October 17, 2023 - 7:01pm

Last night, the UnHerd Club saw one comedian interviewing another.  

Following the publication of his memoir ‘Tough Crowd’, Graham Linehan, creator of the wildly successful sitcom Father Ted, joined acclaimed satirist and culture critic Andrew Doyle. 

Their conversation included a penetrating analysis of the comedy industry as well as a look at Graham’s cancellation following his involvement in the gender debate. While Linehan is known by many as a fervent gender-critical activist, his recent memoir is a reminder of what life was like before. So the first half of the evening focused on the art of comedy writing. Those who’d watched the free-wheeling episodes of Father Ted, Black Books and the IT crowd all appreciated the seemingly effortless wit and absurdity of each show. But most were likely unaware of the effort required in their creation and execution. As Linehan said:

Everything has to either be funny, tell the story, or reveal character. And if it doesn’t do those things, then it really has to earn its way in. Even if it’s just funny for its own sake. You just have to be savage.
- Graham Linehan

The conversation then moved on to the topic which led to Linehan’s cancellation: gender ideology. Emotions ran high in the room and a round of applause followed when Graham said that he would never “sell out” on the issue — even if it means that his Edinburgh shows are forever cancelled

Doyle pointed out at that many accused Linehan of being “obsessed” with the trans issue. In response, Linehan explained how and why he became so involved in the gender-critical movement. He then began to ruminate on the high rates of osteoporosis among young transitioners and the erosion of women’s sport. He settled the question by asking the audience: “How could I not be obsessed with it?”

While Linehan had to face a significant backlash in the comedy industry for his views on gender, what angered him even more was the “outlawing” of offensive jokes within the industry. Doyle and Linehan agreed that censorship is not only devastating to comedy but that it upsets an important societal balance. The Father Ted writer illustrated this point by examining the role of the court jester. In his reading, the king had always given the jester a free pass to be offensive because the jester’s humorous observations were of use to him:

The role of the jester was to represent the common man to the king. So the king would go, ‘okay, why are they making fun of me?’ It was a valuable service to the king. They are risking their lives by telling the king exactly what they think.
- Graham Linehan

In a kingless society, however, one in which the mob rules, the jester’s role becomes impossible to perform — not only because he or she risks cancellation at every turn, but because the mob is too frightened to laugh. In that climate, jokes will lose their subtlety and land flat: 

When the mob is in power, then there’s no single figure to speak to, you’re certainly not allowed to say anything. Because my friend over there, he might get offended. And suddenly everyone gets self-conscious. That means that possibly one of the most integral figures in human history, the jester, can’t do his job.
- Graham Linehan

Both comedians agreed that today, just as the jester finds himself unable to perform his job, we need him more than ever. “In a time of rampant conformity,” Linehan said, “the jester should be a protected species. We should be breeding them like pandas, not pushing them towards extinction”.