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Too woke to be Fast in 2020s Britain?

Once our sense of humour and ability to laugh at ourselves has gone, whatever race, religion, or gender we are, then all hope really is lost, says Georgina Littlejohn.

Comedy is finding itself increasingly under attack in this age of wokeness…

It’s a show that was a big part of my early twenties and my friends and myself constantly quoted the many catchphrases it generated.

“Brilliant!”, “ooh, suits you sir”, “no offence” and “isn’t it, wasn’t it? Marvellous” to name but a few.

I’m talking, of course, about The Fast Show, the popular fast-paced sketch show created by comedians and writers Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson.

It ran from 1994 to 1997 with two specials airing in 2000 and 2014 and boosted the careers of its two creators as well as many members of its cast including the late Caroline Aherne, Arabella Weir, Simon Day, John Thomson and Mark Williams.

Some of the characters became beloved household names and their catchphrases were quoted in pubs and at parties up and down the land.

It even attracted some very famous names including Johnny Depp and Robbie Williams.

This weekend, the TV channel Gold is celebrating this Nineties classic with interviews with the cast, rarely seen footage and the clips that will forever be embedded in our memories.

I, for one, will be tuning in and I really, REALLY hope Gold hasn’t toned anything down.

Because in recent years I’ve often wondered if it had been pitched to the BBC today whether Whitehouse and Higson would have quickly been shown the door.

There is no way Aherne’s schoolgirl Janine’s moment of not revealing who the father of her baby is because “it’s not fair to grass on your headmaster” would have got past the censors.

There’s the Suits You tailors and their inappropriate behaviour and sexually explicit innuendos aimed at their customers, Swiss Tony comparing everything to “making love to a beautiful woman” the spoof Channel 9 and its presenters and their made up European language, Girl Men Can’t Hear, Inspector Monkfish – and of course, Johnny Nice Painter.

Twenty six years ago we chortled at the hilarity and silliness of it all, and didn’t think anything of it. But now?

No doubt the BBC (if it had even been commissioned) would have been bombarded with complaints about the promotion of paedophilia, sexual harassment, cultural appropriation, misogyny and, in the case of Johnny Nice Painter – being triggered by the world ‘black’.

Yes, there’s no denying that attitudes have changed, mostly for the better, but comedy is finding itself increasingly under attack in this age of wokeness.

Take Little Britain for example. Another popular, award-winning BBC comedy which ran for 4 series between 2003 and 2007 and had the nation howling with laughter at its absurdness and political incorrectness.

But this year, 17 years after it first aired, its creators and stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams were forced to apologise for “playing characters of other races” and every series was removed from BBC iPlayer.

Lucas said: “I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters.

“Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.

Which is absolutely fair enough. But he also added that he would love to bring the show back again. But how would that be possible? It could never be the same as it was. So why not forget it and move on?

Catherine Tate did. I haven’t seen or heard her apologise once for her character The Offensive Translator. Or her foul-mouthed Nan. Or the Christmas sketch in which she portrayed a Northern Irish family giving gifts of terrorist paraphernalia.

So why were Lucas and Walliams forced to apologise? Or Keith Lemon for that matter for his portrayal of Craig David and Michael Jackson on his series that aired 20 years ago? I also remember him taking off Melanie B aka Scary Spice and she thought it was absolutely hilarious!

Who are they pandering to? No one is forcing people to watch these shows, there is an off button on their televisions after all.

A poll carried out earlier this year by the newly-formed Campaign for Common Sense, found that more than two-thirds of people think that comedians should be free to tell jokes, even if they cause offence.

And 82 per cent of the 2,069 people polled agreed ‘too many people are easily offended these days’.

It’ll be interesting to see if Gold gets any complaints over its Fast Show tribute this weekend and what generation they will come from.

Because I know full well they won’t come from anyone over the age of 40. We might wince at the political incorrectness and laugh at the near-the-knuckle sketches but at the end of the day, a joke is a joke.

And once our sense of humour and ability to laugh at ourselves has gone, whatever race, religion, or gender we are, then all hope really is lost.

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Georgina Littlejohn

Georgina Littlejohn is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience specialising in general and London news, entertainment and music. She cut her teeth in TV writing for news, sport and showbiz programmes before moving into print, starting at Associated Newspapers where she worked across the board from the Metro to the Standard to the London Lite before ending at MailOnline, where she was one of the senior showbiz reporters. After going freelance and working stints at the Mirror, the Sun, Music Week and Closer magazine, she took a career break in 2014 to work for theatre impresario Bill Kenwright as his Head of Communications. After a year as Senior Homepage Editor for MSN, she is now back freelancing and currently working for the i newspaper and its award-winning website. Georgina also volunteers as a kennel assistant for the Mayhew and as a befriender for Age UK.

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