Laughing at Ourselves



Scots are well able to laugh at themselves.

Like Jews lampooning Jewish traditions and beliefs, the best jokes about Scots emanate from Scots. It helps us get through our daily vicissitudes.

To my mind Billy Connolly was funniest when he was living among us making as laugh at his observations of our behaviour and values. As soon as he thought of himself as an international “artist,” (artists are painters – the rest are artistes) and chose to live removed from his source material, he became less funny, reliant on borrowed anecdotes relating them as if his own experience. Somehow Connolly’s gibes are less acceptable now that he lives abroad. The inference is he is making fun (and money) at our expense, not opening our eyes to our eccentricities and faults.

Frankie Boyle, one of many new wave stand up comics, can be scathing. I saw him interviewed on RT – Russian Television. His anti-Scottish jokes were fine, a few very witty, but as soon as he was asked about Scotland’s right to self-determination he choked and stuttered, resorting to socialist rhetoric and scorn though he appears to support autonomy. Pulp fiction detective writer, Ian Rankin, a man confident enough to take a stab at humour in public, is not a supporter of independence. Sale of his books depend on London’s literary agents and English readers. Why kill the goose that lays the golden egg? Courage gentlemen, courage.

Some time ago I got into an argument about the differences between Scots and English. The other side trotted out the usual quotations from Samuel Johnson, the compiler of the first dictionary. Barely into the debate minutes and out came the predictable citation: “The noblest prospect a Scotchman (sic) ever sees is the high road that leads him to England.”

Today, an epigrammatic prone “Brit” might be better coining the phrase, “The fastest train to Scotland will take an Englishman only as far as Birmingham and all the taxes from the Scots to pay for it.” There is irony in that.

What we are not told is, Johnson’s researchers were Scots for all of the nine years it took to compile his dictionary. I hope they made a joke at his expense. “When it comes to brain work Johnson turns to his staff.” Seek out a generous Oxbridge academic and you might learn his biographer, the Scot, James Boswell, was a superior writer, in fact, he was a writer of the first rank. More irony. A Scot promoted Johnson’s worth beyond London.

“When a man seeks worth outside his native London he turns to a Scot for help.” (Grouse Beater. 2014.)

From Johnson we learn the definition of “oats.” “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”

The humanity of a nation is tossed away for the sake of a cheap epigram.

This brings us back to the argument of character differences, Scots to English, and the racist attack I found myself unable to shake off. The insults kept coming, Scots are inferior to English. Back to the wall, I played a sleight of hand. Without attributing authorship, I trotted out a dozen epigrams and aphorisms highly critical of English mores and behaviour. Here are a few:

Margaret Thatcher is a half-mad old bag lady.”
“Is it true you make your own yoghurt? You just stare at a pint of milk?”
“HRH’s accent has definitely become middle-class. Next Christmas it will be, “I luv’s ya awl, loads.”
“No British Prime Minister has ever done anything interesting after leaving Downing Street.”
“English have an unhealthy distrust of foreigners and intellectuals.”

They are all remarks made of English by English.

The first quotation is MP Tony Banks. The second is a reporter about Anne Robinson. The third is Stephen Pile about the Queen. Next is English journalist and former MP, Matthew Parris. Last is George Orwell in his essay on the English.

I braced myself. The counter-attack was a torrent of venom. I waited until the flow abated.

I explained the quotations, wit and wisdom, were all written by Englishmen about English, not about the Scots.

My point is, we all have faults. Laughing at ourselves shows maturity.

I can chuckle at the Duke of Edinburgh’s leaden question to a Scottish driving instructor. “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them past their test?” I laugh at his lact of tact, not at the implication all Scots are drunks.

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2 Responses to Laughing at Ourselves

  1. andygm1 says:

    I recall the late, great Dave Allen telling a joke to an English audience. The butt of the joke was the ‘thick’ Irishman. The audience laughed uproariously and Allen said,

    “Ah, it’s great to be able to laugh at yourself!”

    The audience chuckled appreciatively. He then told another joke,

    “When I moved from Ireland to England, I simultaneously increased the IQ of both nations.”

    There was a pause while they worked this one out and then a few uncertain titters.

    “Ah, it’s great to be able to laugh at yourself!”

    There was dead silence and a certain air of hostility.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    A good anecdote.
    Thank you for all your industry on the Guardian and Wings in support of the cause..

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