PAUL BOROSS (00:00):
This is part one of a two-part podcast with Baroness Helena Kennedy. She was so funny, so fascinating that we couldn’t edit it down, so we decided to have a two-parter sit back and enjoy Helena Kennedy KC. Part one,
BARONESS KENNEDY (00:19):
The judge is reading this out, how to make a Molotov cocktail, and he says, is this the sort of book that you have on your coffee table to me? And I said, but my Lord, it’s a bit like having the Kamasutra. The fact that you’ve got it doesn’t mean that you do all the things.
PAUL BOROSS (00:42):
Welcome to the Humourology Podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the worlds of business, sport, and entertainment, who are here to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.
My guest on this edition of the Humourology Podcast is a renowned barrister and member of the House of Lords. She’s built a career on showing compassion in the courtroom. As a member of the House of Lords, she has fought endlessly for women’s rights and against misogyny. She has served as the chair for Charter 88, the Human Genetics Commission, the Power Inquiry, and the British Council. She has played her hand in the country’s biggest cases from the Brighton bombing to the Guildford Four appeal. When she’s not advocating for equality and fighting for freedoms, you can find her captivating crowds on stage, on the screen, and over the airways as a presenter for programmes like Heart of the Matter. Time Gentleman Please, and Blind Justice. She is truly a champion of social justice who leads with passion, wit, and humanity, Baroness Helena Kennedy, welcome to the Humourology Podcast.
BARONESS KENNEDY (02:19):
It’s lovely to be here, Paul.
PAUL BOROSS (02:21):
Well, it’s, it’s such a pleasure to see you, and I’m a huge fan of your work. Firstly, I’d like to take you back to the early years when you were growing up in a tenement in the impoverished south side of Glasgow. Now, as you may know, I know Glasgow well, as my mother’s side of the family are from Bridegton, and Glaswegians are renowned for their caustic wit. Was humour valued in your family?
BARONESS KENNEDY (02:49):
Oh, absolutely. And it’s so interesting that business about being brought up on the south side of Glasgow. You were never allowed to get too big for your boots. And so part of the humour was about sort of cutting people down to down to size <laugh>. I also had an uncle who was an entertainer, and it’s hard to explain just how this was, his name was Jack Connolly. He was actually otherwise known as Jakey Connolly. And he had, his family had at one stage for quite a short time, gone to Canada on one of those things where you could go on for, you know, very little money because they were wanting migrants to settle in Australia or Canada. And he and his family had gone to Canada and then, and not much liked it and found it pretty hard going, but it was, they were right out in the far west of Canada.
And he certainly learned to ride and it was farmland. And these were folk who had knew nothing about farming, I can tell you. So they came back to Glasgow and my uncle Jack, My first memory is as a child, was that when it was the Mayday parade in Glasgow, was that my uncle Jack was on a white horse wearing a Stetson and basically being like Roy Rogers, he used to lead this parade <laugh>. And he used to sing sort of cowboy songs. And he was known as… and he used to affect an… a kind of American, north American accent – let’s put it that way. And then of course when he was at home, he was as Glaswegian as the rest of us. He was a great, comic and a sorce of great laughter in our wider family.
PAUL BOROSS (04:38):
So there was sort of a showbiz showoff gene already running through the family, was there?
BARONESS KENNEDY (04:47):
He certainly, he was, he actually was a, had a very nice singing voice and he, ended up having a band and he would play for everybody on the south side. We were the Catholic community of the South side. And he used to play at everybody’s weddings and events and anniversary parties and all that sort of thing and his daughters all could sing our side. Our side of the family we were all very, very close and there were four girls in their family and four girls in ours, and our four girls. We couldn’t, we weren’t very talented on the musical front at all. But I do think that we certainly loved the fact that we had this entertainer in our, in our midst. And he was very, very funny. And and my aunt and he had a sort of were a double act where eventually he became a magician.
