How was it for you? Susan Calman on Those Phonecalls

Top three annoying complaints about Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. Part of How was it for you? - Scottish Comedians discuss key events of 2008.

Feature by Susan Calman | 01 Dec 2008
  • Susan Calman

In case you hadn’t noticed, a few weeks back a comedian and a TV presenter made a few phone calls to a man who was in a British sitcom three decades ago. Put like that it seems fairly innocuous, so for those who have been dead to the world for the past two months a brief précis of the facts as we know it are as follows. Russell Brand, with Jonathan Ross, records his Radio 2 programme, which contains now much publicised comments left on Andrew Sachs answering machine regarding Brand’s sexual liason with Sach’s granddaughter. The programme is broadcast two days later (between 9-11pm with a warning of strong language) and the complaints flood in.

According to some, these only come in when the issue is picked up by the Daily Mail. What is not in doubt is that the way that it was reported meant that bandwagons followed bandwagons and for every person genuinely annoyed at the call there was someone who merely followed the Daily Mail’s lead. The press attacked the story with venom using it as an illustration of the declining morals in our society. The uproar from the public was matched with the uproar from comics who foretold the end of freedom of speech and defended Brand and Ross whilst bemoaning the stupidity of the British Public. Each side in the debate argues its case with vitriol and outrage barely stopping to consider each others' position. As a comic, licence payer, comedy lover and general busy body; this is my response to the top 3 most annoying complaints about the Brand/Ross prank phone calls.

Annoying complaint number one: "It’s just wrong. It wouldn’t have happened like this without all the YouTube stuff. It’s really unfair that the show appeared again on the internet. It was just trial by media."

You cannot pitch a programme to a TV or Radio company now without being asked "What’s our online presence?" "What virals can we use?" "How can we direct traffic to our carefully leaked YouTube videos?". The media have trained and encouraged us to use the Internet. They can’t then whine when it is used against them. The way that we all watch/listen to programmes is changing. Many people don’t listen to radio programmes at the time they are broadcast. I am more likely use iPlayer to catch up onwhat I have missed and many people would not have listened to it or realised what had happened until after the fact. The issue is not when people got offended. Just because no-one complained after the original broadcast does not mean that people did not complain with justification.

Annoying complaint number two: "The grandaughter deserved it. She’s a slut and now she’s sold her story!"

So Andrews Sach’s granddaughter made the hideous mistake of sleeping with Russell Brand. I’m sure that will live with her forever. What made me angrier than a Steven Seagal film was the fact that many people justified Brand/Ross’s call because she was in a band called the Satanic Sluts. Would the mass ranks of the comics of the country be more offended for her if she was a woman of 'better' repute? Is it ok to humiliate someone because they are a glamour model? The justification of the attack on her is tantamount to the 'women wearing short skirts deserve to be attacked' good old view from the 70s. And then she had the nerve to sell her story, so she made a bit of money out of it! How dare she?! She didn’t start the argument and didn’t ask to be involved in it. The men who found the Brand/Ross call the funniest also seem to be the ones whose eyes go red and start foaming at the mouth at a woman who dared to be in a band with 'Slut' in the title and then had the cheek to have some dignity and self-respect.

Annoying complaint number three: 'It’s censorship! Now I won’t be able to tell my jokes about shagging and masturbation. It’s a restriction of my art!'

This is the thing that annoys me the most regarding this whole saga; the comics sitting whining in their rooms about censorship and how it will affect their art. Never has there been more freedom to disseminate your thoughts. Just because you aren't on the BBC doesn't mean that no one will listen to you. Set up a podcast, get on a digital radio station, make a film and stick it on YouTube. Create some edgy dark comedy that is actually fucking funny – then people will pay attention to it. But don't whine about how the BBC will return to "old fashioned sit coms". For one thing, some of those old sitcoms were actually funny as opposed to some of the shit that's on the TV today. TV isn't all about us young people and our crazy humour. There are people who might want to watch something that doesn't involve a man talking about his cock. Crazy I know! Secondly, it is up to us as comics to create comedy which the TV companies cannot ignore. If that sounds idealistic maybe it is. But we are the ones with the microphones and the ability to write. Maybe if people stopped moaning and started creating, something good might come out of this. The times when censorship seems at its most vicious are the times when the most humour and creativity can prevail. So I implore you all, if you are angry about it all then good! But please, for the love of god, don't just follow those who are saying that the BBC are fucked because of this. Do something about it. Embrace live comedy. Write more. Be political and edgy and offensive any time you like. Brand/Ross doesn't stop that – so stop being lazy and get off your arses, put down your picture of Bill Hicks and make some people laugh.