It’s no coincidence that many of the greatest stand up comedians of all time were the ones that pushed the boundaries of decency more than anyone else. Many of history’s greatest comedians like George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Patrice O’Neal and Dave Chappelle often found themselves as the only individuals brave enough to set new standards not only for what is an expectable topic for humour in society, but what is okay to talk about in society.
After all, a wise man once said “when you’re a comedian, you’re the only person in the room that is facing in a different direction.”
It’s rare that you find a comedian that will admit when they went too far, but Jack Whitehall did just that recently, as he admitted that his joke about The Queen and Prince Phillip – that he made back in 2012 on The Big Fat Quiz of the Year – went too far.
The Fresh Meat and Bad Education actor said during his appearance on Desert Island Discs that he mainly regrets the joke because of the impact it had on his family.
On the 2012 Quiz show, Whitehall said: “I have a theory, she (The Queen) didn’t sit down for the entirety of that thing, and people were talking about that. It was the day after the night of her anniversary and Prince Philip woke up with a urinary infection…I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking people.”
Needless to say, some people were not best pleased by the joke, as Ofcom received a huge amount of complaints from viewers at home that thought the stand up comedian and actor had gone too far.
And as you would expect, the incident catapulted Jack Whitehall into a previously unknown kind of time – but not for the right reasons.
Reflecting back on the crude gag with Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday, Jack admitted it was “a crass joke… I actually regret”.
Since the incident, Whitehall said on Desert Island Discs that he has made a far more conscious effort to be careful about what he says.
Whitehall, 29, also said that he feels saddened that he did not give his family the “best version” of himself earlier in his career while being so focused on working.
He said the joke about the Her Majesty and Prince Phillip resulted in one of the “biggest” moments of press attention he has ever faced.
He told Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs: “It was when I made a joke about the Queen, it was like a crass joke on a panel show, a joke I actually regret.”
He said it was on the front page of newspapers “every day for a week” at the time, which naturally had a profound effect on his family.
He continued: “That was not nice, because it was something I’d said that caused them upset and that was the bit that hurt the most,” he said.
“I’m fine, I have a relatively thick skin but I never wanted to drag them into it.”
He added: “I just became a lot more careful about what I say. I self-censor more.”
The star, who has worked with his father and former agent Michael Whitehall on TV shows Backchat and Netflix original Travels With My Father, said he can never “really plan” their on-screen moments of tenderness.
He said: “We don’t really talk about our emotions as a family, we’re not necessarily very good at that, but it’s amazing.
“You know, the nature of my life, I’m working all the time and I actively choose to do that, that sometimes you sacrifice spending time with people that you care about.
“I got very bad at it. I’d come to life when on a show and I’d be upbeat and fun, and when I was with (my family), I was kind of twitchy and on edge and anxious about work.
“I’d see them for an hour for lunch and bugger off, and I wasn’t giving them the best version of myself, and that really upset me.
“And then I took a conscious effort, I was like, I need to spend more time with them and be careful that I never do that and never take them for advantage, because I’m so close to my family, and they’re so supportive.”
Jack Whitehall, who has found success not only on the stage as a stand up comedian but on the small screen with shows such as Fresh Meat, Bad Education, BBC adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline And Fall, also said that what really sticks in his craw is when people insinuate that the only reason he has been successful in the world of show business is because of his father’s career as a celebrity agent.
“To become a stand-up comedian, the fact that my dad used to look after Christopher Biggins doesn’t necessarily help you get stage time,” he said.
“That’s the bit that needles me, and now I’ve said it people will needle with me more!”
Becoming a successful stand up comedian is arguably one of the most difficult professions in which one can really thrive – and Marc Maron, presenter of the most famous podcast around and long time stand up comedian spoke about the difficulties of choosing a career in comedy in an excerpt from a book about comedians and their trade that was printed in Vanity Fair.
He said: “A lot of the dudes I started with, the ones who didn’t fall away or end up club comics for life, very early on went into writing. Whether you get into producing, or directing, or management, relationships are built early on; crews start out generationally.
“You build those relationships when you’re all struggling, and those are the relationships that are going to carry you through a career – if you’re lucky enough to have one.”
“As far as whether you choose this career, I have not found that to be a choice. In my experience, somehow or another, your brain has already told you that this is a reasonable life to live, which is nuts. That comes with the territory. You’re going to have those things, no matter how crazy or insecure you are, that continue to propel yourself into this life.”
“Don’t kid yourself: a lot of people fade away. A lot of people become tragic, whether they see it that way or not. I don’t know. There’s always this weird thing in show business where you never know when success is going to happen.
“It’s not a meritocracy; so much of it is about some weird shit aligning that’s usually out of your control, and you catch your break. And a lot of people don’t ever catch it.”