Creative obscenity and drawings : Review of Hate Mail by MR Bingo

After being told by a lecturer to search out modern incarnations of Illustration-used-for-humour, specifically in book form, I was glad to discover Hate Mail by Mr bingo.

The Book is a collection of postcards, doodled on by MR bingo who, in the introduction of the book describes the concept for it:

“I invited strangers to pay me £10 send in return I’d send them an offensive postcard with an original drawing on it.”

So, with only the commissioner’s name and address at hand, the illustrator sets about finding ways of insulting these strangers. The results are often everyday sounding insults in standard handwriting (“DEAR JON. YOU’RE A FUCKING DISGRACE.”) next to a drawing of an overweight person. Or sometimes they are short and sweet one-word insults (“PRICK”) in very professional hand-drawn text, coloured in and taking up the whole postcard. This goes on for the hundred or so pages of the book.

Image

You might think that flicking through one hundred crudely illustrated insults would exhaust the concepts novelty quite quickly. But in fact, every friend that I’ve shown this book to has flicked through almost every page, continuously bursting into laughter. This isn’t surprising when you analyse the book and see that rather than the same joke being repeatedly reworded, there are actually a few different jokes being played with throughout the collection:

There are the absurd. These generally have an obscure reference (“you look like Gaddafi in a wig”)

The petty. Many of the postcards are an attack on a physical attribute.  Weird chin, unsightly ankles haircuts etc.

The sad narrative. These are made up stories about having witnessed the recipient of the postcard eating from a bin and the like.

The revolting/offensive. Using toilet humour, drawings of faecal matter or bestiality.

The altered, familiar situation. One example being a friendly looking teacher writing insulting obscenities on a board. Another method used of this humour is creating a fancy or elaborate illustration (time-consuming font or painter’s arm intruding onto the text) for the most basic of insults.

I’m sure i’d find more if i carried on looking but these will do for trying to show that the illustrator has been creative with the project and successful in producing a consistently hilarious collection of illustrations.

MR Bingo’s publication made me think of what place repeated obscenities have in humour. It obviously works in a lot of cases like it does alongside the shock factor for comedians like Frankie Boyle and Doug Stanhope. I’m not lumping them together, they are very different comedians. But in common with Hate Mail, they use casual offensive language to enhance the humour in what they do. In Stewart Lee’s book The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian (2010), The comic dissects the technicalities and history of stand-up comedy in relation to his own act. Lee states that he has no opposition to swearing in principle,

“though in recent years it has become fashionable amongst respectable comedians of a certain vintage to dislike it. In 2008, it appeared that Frank Skinner, the foul-mouthed Brummie comedian, a Rabelasian alchemist of filth, had come out against swearing(…). ‘Even Frank Skinner says there’s too much swearing now,’ summarised saloon-bar bores all around the country .” (Lee, P145)

The half-sarcastic tone of Lee’s book makes it hard to quote without context but in this section he parodies the press’ sensationalisation and exaggeration of Frank Skinner’s comments on swearing, by aligning Skinner’s career -jump choice to chatshow host with that of Tony Blair’s  decision to go to war in Iraq. The effect of contrasting the media furore over swearing to the Iraq war is one that belittles the former. But it does highlight the fact that there is now a difference between people who use obscenities in humour and people who choose not to.

I myself am a massive fan of the TV comedy Seinfeld. Which is why when i recently saw Jerry Seinfeld (writer of and actor in Seinfeld, the show) on a news tribute to George Carlin, trivialise stage-use of obscenities as ‘a cop-out’ I felt that he was being hypocritical. The show which made him a world-round respected comedy writer, used and acknowledged obscenity as a writer’s plaything in more than one or two episodes.

What the difference is between people who have an aversion to obscenity and people who immerse themselves in it, I don’t know. But what should be obvious to all is that both overuse and condemnation of expletive words and imagery in relation to humour cements the concept of obscenity where casual use would iron it out into the everyday, perhaps squandering it’s potential.

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