Getting your friend's face tattooed on your arse: banter. (Photo by Kieran Cudlip)
It's been three full days since the London School of Economics announced that its rugby team, who I'm guessing are called the Harlequin Date Rapists, were to be banned from competing and immediately disbanded as a result of sexist literature disseminated at a recent fresher's event. Listen, we've all called an entire hockey team "slags" before, so should these boys really be punished?
In short: yes. But not because they're misogynists. If you're holding up the kind of men who shit in a pint glass to some sort of moral standard, you're fighting a losing battle. In fact, you're fighting a losing battle with a man who has a pint full of shit in his hand and isn't afraid to throw it at you. The team should, however, be punished for their incredibly weak banter.
I mean, just look at the state of the banter they were spreading in their fresher's leaflet:
– “Wake up in a Croatian jail after having pissed on their national cathedral? You’ve had a Mulligan mate.”
Oh, mate. Mulliganed yourself right up there. Mulliganed all down yourself. Banter.
– “Joining the rugby club not only entitles you to play the gentlemen’s sport but to also be involved in chappish email conversation.”
This email chain is literally called "The Banter List".
– Then there was a load of stuff about polytechnics that their dads taught them. Dad banter. Danter.
The reality is, banter actually has a rich history in this country. "Top bants"; "Banter"; "It's just banter!"; "Ooh, my banter's fallen out!" – these are all common phrases in the UK, as British as pie and mash, or misery, or the Queen. But we are losing touch with banter. Our banter has become too broad. Our banter is edgeless. Our banter is weak.
In the right hands, banter is artistry, a subtle, supple battle of wits; a rabbit punch of an in-joke, a jab of cutting satire. In the wrong ones, it's Andy Gray daring Richard Keys to shout "FUCK HER RIGHT IN THE PUSSY" into an unattended Morrisons loudspeaker. The word "banter" – the very concept of banter – has now been stretched taut, covering the entire grey area between "subtle, personal jab" and "wanking into a fresher’s breakfast".
Essentially, if you play rugby; if you drink piss out of a frisbee with a long straw; if you think of fingering as a challenge to envelope your entire hand with another human being, then you are ruining the fine tradition of banter.
Drinking through a hose: banter. (Photo by Kieran Cudlip)
What has been preoccupying me these last three days (and nights; sleep escapes me since I learnt of this) is the fact that, as part of their punishment, the rugby team will have to stop tying their public school ties in tight knots around each others’ dicks and instead attend a lecture on "the negative effects of banter". Am I dead? Am I dreaming? Is this real? Because there is nothing that amuses me more than the idea of 20 rugby players crammed into a seminar room to be given a dry lecture on what is and isn’t banter. Imagine how overwhelmingly that room will smell of Lynx.
Point is, maybe we could all do with our own personal banter refresher course. As chief Bantersaurus Rex (or the Archbishop of Banterbury, or Ed Milibant, or Bantsy Sinatra, or Benjamin Netanyabant, or Barack Obanter, or Gus Van Bant, or whatever you like, really), I'm more than qualified to lead the workshop. Let’s go:
WORKPLACE BANTER: MIDDLINGLY ACCEPTABLE
There have been three watershed moments in the history of banter: 1) Its inception, in 1882, when the captain of a primitive rugby team did a shit in a hat; 2) The creation of the UniLAD Facebook page, some time in 2011; 3) When half-gorilla, half-man Richard Keys went on Sky Sports and said – with his tiny, lipless mouth – the immortal words: “It. Was. Just. Banter.”
Keys was talking, of course, about the infamous incident in which he and Andy Gray were caught repeatedly on tape saying things like, “Hoots man, can yah poot mah wee microphoon doon me troosers?” and “If I shave my hands I’d look like a lady, wouldn’t I? I’d look like you.”
That is what’s known as "bad banter", and is something that should be avoided at all costs. But if we allow Richard Keys to ruin workplace banter for the rest of us, we are affording him power. Richard Keys must not be allowed to wield power in his hairy, hairy hands.
The takeaway from this: carry on doing workplace banter until HR formally ask you to stop.
Some brand banter conducted via Twitter
BRAND BANTER: UNACCEPTABLE
Brand banter is the worst. It is the worst. You know the stuff: ITV1 talking to ITV2 on Twitter. Jaffa Cakes having a friendly squabble with Tetley tea. In distant years, when we are explaining to our children what we did, people around you – people you know – will have to say things like, "I drafted tweets for the Tesco Twitter feed, son. Two weeks in advance. Got some numbers on a joke about canned tuna."
Or: "Kid, I made Vines for a living. 'What's a Vine?' Hehe: nobody knows or cares."
Or: "Son, I think you're ready to take over the family business: community managing the Wrigley's Extra Facebook page."
But brandter is also awful, edited and approved by a thousand unseen and humourless PRs, stage managed from behind the scenes and planned weeks in advance. I don't want to be mates with you, Paddy Power. Stop trying to be my mate.
ANY BANTER THAT OCCURS AFTER SOMEONE HAS SAID THE WORD ‘BANTER’: UNACCEPTABLE
Banter is ethereal, untouchable, a concept that flutters and hovers like a butterfly, impossible to catch. That said, as soon as someone actually says the word "banter", all illusions of banter are lost, shattered and swept away into the wind.
“Good banter, chap. Excellent banter”; “Good banting, that. You gave me a good bant”; “BANTASTIC! SHABBA!” Never say these things. You will drive the banter bus right off the road and into a ravine of deafening awkward silence.
UniLAD, a space on Facebook for banter merchants to gather and share banter
FACEBOOK BANTER: MILDLY ACCEPTABLE
You have figured out how image memes work and I am proud of you. And yes, you should feel free to post fun jokes and japes on someone's Facebook status, unless either of the following points apply:
1) They are announcing a death or a divorce (major downer).
2) One of their aunties, uncles or mums sees your banter, innocently comments on that picture of Stan-from-South-Park's dad all covered in jizz, and then it gets all awkward and horrible – and Christmas, for that person, is never the same again. Your banter ruined Christmas.
Other than that, fire away.
PRE-9AM BANTER: UNACCEPTABLE
Any banter done before I've had my breakfast is forbidden.
WRITTEN BANTER, TYPED IN A GAMUT OF DIFFERENT FONTS, PRINTED AND DISSEMINATED AT A FRESHER’S FAIR: UNACCEPTABLE
I mean, come on, are you stupid?
A policeman dancing at Carnival: banter (Photo by Ellen Munro)
BANTER AMONG MATES: ACCEPTABLE
One of my mates once had to explain to his mum what a blowjob was. A blowjob. To his mum. His mum, see, was and is a deeply Christian woman, and I'm pretty sure there's nothing in the Bible about just chowing down – just going insane, just gulping at it, struggling for breath – on a penis. So, as a nurse, when a raving old patient requested one from her, she quietly said no and then went home and asked her son what it meant. Imagine how that conversation went.
This was ten years ago. I think about this every day. I remind my friend about it literally every time I see him. "Is that why your parents divorced, Matt!" I'll say. Banter. Harmless banter. "Is that why your dad moved away and you don't see him any more!" It's just banter. "Hey, what did you get for Christmas from your dad this year?" I'll say. "NOTHING?" He loves it. And it's harmless. And that's what banter is: harmless fun based on ten-year-old blowjob revelations.
It’s time we took banter back. It’s time we whittled banter back down to what it was before. It’s time we stopped capitalising "lad". Banter is not the preserve of rugby clubs and sixth formers and Richard Keys and his dog’s arse of a mouth. Together – and only together – we can reclaim the fine tradition of maximum bants.
More stuff about this kind of stuff: