The last refuge of the humourless

Jess Ennis with Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles
Jess Ennis with Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles
Have your say

SOME six or seven hours after a mindless minority of Sheffield United fans chose to cheer a sex offender I stood in a Devonshire Street bar talking to a girl who had been sitting among them.

She was a Blade and made of too stern stuff to feel scared at being near a handful of men applauding a convicted rapist.

But she laconically wondered who that tiny per cent might sing about next week.

“Peter Sutcliffe?” she shrugged.

Let us not go into the rights and wrongs of the Ched Evans case. Let us accept he had his rights - the right to a fair trial and the right to be judged by 12 of his peers - and he was found to have committed a (criminal and repugnant) wrong.

And let us accept that, through some perverse sense of loyalty, a tiny percentage of supporters decided to show solidarity with their striker. Idiots do idiotic things.

But what I have wondered about this week is the Blade who, when questioned by a fellow fan as to why he was joining in, replied: “Lighten up, it’s only banter.”

Ah, banter?

How loathsome you are; how limitless your lack of laughter; how utterly, completely devoid of merit or mirth.

Banter is not humour, it is the last refuge of the humourless. It is cruelty trying to excuse itself as comedy.

It is that bloke in the stand who sang that Ched Evans could, to paraphrase a term, do what he wanted.

It’s the office worker who can’t understand why his colleague is offended when he asks if she can lie down while he has sex. It’s the lads in the pub spitting obvious insults at each other and others. It’s schoolboys on a bus throwing chewed-up tickets. It’s Richard Keys saying ‘Smash it’ and Jeremy Clarkson calling for strikers to be shot. It’s Chris Moyles.

In short, banter is about as funny as toothache; the death-rattle cough where amusement has been chocked from existence .

Sort of like Mock The Week.

Not, I want to make clear, that I’m a prude when it comes to comedy.

For each different person a different laugh. If it’s racism, sexism or tragedy that tickles your funny bone, laugh away my small-minded friend. I would disprove of what you giggle at, as Voltaire might have said, but I would watch a David Mitchell panel show on Dave if it meant defending your right to giggle at it.

Lampooning? Profanity? Sarcasm? I enjoy them all. In the right context, there are few things more respectful than a ribbing.

But the banter-ers? How I wish they would fall from Earth taking their sweaty, beery, frat-boy banality with them.

For what really annoys me about bants - “top bants, lads, top bants” - is its complete refusal to take responsibility for what it revels in; the way its protagonists seek to firstly offend, then secondly to blame those who take the offence.

“It’s only banter,” is the excuse of our age. “You should be able to take the bants.”

Well, I can’t.

I dislike hearing it just as much as the banterers - from the bloke singing for Ched to fans of Frankie Boyle - dislike facing up to their own cowardly, shameful humour.

My advice to them? Grow some cojones and get better gags.

Life’s funnier that way.