You're no Larry David; Why Tom and Alex's Holocaust joke really isn't funny

Update: Although Triple J apologised on Facebook yesterday for Tom Ballard's on air remarks, at time the author wrote this article no official apology had been issued by Tom Ballard.  He issued an apology at 1.30pm today. Although it was written before that time, Jonno Seidler's story did not go live until an hour and a half later. The apologies from Triple J and Tom Ballard are as follows:

Tom Ballard
I'm very sorry that on my breakfast radio program, I offended and upset a lot of people. That's not what I like doing; I like making people laugh and I like making people happy.  I never set out to vindictively offend or belittle anyone or any group with my comedy, that’s not what I’m about. I sincerely apologize that’s how I came across in this instance.

triple j
On Thursday morning’s breakfast show, some comments were made by a triple j presenter in relation to Hitler that have received a negative reaction. Further to our post yesterday on facebook ("Hey we take your complaints and this issue seriously. We agree it was inappropriate. It has been followed up with the program involved and we apologise for any offence caused.”), triple j takes all complaints seriously. We recognise the concerns regarding the comments are serious. triple j agrees the comments made were inappropriate. The matter has been followed up with the Breakfast team. triple j regrets the matter and apologises unreservedly for any offence caused.

Via Triple J

While this piece was published after the apology was issued, it was written in an earlier context and we believe the arguments made in the story are still relevant in light of the apologies. 

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Yesterday Tom and Alex made an offensive Holocaust joke on triple j. I’ve only heard it played back to me, because the last thing I want to listen to in the morning is anybody talking. The stunt, which involved a sort of ‘6 degrees of separation’ game where the ultimate link was Hitler, included some extremely tasteless references to wind farms, by way of fan-forced ovens in concentration camps, among other highlights. Everyone makes mistakes, particularly young, fast and louche media personalities on one of the most popular radio stations in the land. As a Jew, I’d be more than happy to let it blow over if he’d apologise. But by all accounts, he hasn’t. Ballard in particular has used his Twitter account to respond to accusations of racism by passive-aggressively agreeing with his critics and comparing himself to a raft of other comedians, including Mel Brooks, who made similar cracks. 

But here’s the thing about Tom. He’s not Jewish. And if there was ever a rule in the school of comedy, it’s that you don’t make jokes about a tribe you don’t belong to. By invoking comparisons to Brooks, Ballard conveniently tries to justify this behaviour by classing himself alongside the venerable greats of Jewish comedy. I’m sure if he’d spent longer on his rebuttal, he would have included Jerry Seinfeld, Seth Rogen, Zach Braff, Sarah Silverman and Larry David, too. Holocaust jokes aren’t funny 98% of the time, but when they are, it’s those guys who are allowed to make them. They’ve rationalised an approach to the tragedy based on the suffering of their ancestors, and it’s usually the other Jews who get it. It’s a weird exception to the rules of social engagement, the same one that allows Eddie Murphy and Dave Chapelle to riff on African American slavery and the n-word, but makes it completely unacceptable if you hear it come from the Irish Catholic Stephen Colbert. But that’s just how it is. And you don’t need to be a state-paid funnyman to know that.

I’ve never really thought Tom and Alex were that funny. They speak as fast as I do, which means that nobody with a proper attention span can understand them, and they frequently use this pace to disguise the fact that they have no idea who they’re talking to or what they’re talking about. But a bunch of kids love them, and that’s fine. Horses for courses. Ballard later tweeted, somewhat angrily "Dude, if you don't like the show, just don't listen. It's profoundly easy." That’s an argument that’s fair enough in theory, except for the fact that Ballard in particular isn’t confined only to his breakfast program. He’s a stand-up comedian of considerable worth, often called upon for TV appearances across commercial and government networks and last year released his own DVD. Not listening, in Ballard’s case also includes watching, seeing live and streaming. I don’t know Ballard personally, but I seem to be listening to him all the time and I only play CDs in my car. When you have a multi-platform presence as established as his, you’re no longer an anonymous talking head in radio-land.

