The art of the non-apology apology

ELTON JOHN is still to formally apologise for re-recording Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word with boyband muppets Blue, probably because everyone knows that public contrition is an empty, throwaway gesture nowadays. And it’s getting more and more absurd.

No-one in their right mind imagines Nick Clegg, Andrew Mitchell and Kelvin MacKenzie’s recent mea culpas to be genuine expressions of remorse, so much as desperate plea bargains in the court of public opinion.

Politicians and newspapers long ago embraced the non-apology apology, where instead of saying “sorry”, the accused shifts the blame by announcing, “I’m sorry if you were offended.”

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Comedians are having to learn fast, too, as the comedy boom turns them into tabloid targets and social media spreads outrage before they’ve even left the stage. I wasn’t at the Comedy Store in Manchester last week when Australian stand-up Steve Hughes referred to the deaths of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, so make no judgment on his routine. But the controversy is familiar: Twitter acting as an echo chamber for the potential hurt and a comedian offloading responsibility for causing offence – “I’m sorry if somebody has become upset thinking I’m becoming derogatory.”

This predictable charade, in which we’re all culpable, has become a joke itself. The US comic Gilbert Gottfried recently revealed how, after outrage caused by an Asian tsunami gag, he chose the most “formal and artificial sounding” apology suggested by his agent so audiences would know he was unrepentant .

Jimmy Carr has said sorry for his tax affairs but he’s surely wise to maintain that a comic should never apologise for their gags, because it avoids such insincerity. So I admire Alan Davies for risking such accusations this week, honouring his first Liverpool gig since the media storm surrounding comments he made in April about the Hillsborough disaster. Some like Kelvin MacKenzie, who tried stand-up in 2009, might look to his engaging example and take responsibility for their actions, rather than going on the offensive and seeking an apology from South Yorkshire police.