AS we all know, when you’ve had a bit of a nightmare week, ice-cream’s a solid source of comfort food. Unless you think it’s a bit gay, in which case you are almost definitely TV star Richard Hammond, seemingly the only person alive to have conflated the world’s best food-stuff with sexuality.

In a recent episode of The Grand Tour – the show he co-presents Jeremy Clarkson and James May – Mr Hammond said: “I don’t eat ice-cream. It’s something to do with being straight.”

You know you’ve gone too far when even Clarkson’s frowning at you for being un-PC.

I can’t help but feel almost sorry for Mr Hammond, being forced to cope with the ensuing ridicule without the comfort of a 99 as he comprehends a future in which gleeful hordes line up to mock him whenever he goes within 100m of an ice-cream van.

The pity is still there when I think about the world he currently occupies, where one cannot be a convincing heterosexual without swearing off ice-cream, where one’s sexual identity is so fragile it can crumble under the weight of hundreds and thousands.

Mr Hammond, this strange situation suggests, has spent time eyeing up desserts and worrying about whether the raspberry ripple makes him more or less gay than the peach cobbler.

Is this a man who would deny himself a cone at the cinema lest the teenagers behind him suggest his relationship with Clarkson isn’t entirely platonic? Is Mr Hammond really someone who’d turn down a lemon top on a summer’s day in Redcar for fear of being outed by the lady at Pacitto’s?

Is this a world in which the rest of us must now consider the hitherto undiscovered link between sexuality and sundaes before considering the dessert menu?

Thankfully, we’re in 2017, where the sane majority would rather mock the absurdity of dinosaurs like Mr Hammond than boycott cookie dough in solidarity.

Although the Hamster’s been roundly ridiculed, there are many leaping his defence with a variation on “It was just a joke /political correctness gone mad/freedom of speech”.

As a TV star, Richard Hammond has been able to speak freely, and he’s used that privilege to tell the world that he’d rather give up ice-cream than be thought of as gay.

His odd comments may have been scripted, light-hearted, or thoughtless, but they’re still rooted in an ugly prejudice that spreads easily if left unchecked. The more we use humour to excuse intolerance, the harder it will be to notice the inevitable snowballing, the gradual escalation that can easily culminate in violence and hatred.

There have been at least two homophobic attacks reported in Teesside in the past month and they did not spring from nowhere. Homophobia does not start big, with beatings and violence, it begins with a culture that allows light-hearted remarks to slip by unchallenged, where gay’s still a playground insult and people are shamed for their sexuality.

As underlined by the sheer quality of the Hammond vs ice-cream quips now circulating, this debate was never about the PC brigade being unable to take a joke but about ensuring comments like his are challenged before they take hold and grow into something more ugly.