You're no Larry David; Why Tom and Alex's Holocaust joke really isn't funny
Who's saying what
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:
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.
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.
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.