Every few months a band, often an older punk band, sends the internet into meltdown because they’ve said or done something onstage that has upset people. Last year at Warped Tour it was The Dickies who caused the stir with their stupid sexist comments. Last week, it was NOFX who set it off with their onstage comments about the Las Vegas shootings, whilst playing in Vegas. The backlash has been massive, the band have lost their festival sponsorship and have issued an apology, yet there seems to be a lot of debate on my social media feeds with people on both sides of the fence passionately arguing their points. Interestingly, I remain somewhere on the fence in this debate, despite feeling strongly enough to write about it.
One one side of the debate, NOFX have done something completely unforgivable. When there’s a mass shooting and so many people are killed and injured, joking about it only a few months later while onstage in the same city, isn’t acceptable. I don’t think there’s anyone out there actually defending what was said. It was crass, offensive and in terrible taste. But, the counter to that is that NOFX have been doing and saying stupid shit onstage like this for over thirty years. It’s their thing. Personally, I’ve seen and heard them say much worse, but does that make it all ok? Plenty of people are arguing the case that it does, because it’s just what NOFX do. They say offensive things as a joke.
The more I’ve thought about NOFX and what they do live, which is essentially a comedy show, the harder it gets to climb down from the fence on one particular side, because it’s quite possible that the main issue here isn’t what was said (although it was pretty bad), it’s who heard it.
There’s definitely a place in this world for offensive comedy, however the most important thing is the consent of the audience to hear it. Personally, I don’t think any topic is off limits when it comes to comedy, as long as the audience for the joke is on the same page. If you go to see a comedian like Frankie Boyle, you go in knowing full well that he’s going to say something that is borderline indecent, and there are no doubt going to be jokes that you wouldn’t repeat to anyone outside of that theatre. There are probably also going to be a couple of gags that you’d turn to the person you’re with and ask ‘did he really just say that?’ – and all of that is fine. When you bought the ticket knowing that’s what would happen, you gave your consent to hearing jokes like that. There’s a strong argument that, after 35 years of the same shtick, that a NOFX show is basically the same environment. Fat Mike & Co have been spouting horrible shit onstage for years to try and get a reaction there and then, and the audience has always been in on the act, because that’s exactly what it is – an act. When NOFX are onstage they’re playing characters. The difference here is, once their awful joke had been recorded and tweeted by a local media team with ten thousand followers, the now massive audience that they’ve been exposed to are no longer consenting, and that’s where it all gets a bit messy.
It’s difficult to draw a conclusion on what the answer to this kind of issue is. Technology dictates that everyone has a camera with them at all times now, and therefore footage of every inappropriate comment made onstage by any band will find it’s way onto the internet ready for the whole world to pass judgement. With that in mind, it’s impossible to draw the line on where the consenting audience stops. On the other hand, NOFX are still selling thousands of tickets all around the world, so there is definitely a massive audience for their show which always features jokes in the vein of the one that got them into so much trouble this time. Should those people have the show that they love taken away from them by people who have no interest in it at all?
Whatever the answer, NOFX have issued a sincere apology and have paid the price for crossing the line. They’re playing some European shows soon and we’ll see whether the content of their show is changed at all on the back of this.