Isn't it time to sort out Streatham before going on a comedian crusade?
Oh Jo Brand, how could you? You’ve really put your foot in it now. You’ve joined the ranks of Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr in asking to be let in to the comedian hall of shame.
And your crime? You dared to cause the civic leaders of Streatham Council embarrassment by airing your views on the area they represent on a satirical comedy show.
For those of you who haven’t heard the story, here are the details. Streatham’s civic leaders have decided to hit back at Jo Brand after she called the town of Streatham - an area within the borough of Lambeth in South London - a s**thole, while on BBC One's Have I Got News For You.
Brand was speaking after a clip was played of soldiers marching in North Korea, after which she said: “They could do with that in Streatham. “Do you live in Streatham? Don’t even pass through there. It’s a shithole.”
Brand went on to point out that Streatham High Road was voted the worst street in Britain in a BBC poll in 2002.
The joke – which for some reason does not appear on the BBC iPlayer version of the show - has sparked a fierce rebuttal from Streatham Council, who accused the comedian of ‘serious damage’, ‘making their jobs ten times harder’, ‘letting herself down’, and even threatened her to ‘think twice about doing something like this again’.
In a 300-word complaint letter, councillor Angelina Purcell, the Streatham Town Centre Manager said: “You clearly do not understand the serious damage your flippant comment has had on our collective efforts to transform Streatham's image.
“Together with the committed people of this town we continue to make strides in reversing the town's economic decline.
“You've made my job ten times harder with the use of one word and I'm sure the 60,000 residents and 3,000 businesses feel just as angry as I do.
“For us, you've let yourself down badly Jo and I hope you'll think twice about doing something like this again.”
I happened to have watched the episode of Have I Got News For You the other night, had a small chuckle when the joke was said, and then thought nothing of it. There was much worse said on the show, and there usually is on many comedy shows and on TV in general.
Brand has performed a very well established and basic comedy quip, picking a place and make a disparaging remark about it. It is so common that it is barely worth explaining more. If you go to a comedy club – possibly one in Streatham – you’ll see this in action on a daily basis.
Taking for granted that Brand’s joke was a straight-forward quip which is used far and wide in comedy then it is fair to conclude that it wasn’t meant to be a political statement any more than say Nick Clegg should be found face down on Hackney Marsh (another joke which was mentioned on the show).
However, by drawing attention to the problem, making a public statement and having this issue picked up by the national press, the council has ignored the more pressing problems for Streatham Council to be handling than to go on a crusade against a comedian.
What Purcell is trying to do is hide behind a fig-leaf of political correctness. It seems that this leaf has been taken straight out of Iannucci’s book of how to be a politician.
Rather than make a sober assessment of the grain of truth in Brand’s joke, or even turning the other cheek and realise that what is said on a satirical panel show shouldn’t be considered as a serious statement, they decided to come out attacking, and make another assault on the right of free speech.
What annoys me in particular is that the civic leaders of the borough seem intent to spend their energy trying to hide behind the façade that Brand was ‘out of order’ in making comments which even the local residents of the area agree with.
Though Purcell claims that residents of Streatham are as angry as she is, currently 57% of people who have responded to a poll in The Streatham Guardian agree with Brand ‘that Streatham is a dump’.
Councillors also accuse Jo Brand of never having visited in Streatham, ignorant of the fact that the comedian lives in South London and not too far from the area.
The sheer gall of trying to turn attention away from their own failings by attacking a comedian whose remark was poignant – even if it was simply a throwaway joke – highlights inherent problems within Streatham Council.
However what worries me the most is that Jo Brand’s spokesperson was cajoled into an apology, and state that Brand ‘won't 'diss' Streatham again in this way’. Why not?
What gives the civic leaders of Streatham the right to gag a comedian, or anyone, from voicing their viewpoint it they don’t agree with it?
It is obviously the policy of a council would prefer to silence critics, and is endemic of a poorly led, unimaginative town leadership which cannot face up its own failures.
I myself have lived in Streatham for a year. The estate we lived on was so rough I was asked to be a police informant so that they could try and catch the youths which were trying to burn down the council block adjacent to where I lived.
So in conclusion to the public 'outrage' I would say this: next time you publicly accuse a comedian of being out of order for for making a joke think twice, and act with the authority which you have been bestowed with to make your area thrive rather than make cheap headlines and pointless crusades. If a comedian can damage the reputation of an area with a joke, then frankly the area’s reputation was already in need of repair.
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