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"How many jokes have you got?" The comedian David Schneider (photo: Brian Minkoff)

How can you tell if a politician is lying? Answer: If he touches his chin, he’s telling the truth. If he adjusts his cuffs, he’s telling the truth. If he looks up to heaven, he’s telling the truth. But if he opens his mouth . . .

These days, political correctness decrees that only politicians, Alzheimer’s sufferers, animals and blondes are allowed to be the subject of jokes. I can tell Jewish jokes but not Irish ones, and Ardal O’Hanlon vice-versa. Neither of us can tell black or gay jokes. In the wake of the viral online abuse provoked by Benedict Cumberbatch’s “coloured” (not “people of colour”) slip of the tongue, one must be vigilant. I can’t cheerfully ask, “Why is it better to be black than gay?” (“Because if you’re black you don’t have to tell your mother”) without fearing a fatwa from both Lenny Henry and Peter Tatchell.

I guess the thinking behind today’s unspoken rule is that politicians have no feelings to hurt, Alzheimer’s sufferers won’t remember the slur, and blondes and animals are too dumb to notice. Isn’t progress wonderful? My brain is now so full of jokes I mustn’t tell, covering ground beyond the remits of my own experience, that sometimes I have to bite my own gums to stop myself lurching, puppylike, into “there’s a rabbi, a priest and a vicar” at the first mention of inter-faith.

My late mother encouraged me from an early age to entertain her friends and would invariably introduce my “turn” by saying, “Ooh, Maureen, tell them the one about ‘you don’t have a vase?’”

“You don’t have a vase?” was the punch-line. At school, no term ended without the whole school piling onto the playing field to watch my “woman with the over-developed right breast” routine, which I rendered scream-worthy by stumbling and tripping over said mammary for increasingly long periods each year. Thus, I built up an armoury of amusements, suitable and unsuitable for all occasions, and my memory for jokes, unlike my memory for anything else, is legendary.

Nowadays, though, the only outlet for this unusual feat of retention is the “Joke Lunch” held annually for the charity JMI, which promotes and protects Jewish music. For several years, Michael Grade, Don Black, the late Lynsey de Paul and I have been selling jokes at a hundred pounds a throw for this excellent cause. The comedian David Schneider is the compère and over a nice lunch we always raise a substantial sum of money. This year, Lord Grade was recovering from a small operation, Don Black was in the US and dear Lynsey had passed away — which reminds me of the one about St Peter and the actor at the gates of Heaven — no, stop. Lynsey herself would laugh, but how many thespians and Christian fundamentalists do I actually want to offend?

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