An Iranian newspaper in Tehran, Hamshahri, is currently running a Holocaust cartoon competition. Entries had to be in by the beginning of this month. The organisers have thrown down the challenge, they declare, as a test of the West’s commitment to freedom of speech. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo incident, the paper identifies a hypocritical attitude in the liberal West: it is regarded as all right to insult religion but impermissible to joke about the Holocaust. One entry, by a cartoonist from Brazil to an earlier competition, has a double image of a stand up comedian: in the first he is making jokes about Islam to an audience in raucous laughter and in the second making jokes about the Holocaust whilst being booted out of the window. If nothing is to be regarded as funny about Auschwitz, the paper says, then the West should accept that there is nothing remotely funny about Islam. Continue reading
The prototype of French comedic excess is François Rabelais with his gross, bawdy, scatalogical, jesting, fantastical narratives that pushed back the frontiers of decency. His two classics texts Pantegruel and Gargantua (both 1530s) reveal him to be a moralist in the French sense, inclined to paint folly than inveigh against it. Knowing that humans are not at ease with their condition or sexuality, bodily functions or death he asserted that laughter was the “property of Man”. In doing so he gave us the term Rabelaisian, defined by the Oxford dictionary as “an exuberance of imagination and language, combined with extravagance and coarseness of humour and satire”. Continue reading
Where satirists use art and language to promote their politics, fundamentalists use guns to enforce theirs. In satire and comedy nothing is sacred and everything is absurd, that is their politics. For religious authoritarians many things are sacred and nothing about that is funny.