Patrick Logue: The humourless world we live in

In the jokeless world of 2016, humour is practically banned for fear of offending

What’s so funny? Photograph: Thinkstock

What’s so funny? Photograph: Thinkstock


My favourite joke goes like this: A dyslexic walks into a bra. That’s it, that’s the joke.

My second favourite? A horse walks into a bar. The barman says: “Why the long face?”

They crack me up a little bit every time. Although I don’t tell them very often for fear I might offend somebody.

Dyslexics, for example, might be offended that I would seek to reduce their issues and struggles to a one-line, moderately funny joke at their expense. Barmen, and even horses or people with overly long faces, might also take issue regarding my second-favourite gag. A white, middle-aged man laughing at minority groups, they might proclaim, should catch himself on and apologise for any offence caused.

In the 1800s jokes were a different ball game. The Weekly Irish Times, which appeared each Saturday, ran a joke competition for readers called the Cream of Jokes. On January 3rd, 1891, the paper introduced the competition thus: “A good joke is a pleasant thing. It amuses and entertains everyone who hears or reads it. It cannot possibly do any harm but it can do a deal of good, and because it has this tendency we have pleasure in offering 2s 6d every week for the Best Joke sent in by any of our readers.”

The prize that week went to a William I Long, The Abbey, Ferrybank, Waterford city, for this “joke”:

A man was brought up on the charge of beating his wife and biting off a portion of her ear. However, the woman, a good-natured soul, was anxious to screen her husband, and if possible, obtain his acquittal, as appears from her evidence. . .

Magistrate: “Your husband has been treating you very badly, eh!”

Witness: “Oh! No, your worship.”

Magistrate: “ No? Why, did he not bite off a piece of your ear?”

Witness: “No, your worship, I did it my-self.”

Another went like this:

An Irishwoman called at a publican’s the other day and asked for a quart of beer. It was measured out, and she put it into a gallon jug. She then asked for another quart to be put into the same vessel.

“And why not ask for a half-gallon and have done with it?” said the publican.

“Oh, bless your little bit of a soul,” answered she, “it’s for two persons.”

Unfunny jokes

And so the competition continued for a few months with a range of often unfunny, inappropriate and sometimes sexist or racist stories masquerading as jokes. All these years later, we may laugh – or cringe – not at the jokes themselves but at the fact that they were deemed fit for publication.

But 128 years from now, in the year 2144, people might well look back on us in 2016 and remark that it was a time when humour became outlawed, jokes policed by the bandits of the politically correct, some of whom spend most their time being outraged on social media, but always close by to wag a finger, call you a name and expose you as something you might not be. The readers of the future might conclude that we inhabit a time when it is not possible to go about your day without looking over your shoulder lest somebody is waiting to be offended.

The Ireland football manager Martin O’Neill knows all about it. At a recent press conference he was asked if he would follow Wales manager Chris Coleman in banning Wags from the team’s base during the European Championships this summer. “If they are really attractive, they’re very, very welcome. The uglier ones, I’m afraid not,” he said. It wasn’t long before he was lambasted for his “sexist” comments. And now that I have called this for what it is – a mildly amusing throw-away comment, aka a joke – I too might be blacklisted as a sexist pig.

But I have a pretty thick skin. About six years ago I wrote a piece calling out cyclists who disobey the rules of the road. I probably shouldn’t have called them the “two-wheeled Taliban” but, again, it was an attempt at humour, albeit drawing attention to a serious point. I was labelled “a young loner on a crusade”, “an eejit who should be ignored” and a “muppet”. The first one is definitely not true.

Can we not have a happy medium between the Cream of Jokes in the 1800s and the politically correct, jokeless world of 2016, where humour is banned for fear of offending, and those who break PC laws are hanged, drawn and quartered by those who forget how important it is to laugh and that humour is virtually impossible without poking fun at someone else.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.