What I really take offence to, however, is how blasé Ballard is about the anti-Semitic stunt when he is more than happy to blow up at anybody who challenges beliefs that are important to him. I recall a huge, thirteen minute YouTube barrage that Ballard launched through social media last year to put columnist Miranda Devine in her place because she dared to weigh in on gay marriage. 

What Ballard needs to realise is that those who demand equal rights would do well to look in their own back yard. Obviously somewhere between giving 360 a career and Q+A, the ABC censorship panel decided that gay rights and marriage equality was in but that Jewish tolerance was old hat. Ballard, as emblematic of this Nouveau Leftist attitude that’s sweeping my favourite radio station and indeed most of their programming, isn’t apologising because he really doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. I mean, in the grand scheme of Mossad passport snatching, the flotilla drama and Israel being an apartheid state that rains down terror on everyone all of the time, who’s going to remember the Holocaust, right?

This Olympics marks forty years since terrorists stormed the Munich Olympics and brutally murdered eleven Israeli athletes. The IOC has come under fire for refusing to acknowledge the events and allow a minute’s silence for the victims. At the time, I didn’t see what the huge fuss was about. But this week’s events have really put things into perspective; people have stopped seeing the Jews as victims. Australia has a never-ending supply of problems, whether it is Ballard’s issues with being legally recognised to marry someone of the same sex or the waves of boats full of asylum seekers that keep capsizing in the ocean, so realistically, given our socio-economic status, we simply do not rank.

But Jews do not live in completely trouble-free times. Even many decades after the war on the other side of the world, anti-Semitism is still rife and the hatred remains strong. I went to school with armed guards patrolling the exterior, where we were told not to wear our kippot outside of the grounds, in case we were harassed, which happened frequently. My synagogue has metal detectors out front and is coated in bomb-proof glass. These measures wouldn’t be taken if they weren’t necessary; nobody fantasises about people who hate them so much that they desire to murder them in a house of worship or an education facility. It may not be as obvious, especially to someone who sits in an ivory tower in Ultimo every morning, but the reason Holocaust jokes are a no-go is because in my grandparents’ lifetime, our families were decimated by the greatest hate crime the world has ever seen. And right in there dying with the millions of Jews in the gas chambers and burning in the fan-forced ovens were the other citizens that the Nazis deemed unsavoury; homosexuals.

Hilarious, right?


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23 comments so far..

  • Jandimane's avatar
    Commenter
    Jandimane
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:00 PM
    Really well written and well considered piece. I appreciate when I learn new things through someone's writing, and Jewish-based racism isn't something that many Australians have to consider on a regular basis.

    Tom Ballard's self-gratifying performance at the Brisbane comedy festival left me tired and disappointed last year. He took easy pickings on the keen teenage girls who had come early, paid their tickets and sat front row. He drunkenly shamed, embarrassed and isolated them and within that dragged an unwilling audience into unfunny gluttonous descriptions of rough and semi-violent sexual experiences. By the end, he'd lost his audience who were there to be on his side and I truly felt sorry for these girls who clearly had not come to be victimised in a show. Until now, the most recent I saw of him, was the use of his twitter account, linking to the Vivid festival to canvas for casual sex during the height of the festival.

    Clearly, he abuses his privileged national career platform and I avoid him for it. His passive-agressive sewer of a comedy career should wait till JJJ passes. Triple J, give the kids some better gay heroes, please give someone more clever a go who can keep his or her shit together.
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  • callumbum's avatar
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    callumbum
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:04 PM
    "As a Jew, I’d be more than happy to let it blow over if they’d apologise. But by all accounts, they haven’t. "

    Except here...

    http://www.facebook.com/tomandalex
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  • Simon Taylor's avatar
    Commenter
    Simon Taylor
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:10 PM
    "And if there was ever a rule in the school of comedy, it’s that you don’t make jokes about a tribe you don’t belong to."

    Says who? Russell Peters has made a career out of it. He does it deftly and he's just one example.

