||[Jun. 19th, 2007|03:09 pm]
Bernard Manning has died. When I told Ailz she said, "Oh good"- thinking I meant Bernard Matthews the turkey-twizzler man. When I explained, no- Bernard Manning the comedian, she was sorry. She'd been to the Embassy Club a couple of times (before I knew her) and on the second visit he recognised her and came and sat at her table and shook her hand and was an all round good egg.|
That's what people are saying about him- people who knew him. He was a kind man, generous to his friends, did a lot for charity and blah, blah, blah.
He also- this keeps cropping up- was technically brilliant. No-one could time a line the way he could.
He denied he was a racist. Or sometimes he did. He was just a funny man telling jokes, he said; the racist persona was an act- so lighten up. Who knows? But if it was just an act doesn't that make it worse?
Doesn't it make him unprincipled?
But I don't believe he ever really thought things through. I think he was lazy. He'd found a style that worked for him- and by the time people started asking awkward questions about it he was too old to change. If he'd been a thinking man he'd never have gone down that path in the first place.
I don't want to dance on his grave. He's part of our social history now. He belongs to us, we can't disown him and maybe it can be spun as proof of just how tolerant we are that all through our era- in spite of the race relations bureacracy and middleclass morality and the rise and fall of alternative comedy- it was still possible for a fat, ugly, white man in a tux to make money- pots and pots of money- telling playground jokes about coons and pakis and poofs.
That's it exactly.
People (*sigh*) are complicated.
The same confusion between Bernards happened on a trad music BB I frequent. Also the same basic assessment of what sort of person he was that Silversmoke cites. Myself, I never had heard of him before this, but we have the equivalent here in the States.
He was local to our area- and got a lot of kudos for staying here and not leaving for the bright lights of London.
He's a folk hero to some and a folk demon to others.
The thing about comedy is, it's nearly always at the expense of somebody. Fat people. Old people. Jews. Gays. Blacks. Politicians. David Beckham and his Tiny Brain. Et cetera. I don't think there is a fixed line dividing things that are funny from those that are offensive - it can depend on who's telling the joke, the way they are telling the joke, the audience, the context - and the listener/viewer's subjective interpretation of why the joke is being told. I was never a fan, but I can easily imagine that some of the demonisation was reasonable and some of it was unfair.
I have to more or less take it on trust that Manning was racist. After all, I never saw him perform. And while he was often allowed on TV as a personality he has never allowed to air his material.
You're right. There's a grey area between funny and offensive. And I expect we would agree there are some people it's perfectly acceptable- even obligatory- to offend- government ministers for example.
Manning's completely unknown in the states--being a British comedy fan but a rather limited one, I only know him from his appearance on Brass Eye and from one of Peter Cook's newspaper columns, where he refers to Manning as a "heap of lard."
I've never seen Manning perform- or only in very short clips. His material effectively kept his work off TV. In spite of this he remained extremely famous.