George Floyd Black Lives Matter BLM The Mighty Boosh Racism

The only thing that’s offensive about The Mighty Boosh is claiming it’s racist

After the infuriating and unjustified public execution of George Floyd by cowardly American police officers, question marks were put above comedy shows spanning across the history of television and whether they’ve played a part in normalising a feeling of hate towards black members of society. Although some of these examples were justified and rightly led to specific programmes being removed from streaming services and television schedules, one has stood out as being one that should be exempt from the others: The Mighty Boosh.

The Mighty Boosh blackface claims leads to indefinite Netflix exile

From the outrageously on-the-nose caricatures of black people used in Little Britain to the outdated views of landmark comedy sitcoms from the 1970s, the last week has seen a categorisation and reassessment of comedy – both new and old – to decipher what was and wasn’t pushing the boundaries too far. Although a lot of fans of these programmes reluctantly agreed with the decision to remove them from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, it was a shock on Thursday afternoon to hear that The Mighty Boosh had been added to the list of the now-condemned comedy platforms.

Now, I’m aware that this is a sensitive issue and I won’t even attempt to understand how people of colour feel in regards to systemic racism either in the UK or abroad. I will say that, in my opinion, it’s far worse in America, as black members of society are brutally assaulted, treated differently or even killed by the police on an almost daily basis. But I’m aware that racism is also sadly part of the British DNA too, with it hard to envisage many CEOs that aren’t old white men with revolting and frequently-aired personal views. However, when racism is addressed in television programmes or blackface is used, context plays an utterly crucial role in how it’s intended.

Questioning other comedy shows is to be expected, but not The Mighty Boosh

It may sound like a bizarre statement to make, but it really is hard to question anything on The Mighty Boosh. The claims of racism against the show come from Julian Barratt using blackface to portray psychedelic rock legend Rudi van DiSarzio and Noel Fielding painting his face black, donning dreadlocks and putting on a generic black American accent to play The Spirit of Jazz. Firstly, The Spirit of Jazz is technically a demon and not outlined as being a black person in any form, but even the character of Rudi – as a pretty blatantly black character – is completely inoffensive.

Yes, that is easy to say coming from a white person that’s never experienced racism towards myself or anyone I know, but I just struggle to see how a show as utterly bizarre and surreal as The Mighty Boosh could be seen as offensive in any way, shape or form. Fawlty Towers was pulled from UKTV Gold for the use of revolting racist terms that I simply won’t include on my website, even with the use of asterisks. However, although it was perfectly understandable that the show had to be removed due to the use of these words, they were used by an ageing character (Major Gowen) that didn’t know any better, and the point of the joke was that the person he was talking to (Basil Fawlty) reacted to him by rolling his eyes and hinting that the Major was being quite unnecessarily racist without even knowing it.

John Cleese, who portrayed Basil Fawlty, has since spoken about the controversy tied to Fawlty Towers, where he made some interesting points about it and how it was ahead of its time in reflecting racism and its dangers despite being produced in a time where it was still relatively – and regrettably – acceptable. Admittedly, I was worried that John Cleese would show unwelcome colours with his comments, but I personally thought he was right to address it head-on and that what he said was absolutely spot on.

John Cleese’s comments led to UKTV Gold reinstating an episode they’d removed, but not all comedy series are as innocent. Little Britain could be argued as being just as wacky and bizarre as The Mighty Boosh, but as part of its humour came from attempting to be outlandish and shock its viewers, it’s far harder to give it any credit. Come Fly With Me was another show by Little Britain creators and stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams that pushed the boundaries, possibly going further by the comedians choosing to dress up as other hideous caricatures of ethnic minorities including Asian schoolgirls and an African-born tea lady.

Similar could be said of The League of Gentlemen, which is something of an arbiter between The Mighty Boosh and Little Britain through being a peculiar sitcom that’s designed to shock. In The League of Gentlemen, Reece Shearsmith played intimidating bigamist gypsy Papa Lazarou, who is presented with the face of a black and white minstrel. I can’t help but feel a sense of sympathy with The League of Gentleman that is similar to my feelings towards The Mighty Boosh, as it always attempted to make something bizarre and funny rather than genuinely offend anyone, but Little Britain and The League Gentlemen share their love for pushing the boundaries, so it’s almost inevitable that they now must deal with the consequences.

Edgy comedy likely to be watered down by future pioneers

The Mighty Boosh falls into the same category of Reeves and Mortimer humour in the sense that it’s ridiculous beyond comprehension. No offence is ever meant by anything that’s said or presented, and no work by Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding or Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer has ever attempted to make a point about society or pull any serious punches. The worst you’ll get from either act is a ludicrous character that loosely resembles an unfavourable public figure or a cheeky, hollow jab made towards bin men, farmers, sailors, people in positions of power or the people who control student loans.

Due to the absolutely ridiculous nature of The Mighty Boosh, it’s hard to find anything they say as being offensive or even take it at all seriously. With complaints made by members of the public or companies playing it safe by removing programmes such as The Mighty Boosh simply to be on the safe side, it’s hard to ignore the fact that if people are being offended by shows such as this, god only knows what else they may find offensive and how cultural changes such as this could prevent truly cutting edge comedy from being created in the future.

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