    "Eddie Murphy and Dave La Chapelle to riff on African American slavery and the n-word, but makes it completely unacceptable if you hear it come from the Irish Catholic Stephen Colbert."

    Actually, one of the most notable comedy bits on the n-word was done by Louis CK. George Carlin is another example. They both come from Irish Catholic stock. You're under researched...as exemplified by you writing 'Dave La Chapelle' who isn't even a comedian.

    "I’ve never really thought Tom and Alex were that funny."

    This is irrelevant. Whether a comedian is funny to you or not, their main intention is comedy. That is what needs to be recognised. If their intention were antisemitism then perhaps you'd have a stronger case.

    "What Ballard needs to realise is that those who demand equal rights would do well to look in their own back yard. "

    What right are you defending? You don't have the right not to be offended. You don't have the right to not to be joked about. I understand you're upset with Tom but he hasn't infringed upon your rights or even implied so. Perhaps he was insensitive but he was certainly not vilifying of Jewish people.

    You're emotional about this, but I can't see your rationale for Tom to apologise.
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  • samgerber's avatar
    Commenter
    samgerber
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:14 PM
    Tom Ballard, thanks for the apology.

    Be aware though that a good apology apologises for what was said, not for how it was received. For a good example, see Jason Alexander on homophobic jokes: http://www.glaad.org/blog/actor-jason-alexander-apologizes-jokes-made-cbs-late-late-show

    Simple rules of thumb:

    (1) Making fun of your own mob : Funny

    (2) Making fun of a group that generally does alright in our society: Can be funny

    (3) Making fun of groups with recent and/or ongoing discrimination against them: Unfunny

    (4) If you are unsure of whether a group is/was the victim of recent/ongoing discrimination: if the event you're joking about was a genocide that happened to their grandparents, it's probably a good indicator of some recent discrimination.
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  • DanM22a's avatar
    Commenter
    DanM22a
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:17 PM
    I think it's also important to note triple j as a whole apologised before this article was posted.
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  • DorisDay's avatar
    Commenter
    DorisDay
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:18 PM
    Call me crazy, but when literally millions of people have died it's okay to get emotional when you ask for an apology. Not getting emotional makes you a psychopath.

    Also, for anyone who brings up Louis CK, he is an exception because of how super-duper contextualised his routines are. See, that episode of Louis where he explains in an extremely powerful way just what the emotional significance of the word faggot is and why its wrong before using it. His breaking of taboos is precision and smart, most are sloppy and dumb as fuck.
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  • Panzypants's avatar
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    Panzypants
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:23 PM
    Rules of commenting: Agree with me or you get deleted. Cool? Cool.
    I would find comedy very dry if they started to create barriers around their material to suit a politically correct (PC) audience (some already do and they are boring). Ricky Gervais is one of the top comics in the world and I believe he is because he doesn't filter his material or water it down so he doesn't offend anyone. Comedy is for bitter and cynical people, not "professional", upstanding citizens. Gervais regularly hangs shit on people that are not in his cohort - and it's great. JJJ's the doctor doesn't hang shit on anyone and is really careful to be politically correct - and it's the worst show JJJ has right now.
    Dry your eyes mate, sitting in the front row of comedy show is a rookie mistake. EVERYONE who sits there is in the firing line.
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  • Major's avatar
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    Major
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:26 PM
    >"What right are you defending? You don't have the right not to be offended. You don't have the right to not to be joked about. I understand you're upset with Tom but he hasn't infringed upon your rights or even implied so. Perhaps he was insensitive but he was certainly not vilifying of Jewish people."

    Actually: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/rda1975202/s18c.html

    " (1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

    (a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

    (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group."
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  • borichu's avatar
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    borichu
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:29 PM
    Note that Ballard didn't actually apologise for saying what he did, he apologised for how it was *received*, thereby shifting the blame onto his audience. Ugh.
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  • Jandimane's avatar
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    Jandimane
    Date and time
    Friday 10 Aug 2012 - 4:32 PM
    No worries. You guys do such great work.. I'm regularly inspired.
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