How the jester shines light on truth

This article was written for Mathilde Magazine – Issue #3

Each of us, to varying degrees, is swept along with the cultural climate of the day. We recognise and participate in trends even as we go about the business of our everyday labours. Society takes shape around us and from the thicket of our own lives, we can’t easily see the path society is on or even our position on it. But when someone comes along, grabs us out of the thicket and shows us what is happening around us, it can be a real lightbulb moment. That is what comedians do. They stand across our path, hold up a mirror and cry “do you even see yourself?”

In days of old, the court jester, or the fool, performed this function. Though his primary role was entertaining the court, he held a special dispensation to make fun of the king, bringing to light his foibles and failings, where other subjects could not. The jester was able to air the truth and show the king what he needed to see.

Like the jesters of yore, today’s comedians have a similarly important role. On the surface they exist simply to entertain, to poke fun at us and show us how silly we can be, but their added value lies in aiding society’s conscience, by illuminating the truth that may be right under our noses but which we’ve somehow missed or chosen to ignore.

Comedians should have a free pass to criticise the agenda or popular culture of the day. And it comes as a relief that someone is willing to point out that the emperor has no clothes or that we may be heading in the wrong direction as a society. For we’re oftentimes walking on eggshells, trying hard not to say the wrong thing or offend when it comes to society’s hot button issues. We’re supposed to think a certain way, to follow the zeitgeist. So, it’s sometimes hard to point out the truth or go against the popular narrative—say, in relation to gender, politics, or race—without attracting the ire of mainstream society. 

But in recent times, I’ve come to wonder: has the comedian’s free pass expired? Jennifer Saunders, who wrote the TV show Absolutely Fabulous back in the 90s, thinks it has. She says she couldn’t get away with ‘that sort’ of humour now (bad parenting, drunken hedonism) because it’s much easier to offend people nowadays. It is as though people no longer want the truth to be identified by the comedian; don’t want her making fun of people’s shortcomings or quirks, because that’s discriminatory and out of bounds. If this is so, the truth will die at the hands of kindness and sensitivity. Even Tim Minchin, Australian singer/songwriter and darling of modern progressives everywhere, tells us in his song 15 Minutes (of shame) that he’s now too scared to say anything that might be taken the wrong way. “Pick up your pitchfork and torch,” he instructs, “we’ll turn on you if you stumble. Welcome to the glasshouse, hope you brought your stones.” If Minchin, a left-wing, sensitive guy, is worried that his writing might upset his own tribe, we know that something is awry. And more comedians are speaking out.

UK comedian Ricky Gervais is always in trouble for bad taste comments, most recently in relation to transgender insensitivity. Gender has now apparently become so transitional, that one can no longer point out biological facts without upsetting society’s quorum of progressive souls.  Gender, it seems, can be swept under the carpet (or hidden under a skirt); something one can ignore or change if it contradicts their own subjective truth.  So when Gervais had the gall to refer to ‘old fashioned women with wombs’ and ‘new women with penises’, ​​it did not go down well in modern circles. It is amazing that Gervais’ comments are perceived as so shocking, almost as if speaking the truth itself has become shocking.  For the time being, Gervais runs afoul only of social acceptability, not the law, but that could change if we as a society move towards prohibiting the shining of a light even on simple facts.  

Gervais doing his thing

For it is a wonderful thing that there are those in society whose job it is to tell the truth; to deliberately point out the elephant in the room; to say what so many of us are already thinking and to raise alternative views to ideas that are supposedly ‘settled’, ideas to which we are expected to quietly acquiesce or at least tolerate. The comedian should be unafraid to call out the truth, with nary a worry for losing face or standing apart from the crowd.

Comedians add balance to a discussion by adding light to the shade, and they help us cope with a reality that can sometimes be altogether too dark. English comedy stalwart John Cleese recently cancelled himself from attending a talk he was set to give at Cambridge University when he learnt that one of the university’s art historians had been blacklisted for impersonating Adolf Hitler. Has Hitler now morphed into Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels – ‘He who must not be named’? Since Cleese has of course also famously impersonated Hitler, in his 1970s TV comedy show Fawlty Towers, he thought he’d better cancel himself before someone else did! Cleese further opined that “the BBC is run by people who are cowardly and gutless and contemptible” because they removed Fawlty Towers episode ‘The Germans’ from the broadcasting schedule on grounds of racism. Cleese argued that the episode was a critique of racist attitudes rather than an endorsement of them, “and anyone who failed to recognise this is stupid”. Surely we can all see that significant figures and events throughout history should be acknowledged and assessed. And even when history is dark, the comedian can present this in a subtle, clever fashion which may allow us to review our perception of events or give us a deeper understanding of how others perceive history.

Russell Brand – comedian, actor, and commentator – is someone who was born for the role of the jester. He is unafraid to show himself in public. Some see him as undignified and brash, and like he’s got nothing to lose. This is perhaps due to his past struggles with addiction, which quickly became public news. He has acquired a large following on YouTube, where he gently mocks the ‘New World Order’ that the World Economic Forum and its globalist ilk seem intent on building. But, just like the old time jester, Brand’s mockery is not merely for the sake of entertainment. He is bringing to light what is right under our noses but is going largely ignored: that people are having their rights eroded by a globalist agenda under the guise of health and safety, social responsibility, and saving the planet. Protesting truckers and farmers across the globe—Sri Lanka, Germany, the Netherlands—are portrayed by the media in a one-sided manner as problematic, racist or ecologically unsound, where Brand tries to give us a different perspective, albeit one put bluntly: “Are farmers all bastards or are we seeing the beginnings of the Great Reset?” At least he’s asking the question.

Brand/Jester/truth teller

So for now, the brave jesters will continue to illuminate unpopular truths in this world of easy lies and certain elements of society will continue to feel offended. And as the jesters edge their way towards the endangered species list, we should hope that they, along with the truth, are not silenced.

About Sonia Bowditch

Writer on society and culture in Australia. And short stories.

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