Censoriousness producing chilling effect on comedies, says Graham Linehan

Bafta-winning writer Graham Linehan has said he feels there has been a “chilling effect” on comedies due to a “sudden atmosphere of censoriousness”.

The Father Ted creator, 55, who also wrote TV sitcoms The IT Crowd and Black Books, has faced a backlash in recent years for being a vocal critic of the trans rights movement.

Speaking about the success of his shows in an interview for the Telegraph Book Club, he said: “I think everyone’s beginning to realise, it was a kind of (the) golden years for British comedy.

“And I’m getting a bit nervous now that this kind of wealth of comedy that we might not see again for a while, because of the sudden atmosphere of censoriousness and what you might call a kind of ‘psychotic politeness’ that means that you’re not allowed to make fun of anyone.”

Graham Linehan
Writer Graham Linehan (Niall Carson/PA)

He added: “I think there’s definitely a chilling effect, you know by the lack of good comedies in the last five years. There’s very few strong ones.”

Linehan said it would be “impossible” to make a show like the 1980s sitcom The Young Ones, which followed four dissimilar students, as he does not feel you could talk about social issues.

He said: “These people take themselves so terribly seriously. You simply wouldn’t be allowed. You’d be entering into a lot of these third rail issues that you’re not allowed to talk about – the trans issue, race issues. You’d have to speak about these things.

“But I think now that if someone comes up with an idea, with the same kind of anarchic quality, the same kind of desire to grapple with the reality of what it’s like to be young in the UK at the moment, you wouldn’t be allowed to do it.

“I mean, not allowed to do it, it wouldn’t occur to you to do it because you just wouldn’t be able to imagine it getting off.”

During the interview with The Telegraph’s associate editor, Camilla Tominey, she pointed out that his hit series Father Ted has remained popular due to its “gentle nature” humour, to which he agreed.

“We always felt if everyone’s doing one type of thing, do the opposite and it will stand out and that’s what we always did,” he said.

“And we just thought if every other character in sitcoms at that time were cynical and rude and we had characters who would say ‘feck’ instead of the bad word because they’re so polite and they’re so innocent.

“And there was something about that, that just allowed us to stand out from everybody.”

Graham Norton Show – London
Richard Ayoade (Ian West/PA)

Linehan has recently released a book titled Tough Crowd: How I Made And Lost A Career In Comedy, which is billed as an “emotionally charged memoir” that details the so-called unravelling of his career after he “championed an unfashionable cause”.

The book features positive reviews from IT Crowd star Richard Ayoade and TV presenter Jonathan Ross on its front cover.

Both received a backlash online for their reviews, which saw Ayoade describe the memoir as an “extraordinary and chilling portrayal of cancel culture”, while chat show host Ross said it was a “compelling and unflinchingly honest” memoir.

Linehan said: “I would never have expected Richard, especially, to say anything because Richard has never really been a political player, he doesn’t opine on Twitter about the issues of the day.

“So I was enormously grateful for him to kind of come out like that and give a bit of support.

“And Jonathan as well, Jonathan’s always been just so decent and lovely and one of the few people who actually sees what it’s like to go through something like what I’ve gone through, I’ll always be grateful to them.”

The book’s release comes after two venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe refused to host his comedy show this year.

Leith Arches said the decision to cancel the booking was because his views did not “align” with their overall values.

Linehan, who has won five Bafta awards as well as a lifetime achievement award, hosted his comedy routine outside the Scottish Parliament in an open air show.