Occasionally we’re asked what we think about stuff; Kevin e-mailed us with this query over the weekend:
I’m interested in whether you’ve heard about the heat Tom Ballard and Triple J have faced for the Holocaust jokes he made as part of a segment with Alan Brough on Thursday morning (the offending segment seems to have been clipped out of the podcast version of the show). There’s been media back and forth about the subject and whether jokes about the Holocaust can ever be acceptable and Triple J and Ballard have released apologies (in Ballard’s case what reads to me as a half-hearted apology which apologised for how his joke was received rather than the content of his joke). Figured it might be of interest considering how vocal Ballard’s been about ‘every possible taboo’ being on the table in comedy.
None of us heard the Triple J breakfast show on Thursday, but as that’s never stopped us commenting on Ballard’s stupid utterances before here’s some thoughts…
All the media articles we can find about this matter agree that the gag in question was made during what Mumbrella described as…
…an on-air game to link two things together, Hitler and a wind-farm. In a reference to gas chambers used in concentration camps, Ballard suggested “fan-forced ovens”.
Obviously there could be a context to the game and the gag that we and the various other articles on this aren’t picking up on, but we doubt it. What it looks like to us is a bit of comedic improv gone wrong. Ballard was asked to link a couple of things together, his goal was to do that in a funny way, he ended up making a link but it wasn’t very funny, and even worse it was a bit offensive – FAIL.
Various articles and Twitter commentators have since taken Ballard’s comedic FAIL and argued that jokes about the Holocaust, and even Hitler, aren’t on. Several Jewish commentators including Dvir Abramovich in the Sydney Morning Herald and Jonno Seidler in The Vine have also made a link between Ballard’s gag and anti-Semitism. For us the gag itself doesn’t indicate that Ballard is an anti-Semite – we’d need to hear at least one other gag which suggested a casual disregard for, or a downright hatred of, the Jewish people and/or the Holocaust for us to agree with that, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
If the gag indicates anything it’s that Ballard’s crap at his job. Comedians do improv games such as this on the radio all the time, and what marks out the better ones is that they know how the game will go in advance allowing them time to plan. Take the long-running British radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, in which a panel of comedians improvise whilst play a series of silly games. When asked in interviews, the team members admit that they see the games a few hours in advance allowing them just enough time to work out some decent gags. This is what Ballard and friends should have done.
But they didn’t, and the nation was treated not just to Ballard’s fan-forced oven gag but another shitstorm about comedy and how offensive it’s allowed to be. We’ve also been here several times before with Tom Ballard, who has stated on many occasions that he thinks comedy should be allowed to shock people and break barriers and so on. Fair enough, it should. But shouldn’t it also do that in a smart way? There may well be hilarious gags to be made about the Holocaust, but wouldn’t it be better if they made a point we could all agree with? Making a gag which could easily be read as “Ballard’s handy suggestion for how to speed up the Holocaust, by using fan-forced ovens”, isn’t exactly smart. Or funny.
Back in February we wrote about another “controversy” involving Tom Ballard and his “anything goes in comedy” mantra. We made the point that Australian comedians often don’t put enough thought into individual gags or the context in which they sit, and that a gag isn’t funny or worthy simply because it’s an example of freedom of speech. Especially when dealing with topics like this there’s got to be a point to the joke, and the main point has to be funny. Tom Ballard has failed to do either once again.