacceptability of embodied racism. This task negotiates the attitudes of acceptability and unacceptability. The second task deals with a negotiation of national territory that fixates on the maintenance, and fears the transgression of national boundaries. This anxiety is created from issues of space and exclusion in cultural racism, focusing on those ‘others’ that move to the ‘wrong’ side of the boundary, and is a proteophobic concern that enforces the exclusionary logic of racism. Third, cultural racism encourages an ambivalence of social identity that negotiates the competing categories of the ‘other’ as an alien and a neighbour. This is generated by the presence of the ‘other’ in the immediate social location and employs stereotypes of cultural and linguistic practice. This task tends to focus on the logic of inferiorisation through knowledge of the ‘other’ culture.

The expression of each rhetorical theme occurs in British stand-up comedy. This is highlighted with examples from the comedians Jim Bowen (2003), Jim Davidson (1980, 1982, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001a, 2001b, 2001c, 2001d, 2001e, 2002a, 2002b, 2003, 2004, 2005a, c2005b, 2006, The Bad Boys of Comedy: Jim Davidson 2004), Jimmy Jones (1981, 1992, 2003), Bernard Manning (1984, The Bad Boys of Comedy: Bernard Manning 2004), Mike Reid (1992, 1993, 1995) and to a lesser extent, Frank Carson (1993), Jethro (1993,

1996, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006) and Freddie Starr (1995, The Bad Boys of Comedy: Freddie Starr 2004).[1] These comedians are all British and so form a case study of culturally racist characteristics in the British context. It should be noted that this case study represents a genre that reached its height of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Jim Davidson, the most successful, is now considered a pariah of British comedy by many, and some of the comedians are dead (Manning and Reid). There is however, an important connection to be made between the position this genre finds itself in, the issues of working-class marginalisation, and the emergence of postmodern expressions that will be examined later in the text. It is true that the comedians mentioned still perform to reasonable sized crowds in the UK, and the issues of cultural racism are still very much a part of social discourse.

  • [1] There are comedians who can be said to belong to this genre who do not expressracism. Examples of comedians who are not discussed here include Roy ‘Chubby’ Brownand Les Dawson. Both Brown and Dawson do articulate gender based material that wouldproduce critical readings and in both cases this tends to form a large part of their act, butthey do not express racism.
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