Thank you to the Comedy for Change community and the organisers of The Finger Awards, for inviting me to introduce the final awards in this year’s event: two Honorary Mentions. As a board member of K7 Media, it’s a pleasure to support your work.
I am delighted that I have been able to travel from Amsterdam to this little archipelago off the coast of Europe, in person, to be with you in this room.
I bring you greetings from my family.
My husband and I have been together for 34 years, and we have been married twice, once illegally and once legally. My husband, in the precise pseudo-scientific language of Colonial racism, is an octoroon. I would say he’s ‘mixed race’, except of course he is not – he is wholly of the human race. He was a refugee for a period of his life, and I was deported from my native country with three weeks notice. He and I have changed nationalities four times. We have two adopted sons, both heterosexual apparently – something of a surprise. One has profound intellectual disabilities, is non-verbal, and is a cyborg in the sense that he is dependent on a programmable pacemaker. The birth child of immigrant parents, he has been co-parented by his birth parents and by me and my husband. He has three fathers and a mother, and one of his parents has a communication-spectrum disorder.
I bring you greetings, too, from those members of my family who are trans, who have dementia, who have mental health problems, and who have been victims of domestic violence and of war.
My family is like your family, and like all our families: full of humans muddling along. And, like all our families, mine is a diverse ecosystem that resists statistical ideas of ‘normal’.
During the course of my lifetime, what has changed to make it possible that I should introduce myself and my family in these terms, to you, at an event like this?
The answer is culture – the culture has changed. By culture, I mean the web that ‘holds us’ in place in society: the set of beliefs, assumptions and practices that define why and how we do the things that we do.
One of the difficulties we encounter in thinking about culture is the myth that there is or was a moment of ‘cultural perfection’, a moment in which – say – we were all happily married white heterosexual couples living in the Northern hemisphere and creating normal, happy families, in peaceful and united societies.
But the truth is that there is no moment of cultural perfection, despite all those annoying trade headlines about ‘a golden age of gameshows’ or a ‘golden age of TV drama’.
In a profound sense, culture is change.
You and I, we work in a cultural sector we can broadly describe as ‘entertainment’. Entertainment is an exchange of attention by the audience in return for the satisfaction of some kind of desire. Comedy, in a sense, is culture in action – and action is both motivated and creates an effect.
My question is – given our shared humanness, our essential lack of anything approaching normality, our onward rush toward our unknown futures, given our talent and our privileged access to the widest of public platforms – how should we think about our personal and collective contribution to the past, to the present and to the future of culture, and therefore to society?
Things which are not natural are cultural objects, even when they are ideas. Since they are created by humans, cultural objects stand open to critical scrutiny. More than standing open, these objects should be interrogated for their underlying assumptions, biases, unimagined impacts and implications, and also for potential change. An anthropologist, studying Big Brother, once said to me that in order to understand a culture you must first ‘make it strange’.
Cultural objects should be critically challenged, reinterpreted and changed. All entertainment – and specifically, perhaps, comedy – can and should open up critical debate. And all entertainment, including comedy, can and should both change, and create debate and change.
Criticism is confronting – but it need not be confrontational. Or, to put it another way, we need to accept that being critical is not the same thing as being oppositional.
Opposition is for politics.
Opposition is for the revolution, comrades.
As a family member, I want to contribute to a sustainable, just and global society.
This is in part because I have directly benefitted from movements that began with ideas of criticism and ended with justice, and in part because recent years have taught me not to assume these gains are irrevocable.
But for the most part, when I think about the safety and security of my family in the future, I must believe in a world that does not yet exist and I believe I must actively work to achieve that vision – and that is a creative act that begins with the criticism of our culture. I want my family to have an equitable future. To the extent that I am a creative person (albeit not a funny one), to the extent that we are all creative people, this is my challenge, and perhaps it is all of our challenge: to create a tomorrow, and a next year, and a decade, and a century – stretching on and on into infinity – for all of us.
This approach inevitably leads me to criticise the industry, which is also a cultural object. Regulation is not an excuse for a failure of criticism, challenge and change.
Thank you for everything that you do to imagine a better future, and to make it a reality. Now please convince your production company, your distribution partners, sponsors and your broadcast platform to do the same. And if you can’t achieve that, think again.
Yes, you heard me, comrades.
On behalf of my family – and yours – thank you for being there, for doing what you do, in the way that you do it, for the reasons that you do it. Stay critical. Stay funny.
And stand for positive change.”
Gary delivered this speech at the annual Finger Awards ceremony on Wednesday 1 December 2021. You can watch the video here.