Sense of humour failure: Council slaps ban on mother-in-law jokes for being 'offensively sexist'
Have you heard the one about the council bosses who can’t take a joke?
Mother-in-law jokes, once the bedrock of British comedy, have been banned by the London Borough of Barnet because they are ‘offensively sexist’ and disrespectful to ‘family elders’.
In a council publication, staff are told not to indulge in the gags, which made the careers of classic comics Les Dawson and Bob Monkhouse.
Relatively funny: Jane Fonda, left, plays a mother-in-law from hell in the film Monster In Law, alongside Jennifer Lopez
The booklet, Cultural Awareness: General Problems, warns: ‘Humour can be incredibly culture-specific, and is very open to misinterpretation or even offense [sic] by other cultures. And don’t forget when you don’t know what people are laughing at, it is very easy to imagine that they are laughing at you.’
The guide, obtained by The Mail on Sunday through a Freedom of Information request, adds: ‘British mother-in-law jokes, as well as offensively sexist in their own right, can also be seen as offensive on the grounds that they disrespect elders or parents.’
The ban has been greeted with a mixture of anger and bemusement.
Dom Joly, the comedian, broadcaster and author, described the advice as ‘completely insane’.
He said: ‘All comedy is basically about taking the **** out of someone. You either ban it all and end up living in a place like North Korea or you leave well enough alone.’
Kings of comedy: Les Dawson, Bob Monkhouse and Peter Kay have all been bastions of the mother-in-law joke
John Sessions, the writer and actor, said the ban was the brainchild of someone with a ‘sense-of-humour bypass’. He said: ‘I can almost hear the adenoidal estuary vowels of the person who dreamt up this one.’
Mother-in-law jokes have been around since Roman times. Satire VI, written by the Roman Juvenal in the first century AD, states: ‘It is impossible to be happy while one’s mother-in-law is still alive.’
As well as Les Dawson and Bob Monkhouse, the jokes are associated with a string of comedy stars including Peter Kay and Joan Rivers.
In one sketch, American comedienne Ms Rivers tells the audience she has just cremated her mother-in-law. She adds: ‘Perhaps I should have waited until she was dead.’
Les Dawson’s contributions included: ‘I can always tell when the mother-
in-law’s coming to stay . . . the mice throw themselves on the traps.’
The 12-page guide is used by Barnet in taxpayer-funded equality and diversity sessions for its staff.
It also highlights other cultural differences and potential areas of misunderstanding. It says the ‘closed finger and thumb’ gesture, used by Britons to indicate something is good, is offensive to the French as they use the same gesture to signify worthlessness.
Staff are also told that travellers don’t like to bathe in still water and that most Britons would never eat dog or horse, even though they are delicacies elsewhere.
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