Help! Have I become an anti-Semite?
There was a tricky moment in the recording ofÂ last weekâ€™s Saturday Review.
Under the chairmanship of Tom Sutcliffe, the panel â€“ Deborah Moggach, David Benedict and myselfÂ -were discussing the forthcoming Channel 4 series Friday Night Dinner, which aims to be a new and edgy take on the traditional Hi-honey-Iâ€™m-home domestic sitcom. Tamsin Greig plays the part of the dizzy mum, Paul Ritter the put-upon dad, while two annoying sons in their twenties are played by Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal.
They meet once a weekÂ – with, as the marketing people might say, hilarious consequences.
The panel, with one exception, Â felt rather warmly towards the programme. Tom and Debby thought it showed promise. David loved it. For me, it was simply the lamest alleged comedy I had seen on TV. Ever. Without exception.
At one point, David joked that perhaps it was because he was a good Jewish boy that the family and what happened to them made him laugh so much.
Briefly, nervously, I suggested that this was precisely the problem. For an edgy comedy, Friday Night Live seems a bit tentative. Â For example, the fact the family are Jewish is mentioned once, glancingly Â in the second episode (one of the son refers toÂ a Jewish dating agency on the internet). Â Why the shyness?
A slight chill descended on the discussion. David argued that just because a family is Jewish, there was no need for that to be part of the comedy. Debby pointed out that the background of the family was pretty obvious â€“ it was there in the title of the programme. Tom swiftly moved the discussion on.
This little disagreement has been worrying me ever since. Am I guilty of a sloppy kind of racism, assuming that a familyâ€™s racial background should be part of the comic mix? Come to think of it, am I the only person in the country who is too thick to understand the title,Â thinking thatÂ Friday night dinner simply means a dinner on Friday night?
I suspect that aÂ certain cultural bias may be Â at work here. If you are part of the media, and live in north London, all sorts of cultural signifiers might be more obvious to you than to others. For a comedy to make that same assumption seems to me to be taking sophistication rather too farÂ – and nobody could accuse this particular series of sophistication.
If a sitcom about Â family life Â excludes an important part of what they all are on grounds of taste, it Â is surely being unnecessarily guarded and well-behaved.
Are those thoughts racist?
I was relieved to hear Safraz Manzoor reaching a similar conclusion Â on BBC2â€™s The Review Show last night. One of the odd side-effects of multiculturalism, he said, was a smoothing out of racial difference, causing a certain blandness.
He and his fellow-critic Rosie Boycott also found the show appallingly unfunny. I may be guilty of low-grade racism and I may have lost my sense of humour along the way, but it is good to know that I am not entirely alone.
Addendum: this part of thee studioÂ discussion was a victim of BBC cuts and was not in the final edit of the programme.