Comedy is in danger of being “wiped out” by cancel culture, according to Dame Maureen Lipman, who said performers are toning down their material over fear of causing offence.
“It’s in the balance whether we will ever be funny again,” she said.
Dame Maureen, 75, and currently appearing in Coronation Street, said: “Cancel culture, this cancelling, this punishment, it’s everywhere. Punishment. An eye for an eye. ‘You said that, therefore you must never work again.’ Sooner or later, the cancellers will win.”
In an interview with the BBC, the comic actress said: “It’s a bit like laughter in church – something has to be forbidden to make you laugh, really belly laugh. It’s when you shouldn’t be laughing.
“All the things that have been cancelled out by being correct are, I’m afraid, all the things that make people laugh.”
A poll by YouGov found that 57 per cent of people censor themselves in conversation on issues including immigration and trans rights. While 21 per cent said they self-censored in the company of family, the figure rose to 40 per cent in the workplace and 49 per cent when speaking to people they had only just met.
Dame Maureen’s comments echo the sentiments of other comic figures including Terry Gilliam, whose show at London’s Old Vic was cancelled by what he called “a small group of closed-minded, humour averse ideologues” objecting to his support for Dave Chappelle, a comedian who had made controversial jokes about trans issues.
John Cleese has also complained vociferously about cancel culture.
However, many younger comedians disagree. Russell Kane, presenter of the Radio 4 podcast Evil Genius, told the BBC that people on the Left and Right were “trying to create culture wars at either end of the spectrum”.
Kane said: “I don’t believe freedom of speech is under threat. Why would I want to use hateful language? Why should we tolerate it?
“I think there’s a lot of people with much more extreme views, illegal views, hate crime-provoking views, who are driving this narrative [claiming] that those with moderate concerns about immigration, for example, can’t say it.”
However, Kane admitted that he had signed up to a website which automatically deletes his past tweets, as “a bit of self-protection”.