And he used to do that thing, where he’d take a half a crown from behind your ear or he would take things out of his sleeves. And in Glasgow, of course you had to, you’d have to be really good to be able to do that cuz he would do it at schools and things when he was old. And the kids would shout out, I can see mister where you put that <laugh> put that handkerchief. And he would get very cross with his audience, but he was a great source of fun. And so I think the idea that you could, you could deal with tough things by being funny, was something I learned early on and, and my mother was very witty and funny. And so I learned that you can use humour even when things are quite dark and, and when things are bleak and oh, you’ve just talked about as being brought up in the south side of Glasgow in a tenament and so on.
I only was able in retrospect to look back and see that we were pretty hard up. But you know, when you live amongst people who are all in the same, in the same boat, you don’t think of yourself as being poor. And one of my sisters said recently to me when I was you know, I’d been interviewed or something, she said, why do you have to tell people we were poor? And I said, well, it’s just the reality, but there’s no shame in the fact that we weren’t well off. And my mother took great pride in the fact that she turned us out well. And I once went back to her house after I’d been interviewed in Scotland at the BBC and, the man who was then and became this sort of commissioner, well, one of the sort of main folk in the BBC was a man called James Boyle.
And he was, he’d gone to the same school as me. And I went home and I said, I saw James Boyle and he’s now the head of the BBC in whatever. And I said, and he said that his mother used to always say, those Kennedy girls are always so well turned out. And do you know that my mother forget about being barrister? My mother thought that was the best thing that she’d ever heard about herself. You know, the fact that her girls were so well turned out. Although we, you know, it took a lot of hard work for her to take up hems and mend clothes and buy things secondhand in order to turn us out well, <laugh>
PAUL BOROSS (07:53):
It was a matter of pride, wasn’t it? Because and my family were the same that you had to with the little you had, you had to show that you knew how to dress properly. We had a friend called Kim Kinnie, who also grew up about a mile away from in the east end of Glasgow. And he used to run the Comedy Store and he was a wee man. I dunno if you ever met Kim, but a force of nature and a very funny man. And he ran the Comedy Store, he always turned out beautifully. And it was kind of like your answer to the world was you turned out beautifully, but you also used humour to even the playing field. Do you think?
BARONESS KENNEDY (08:39):
Um, there is a strong Scottish thing, which is… it is quite egalitarian. I don’t know what that’s about. I suspect that maybe Presbyterianism, you know, were all Jock Thompson’s bairns and that nobody was to be any better than anybody else. It was part the culture. And I remember my mother, and it’s something that stayed with me all my life, especially when I went to the bar, was that she used to say, you know, never ever think you’re better than anybody else. You know, that you didn’t have look down on people but she also said, and nobody’s better than you. And we were brought up to feel bad that nobody was better than us. And so when I went down to study law in London and, and then went to the bar, the bar was and has been.
And, and it’s only now that it’s somewhat opening up, really and thank goodness for it. But at that time, the percentage of women who were going into the profession was something like 5%. It was very, very low. I mean there, there were hardly any women in my classes at all. And then going into practice, it was really low again. And you know, women’s, it was, it was just not, it was not the, the thing that happened for women. And certainly to be a working-class woman, a woman, a girl who came from a working-class background that made me particularly rare. And so humour was a way of dealing with all of that, you know. And I think that people often, when they’re slightly an outsider, they can make themselves, you know belong, I think by being fun. And I think I learned that, and I think last weekends are very good at doing that. Well, I mean, one of my close, um, girlfriends in Scotland is Elaine C Smith who’s a real great,
PAUL BOROSS (10:29):
Very funny, great funny comic. Yeah. Comic actress.
BARONESS KENNEDY (10:33):
And she’s very good at talking about that thing, about how one can use humour to sort of soften difficult circumstances. And I’ve always used tried to introduce humour into my public speaking and into my work in the courts and I’ve never ever tried to lose my Scottish accent. I always felt that it helped in, in making a sort of bridge, for example, with juries that you’re not talking down to people that you’re actually communicating in a way that has no, grandeur about it and where nobody’s being patronised. And so I made my style of advocacy very different from what was the commonplace at that time in the seventies when I became a barrister, which was all terribly grand. And there was a sort of thing where, you know, suddenly the midst this here was this woman with a Scotts accent and who was from Glasgow <laugh>.
And I do remember I once did, when my practise developed quite fast. And I used to, I mean, I used to joke and say that every Scot that got arrested, you know, solicitors would say, why don’t we get that woman <laugh>? She’ll be able to translate. And, so I had the early days, I had lots of Scot’s clients, and then it expanded where I had then the whole of the Celtic fringes. You know, I, and I did lots of Irish cases and you mentioned I did some of the cases associated with the Irish troubles – I did a lot of those big Irish cases. But I always remember one of the judges saying, ah, Ms. Kennedy, when you say murder, it sounds as though you had more more than one dead body <laugh>. And so I used to think that, sometimes it was an advantage for my clients, and sometimes perhaps it wasn’t. But by and large, I think that my work in the courts was helped by being a Scot and also by being somebody who was prepared to, you know, find a form of discourse that included humour.
PAUL BOROSS (12:36):
That’s really interesting. And I like it. We talked about the south side of Glasgow, but that’s a long way from the House of Lords and the barristers chambers where you spend your time today. Are there any parallels between how the humour works in those two vastly different worlds?
BARONESS KENNEDY (12:55):
You’ll know this yourself. There’s, there are different there are different ways of being, being funny. For me, it’s always been much more about I mean, I’m reasonably quick-witted, but I, but I always find that more interesting thing is to weave it into a story and so that is good storytelling, and that’s what advocacy is about. That’s what being a barrister is about, because it’s really about telling your clients, giving your clients account, telling your client’s story in the most compelling way possible. And often it’s about. I quite like to use imagery to do that, and it’s a bit like the prosecution will come and they will present their case. And I’ve often said to a jury, you know, sometimes it’s a bit like what happens in a theatre where the spotlight might be on what’s happening on the stage.
And you, you, that’s all that you see. You don’t see what’s happening around it, but you have to sort of, then a moment could come where the whole stage is lit up. And you see that beyond that area where the spotlight is, other things are going on. And that gives you a truer picture. And you have to – the defence lawyers – and I’m a defence lawyer – the defence law’s role is to really shift the, the, the, the perspective and to say, let’s look at it in a different way. And then you present it in a way that is going to be most compelling and most perhaps hopefully, helpful to your client. And one of the things about advocacy is that you really have to liven it. Because if you’re dealing with very serious stuff, there has to be ways in which you can, you can somehow bring relief into it.
And I know this from… it’s hard to find humour in things like, for example, violence against women and girls, you know, I mean, and I do a lot, a lot of my works are that kind of thing, or the, I mean, nowadays a lot of my work is international and, and I’m looking at really grievous and terrible crimes, which are not just, I mean, crime of any kind can be terrible, but when it’s on a horrible… a large scale, then it’s particularly depressing and terrible and affecting. And so how can you possibly be funny about some of this stuff? And the truth is that I always find it best to be funny about the judges. About judges, you know, and to tell judge stories or of course the House of Lords has given me a lot of material <laugh>, because of course it is such a peculiar, institution in many ways. And so you find ways around, you know, when I want to talk to an audience about something serious like violence against women and, you know, or whatever it is, you have to find the humour not in the thing that is the central core of what you’re talking about, but around the edges of it and, and that is necessary in order to somehow leaven the full horror. And it doesn’t diminish the horror. In fact, sometimes it can heighten it
PAUL BOROSS (16:08):
What humour does in that sense. And I really like this stuff cuz I think all the best humourists are storytellers. I also happen to think that all the best communicators are great storytellers. And it’s about that unique ability to connect with everyone from the accused to the judge, from the, the cabbie to the Lord, which we were just talking about and how important it is being kind and compassionate as well as humorous in order to make that work.
BARONESS KENNEDY (16:40):
The comedy that I always prefer is where you can get a sense that someone is not doing it out of cruelty you know, that the, I mean, you are, you Paul are a great humourist but there’s, and, and I’m never ever, I feel the warmth that there is in you as a person, and I think people engage with that. They recognise that in a person. I think cruel humour is for me, it’s unappealing that business of putting either somebody else really down, and grinding them them while they’re down is… and you know, the business of people’s humour, which was racist or diminishing women I don’t think you have to do that. You can still be quite funny, you still can, can raise a laugh without having to be cruel.
PAUL BOROSS (17:33):
Is that not the difference between playfulness? Because I actually think what at, at the centre of it is you have enough rapport, you have enough connection to be playful, and so you can therefore say things that are a little bit more, cutting, because yeah, you’ve already got the warmth. And I think that’s what the Glaswegian thing is about. The first time I did Top of the Pops and, you know, slightly – and we all do this – you puff your chest slightly when you’ve done something. And I went up to Glasgow to see my cousins in Cranhill, and uh, I went there and I’d just been done my first Top of the Pops and I’m on tour and I go and see my cousins in Cranhill and all the, wee cousins are there and went, oh, uncle Paul, uncle Paul, we saw you on that there at Top of the Pops and just allowed me to puff my chest enough and then went, we thought you were a shite!
BARONESS KENNEDY (18:37):
<laugh>. Oh God, <laugh>. Well, there is certainly that Scottish thing, which is you must never get to think too well of yourself because they’ll bring you back down to the ground. And I always remember that my sister said that she was in the street with my mother, and somebody said, they stopped my mother, and said, oh, I saw something in the papers, Mrs. Kennedy, about your daughter, and all the things that she does, I don’t know how she does all that. And my mother said, I know, I know, I know she’s always busy, but you should see her skirting boards. And so basically she may be great in the courts and she may be doing this and that, but all I can tell you is she’s not much good as a housewife. I mean, you know, it’s that business of never, never sounding as if you’re being too over proud of your own children and never, and never letting your children think that they’re too big. You know, they’re getting two grand or they’ve got to know where they’re from.
PAUL BOROSS (19:36):
Well, when you talk about children and I know you have three children and it, it’s is that part of… is it important to have humour – you were raised with humour. Is it important to inherently plant that in them so they don’t get too big for their boots?
BARONESS KENNEDY (19:55):
My boys, particularly with each other, but also my poor husband is the butt of most of their jokes <laugh>, but I get, I get some of it too. And when they’re doing it with me, they put on this sort of Scottish accent, this full Glasgow accent, and they sort go, och, you know, and oh dear. And they take me off, you know? But they, but their father is the person who <laugh> who suffers most in their hands. But we, but no, there’s a lot of laughter in this house. And I think we did get that really from, from my side of the family you know, that Scottish thing,
PAUL BOROSS (20:32):
I think you also have to encourage it and allow it to happen because it brings you back down to earth, because you will be in the House of Lords. There’s not many places more grand than that. So you have to be rooted when you come home, don’t you?
BARONESS KENNEDY (20:47):
When I first took my mother, my mother’s dead now has been 10 years, and she lived until she was 93, and she was really a rather marvellous woman. She was, and she was very funny. And when I first took her to the House of Lord and she was saying, I thought half these people were dead. You know, she saw lot of politicians that she remembered from the newspapers and things, and she said that she but somebody had stopped her in Glasgow and said to her, how do you feel now, Mrs. Kennedy, about your daughter being a Lady? And she said, oh, my daughters are ladies
PAUL BOROSS (21:19):
BARONESS KENNEDY (21:21):
But it’s that whole thing of just I don’t mean any, any difference be between them. She was, but my mother was a real character. Um, very, very, very funny, funny woman.
PAUL BOROSS (21:34):
My mother’s, uh, 91, she won’t thank me for saying that because she’s been lying about her age forever, you know, <laugh>. But it, it’s that humour as a resilience as well, because, I mean, what they lived through was quite extraordinary.
BARONESS KENNEDY (21:53):
My father was in the army. My mother had two babies while he was away in those six, six years. Um, and mean when he came home on, on leave, he’d go back and she’d find she was pregnant. And she had these two babies, and she was living in a tenement in Tradeston on the south side of Glasgow. She was down on the river. And it was bombed regularly because of course, you know, it was the ship building area. And the tenement that she was in was bombed. And my mother went through the rubble, you know, she had her kids looked after by her mother-in-law for the day. She went through the rubble and found things, photographs and stuff like that. And she found pieces of furniture and somebody had given her a hand cart.
And somebody else, the priest in the local Catholic church had found some place that she could move into that was about two miles up the road. And she put all that stuff on a hand cart, like mother courage, and moved up to find a new place to take her kids. You know, I mean, people went through the most incredible things. We don’t know we’re alive really, that we, we hadn’t experienced. But I just know Paul, I’m on this task force advising on war crimes in Ukraine, and it’s bringing me right up close to those kind of experiences that people did talk about, about what happened, um, during the Second World War. Now, I wasn’t born. I was one of the sort of post-war part of my family.
My two sisters were nine and 10 years older than me. But, um, uh, it was part of our lives hearing those stories about the effects of the war on people. And I think that a lot of men suffered terribly about the things that they, in the war and then came home and sort of buttoned it up. And I think that they probably had, were experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, um, and nobody knew. And of course often, you know, drank too much and so on. I’m sure I had had effects that were never at the time recognised but were seen in, in social problems, you know,
PAUL BOROSS (24:10):
I think that’s very interesting. We had, uh, John Sweeney on the show – the Panorama reporter – and he was, he spent well, he’s now in Ukraine. He spent the last year in Ukraine reporting from there. And, we talked about, and you, you are talking about the whole thing of dealing with these extraordinary, tragic situations. How important do you think it is to be able to see some humour, even in the most tragic situations?
BARONESS KENNEDY (24:42):
I’ve sat in the cells with people who’ve been looking at life imprisonment and sometimes got life imprisonment. And even in those sort of circumstances, people sometimes, really the toughest stuff in life still, still people find a way of laughing at their own vulnerability or laughing at their, yeah. And it is, you know, it is the humour of the gallows. It is the humour of the morgue and, I just this last week was with some very senior people from Ukraine. And like you know, the only way that you can remind yourself of life and find some enhancement in all of this is to believe in how the future might be. And so, of course, their jokes are all about Putin and what they want to happen to him. And that’s how people survive – survival is in, is in finding that bit of ourselves that has lightness in it, and to bring light into dark places. And humour does that,
PAUL BOROSS (25:54):
It’s an escape as well. I mean I’m the son of a, a Hungarian refugee who who was funny enough at 17 put into the war station outside Dresden. And then watched what happened there, then joined up with the Russians cuz they spoke Russian and went in 1945 to Berlin with the Russians and then was imprisoned. But all the time he used to talk about how lucky he was, you know, because he said, we all got a fit of the giggles when we were lined up against the wall in 56, and the Russians shot people next to us. And he said, we were laughing uncontrollably because it was the only escape
BARONESS KENNEDY (26:43):
People have to do that. I’ve just been involved last year in the evacuation of a whole lot of women lawyers and judges who were on a kill list for the Taliban. And I had to charter aeroplanes and things to try and get them out because they’d missed the military evacuation. They weren’t part of that. And I was getting these calls in the middle of the night from women who were in their basements hiding because the Taliban were after them because they’d been the judges in cases they’d done or prosecuted them and whatever. And they were fabulous women. Well, let me tell you again, these were women, were sometimes women coming together who, who’ve been through bad things. You are weak with laughter. You know, one of one of my women judges said, when I was leaving, and you had told me that we had to… we were to get ready and you asked us if any of us had burkas because we should put them on in case we were… as we were being transported to the police where the airport was.
And she said, I had banned the burka from our house because the great thing was that we were no longer – after the Taliban were ousted in, – early in 2002. And she said, and the idea that we were having to phone up relatives and saying, has anybody got a burka? And, you know, it was, and we were laughing at it because one of, one of my women judges, as she was leaving the house, she said, I said to them, they could only have one suitcase. I mean, it’s the most terrible thing to be involved in. It was like, Schindler’s List. And,I said to, and what she said that she was leaving, and then she suddenly thought, they’re not going to believe that I’m really a lawyer when, when I get to wherever I’m going.
And so she went off and she got all her her certificates and her diplomas and her degree certificate, and stuck it down into her underwear. And she said, one thing I knew was it was very unlikely that any of the Taliban were going to go put their hands down into my underwear. I mean, these were women who found humour in the most awful circumstances. Fabulous women. And I mean, there they way looking, looking death in the face, I mean humour is, is something that I think is so, it’s central to the human condition.
PAUL BOROSS (28:59):
I couldn’t agree more. And it’s extraordinary the work you’ve done, but I think you’ve done that magnificent work, partly because you can actually bring a lightness and a humour to it. You’ve spent your life giving voice to those with the least power within the system and championing civil liberties and promoting human rights. Do you think humanity and humour are closely aligned?
BARONESS KENNEDY (29:28):
I think it’s a strand of our humanness that we, in order to deal with the hard stuff we reach, we reach for humour to kind of leven it. I always remember, I mean, and if you can be quick it helps. One of the stories I always tell was that my life was very affected by getting to know an amazing American lawyer. He was a great attorney, and he was in Britain, and he came to the old Bailey to watch a case. And I was ripped and acting in a case for a group of anarchists. And my client had been found with a book that was called, and this elderly lawyer was sitting at the back of the court and he watched me doing this thing.
And then he befriended me and he and his wife became like my family to me. And so it did affect my, my way of thinking about law. And he mentored me. Well, do you know that I, when I was doing that case my client had a book that was called The Anarchists Cook Book. And it was a thing that it was a thing that young people in the, you know, who were at university in those days had, it was a sort of, you know, it was a bit chic to have this book <laugh>. And so I said to the police officer in cross-examination, I said, but look, you know, it’s, this is a coffee table book, isn’t it really? And the police officer says, no, not that I know. And I said, well, it’s kind of, I don’t know, you’re probably too young to remember this, Paul, but there was an expression at that time, which was radical chic.
I said, it was a sort of radical chic thing to have this book. It didn’t mean. And the judge said, pass that book up to me. And the judge looks at it, and of course, one page is, you know, how to, how to make mescaline and how to, amphetamine drugs and how to make a Molotov cocktail bomb, you know, all that sort of thing. And, uh, and each page, it’s somewhat awful thing on it. And the judge is reading this out, how to make a Molotov cocktail. And he says, is this the sort of book that you have on your coffee table to me, <laugh>? And I said, but my Lord, it’s a bit like having the Kamsutra. The fact that you’ve got it doesn’t mean that you do <laugh> all things. Well, can I tell you something? The whole of the jury, and everybody laughed their heads off and the judge was furious with me. And then I got this note from this elderly lawyer at the back who was visiting, who was at the back of the court saying, I think you’re gonna win this case. And I have to tell you, I did <laugh>.
PAUL BOROSS (31:58):
That’s brilliant. What a fabulous story. I mean, do you really think that, cuz I, I would guess that it, it’s true. And I think you’ve just given us a story, this is true. That humour can sway a jury or a humour can bond you with the judge and the jury enough to actually influence a case.
BARONESS KENNEDY (32:17):
There are people who were great as humorouists, as advocates. There was a man called Gilbert Grey. He was one of the funniest people ever. Great advocate, but so amusing and funny, great after-dinner speaker. And Gilly, I did a couple of cases when I was a young lawyer and he was the, the, the QC in the cases and he was very, very funny. And there, there’s a thing that happens in the bar mess, you know, that’s where, where we all have our morning coffee and things. It had that military name – I don’t know where, how long it dated. So in the Bar Mess, people used to talk about people. There were the few people who could laugh a case out of court. Now laughing a case outta court is, is something that very few people could do.
But there are some cases where the case is so ridiculous that you can take it to a level where the jury starts saying, this is ridiculous – we’re gonna aquit because they feel that it’s been a waste of public time. What’s the point of all of this? And so on. And I remember there was a case where, involving a dolphin <laugh>, it was, it was in one of those sea places, do you remember? And it was about somebody who was seen in a glass through the thing, a cleaner in the aquarium that looked through and saw one of the people who worked in the Aquarium at swimming with dolphins. And he was holding onto the dolphins one appendage <laugh> that, uh, you could hold onto cuz there are a slippery on the, on their bodies.
And so if you were to swim with this thing. And so he was holding onto the, to the, um, genital area of this and the suggestion was that he was doing indecent things with the dolphin. And the guy then said, it’s not. And, and he said, and I was trained to do things with dolphins in the, in the Caribbean or whatever. And it’s the only thing that you can hold onto if you’re trying to steer it away from, you know, whatever. And of course the jury acquitted him and thought, I don’t care about what happens to dolphins, <laugh>, the cleaner should have kept her thoughts herself, and instead of reporting this man to the police anyway. But it was a colleague who did that case, and I always remember weeping with laughter, um, about his descriptions of how this case went and how this, uh, new Castle jury sort of ruled their eyes rise to them and thought, is this what we’re spending our time in court, you know, an offence against against dolphins? So there we are, think the, you know, there are people who can laugh cases out of court. I can’t pretend that I’m one of them, but I certainly believe in bringing humour in.
PAUL BOROSS (34:55):
I love the phrase laughing a case out of court, because of course, what humour does is it gives you a different perspective. I mean you look at it from a different way. And if you can get a jury to look at it from a different way, they can think about it differently. I just find that fascinating. Do you, do you think that you can be a truly great communicator, whether that’s as a speaker or whether that’s as an advocate without understanding humour?
BARONESS KENNEDY (35:26):
I mean, there are people who are great advocates who can, um, there, there are, there are people who are great jury advocates and there are people who are very fine if you like, judge advocates. And by that I mean the style is different. If you’re in the court of appeal, you’re doing a case, and it’s sheer purely on the law. And, and you know, it’s not that often that judges on their own, you know, you have three judges up there, and if you’re in the Supreme Court, of course it’s a whole bank of judges, then you’re not gonna laugh a case out of court in those circumstances, you’re there dealing with fine issues of law, fine distinctions. You’re making an argument in a very different kind of way, the business of, of being a jury advocate, where you’re putting a case in front of members of the public and you’re trying to, you know, deal with a set of facts, but in a legal context there you’ve got much more licence and it’s a different style of advocacy.
Now, the great, the really great lawyers are able to do both. But you know how to shift it, you know how to make the difference. And it’s, I suppose it’s a bit like people who are in the acting profession or in, you know, who at times have to be doing, you know, Shakespeare and other times what can do, you know, light comedy. And I think that the best attorneys and the best advocates are able to do both. But there are people who, who, who really are confined to one or the other. And I know great lawyers who as lawyers making legal arguments and distinctions and building up a legal argument are wonderful, but you couldn’t get a joke out of them even if you tickled them, you know, I mean, you know, that’s not where their school lies.
PAUL BOROSS (37:19):
Isn’t humour in, obviously this is a Humanology podcast, but isn’t humour the difference that makes a difference? It’s kind of a superpower in one sense, don’t you think?
BARONESS KENNEDY (37:32):
I do. I mean, I mean, cuz even in front of that bank of Seven Judges there are moments where, because of the seriousness sometimes of what you’re doing, laughter becomes almost easier. People laugh at things that normally you wouldn’t find that hilarious, but you can, because of the tension, and the seriousness of the subject matter, um, then relief is found in, in laughter. And so of course you do. I mean it’s that business and it happens in the House of Lords as well, you know, where people can… there are some people who are very good at playing the house and there are other people who are just, just don’t have that skill. And it’s always kind of, there’s, there’s always a little bit of excitement when somebody, you know, is rather a, a performer gets up to their feet because you’re sort of anticipating something <laugh> something different.
But one of the things that’s said in the House of Lords is everybody has said everything that can possibly be said on this subject except me, <laugh> maybe repeating what we’ve all heard a whole set of times. And so there is that problem if people want to be on the record as having had their opinion expressed. I mean, one of the funniest things in the House of Lords recently was that cause of Covid we all had to… technology had to be suddenly introduced into people’s lives who were not particularly technologically skilled. And I do remember at one stage being in a queue for the, there’s a sort of digital help room in the House of Lords where you can go <laugh> and see the these, uh, you know, young techie guys who can help you when you’ve screwed up your technology. And I was, I was standing in a line behind a very, very elderly peer, and I said to him, uh, I said, are you, are you getting a website? Are you here to create a website? <laugh>? He said to me, Helen, I don’t want a website. I want eyesight.
And, you know, I mean, the whole technological thing has been such a challenge, to an awful a lot of people. But when the house was only operating, online, and basically somebody was sitting on the wool sack in the House empty, and we were all in the little boxes on people’s, you know, computers and Zoom, Zoomming in. And you had to indicate in advance that you wanted to speak. And so you’d be given that there be a lineup and so on. And so then the speaker in the house would shout out, Lord Magilicuddy of upper Montrose, and then some ancient peer would appear on the screen and he would open his mouth and he would talk, and no sound would be coming outta him. And he would talk and talk and talk, and then the speaker would shout, uh, Lord Magilicuddy <laugh>, uh, you’re on mute!
And then of course, Lord Magilicuddy wouldn’t know how to unmute, and you’d see him, uh, struggling with his, <laugh> computer and then some ancient retainer would struggle in who would try and help them with the computer. And it, every, every presentation would take about 20 minutes. And so until we all became sort of technologically, and it was very interesting, you would see into people’s houses, you know, there were, you would see some very ancient earl – a hereditary pier in a castle somewhere, and you’d see on the back of his door hanging on a nail would be his dressing gown, you know, and he’d be in some ancient bedroom trying to communicate with the House of Lords. Anyway, it was, it was a very interesting time, but his made us all much more technologically equipped.
PAUL BOROSS (41:14):
Well, that’s it. It kind of evens the playing field, doesn’t it? That humour. And that’s why I go think about the humour and humanity. It’s kind of… it starts from the premise of we are all ridiculous.
BARONESS KENNEDY (41:29):
We know that it is part of the, isn’t it part of how, how we are as humans that we, that we see the ridiculousness sometimes in, in our behaviours.
PAUL BOROSS (41:40):
I think that is the trick because a lot of people who listen to this podcast are, are listening because they want, um, tips and tricks for how to get the lives better. I get brought in a lot, um, as a psychologist to help people with, speeches and things. And one of the things that happens a lot is people put other people on pedestals. You know, I can’t talk to that Baroness Kennedy because she’s way above me rather than seeing them as people. And that’s where I think the humour and the humanity come together.
BARONESS KENNEDY (42:18):
Yeah, I agree with you, Paul. I think that if it’s one of the ways in which you make those connections and you show that you’re not any different from anybody else. You may have a different job in life, but in fact you’re affected by all the same things and you have all the same self-doubts and all the same sort of concerns about our daily round. But you just try to be the best person you can be.
PAUL BOROSS (42:51):
We couldn’t fit everything into part one. So in part two, you will get more of her wonderful witticisms, her wonderful insights and her wonderful charm and repartee. The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross, produced by David Rose, music, by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.