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Thursday 5th December 2013

4029

Late in the day the news broke that Nelson Mandela had died. People seemed to be very upset about the loss of this inspirational figure, but no one seemed concerned that this news meant I had lost a two minute stand-up routine from my show. And I am still alive to feel this pain. So who is the real victim here?

To be honest I was astonished that I'd managed to make the Prince Phillip/Nelson Mandela routine last for six months. I thought I'd be able to do it once in my podcast and that would be that, as one of them would surely die. But they both rallied and I'd like to send out a personal thanks to Prince Phillip for being selfless enough to stay alive as long as he has. He is much more considerate and kind person than bloody Nelson Mandela, who has really let me down and left a gaping 120 second hole in my show.

And worse still, in the routine I make the point that God has an excellent opportunity to let us know whether racism is right or wrong, based on which of the two ailing nonagenarians he takes first. I had hoped it been pulling an Alan Sugar by making it look like it was going to be Nelson, then doing the old switcheroo and "firing" Prince Phillip (who was good comedy value with all the dumb posho stuff he said, but never a serious candidate for the final). But it turns out that God has sent us a clear message that racism is correct and should be rewarded. I have to disagree with God about this one. I think he should definitely have taken Prince Phillip first.  But apparently Prince Phillip is to be rewarded for his years of service to casual racism and be allowed to live. Don't blame me for this. It's God who has made this decision. Yet no one is criticising him. If anyone had earned the right to live forever then it was surely Nelson Mandela, but God isn't prepared to make an exception for him.

At least two people on Twitter felt that this response to the death of Mandela was inappropriate (not realising perhaps how my timeline was full of people referencing the joke), but we must all mourn in our own way. I personally found the Twitter tributes a bit trite and weird. Nelson Mandela is just one of those people who we all know was a hero and an inspiration and achieved something unimaginable and vital with his incredible life. Do we need to say it? Perhaps we do. I know it's all well intentioned but for me giving my own personal tribute to Mandela would seem a bit trite and weird. I am literally not worthy. And just like a parents love for their own child, I just assume that everyone thinks Nelson Mandella was amazing and so there's little point in saying it. To paraphrase my own joke about parental love: If you hated Nelson Mandella then, sure, speak up, let us know about it, because that would be surprising and quote interesting, otherwise, shut up.

But each to their own and I understand why others wanted to let the world know that they felt the same thing that everyone in the world was feeling. Alas we do all have to die and my personal feeling is that if someone makes it into their 90s and has achieved so much and we've had months to prepare ourselves, then it's time for a celebration of the life and maybe for a laugh or two (if not directed at the man or what he did - but good luck trying to make a joke about that). I suppose by joking about my loss of a comedy routine I was attempting to make some comment about the inappropriateness of any of us daring to think we were in a position to pay tribute to this man. But whatever. We deal with death differently. I like to celebrate and find the funny side, you might like to pontificate and judge those who dare to veer away from pompous solemnity. And I can't imagine that Nelson Mandela would want anything more than us arguing about the correct way to mourn him.

As I discuss in my (now ruined) show about death, the way we choose to react to death is a bit fucked up. And I find the way that social media responds to death and disaster mainly bewildering. It now feels that everyone has to pass a comment on anything, no matter how trite or universal, as if we're all the Prime Minister of our own little country and the world would be shocked and appalled if we didn't make some kind of statement. The one that particurly galls me (much worse than someone even making a rubbish and inappropriate joke) is when someone will comment on Twitter of Facebook, "I have no words". Firstly they don't see to realise that "I" "have" "no" and "words" are all words and thus they do have some words, but mainly if you actually have no words then that's not a problem. You don't have to say anything. Maybe wait until you do have some words and then put a comment, or just pay your respects internally without having to let the world know. We're probably assuming that if something awful has happened that you're sad and shocked, because we are all too. 

You're on social media. You're not the Prime Minister. There is no pressure to come up with something straight away. If it's really that important to you and if you really feel that the world needs to know that then take a few minutes, or a couple of hours and come up with some words about it. "I have no words" reads to me like, "I feel I should say something about this, but I can't be bothered to spend any time working out what it is." Silence can be respectful. In many ways not saying anything is the most respectful thing. This isn't about you (especially, when the thing really isn't about you or anyone you actually know).

It's OK to say "I have no words" if something has happened (that perhaps you are directly connected to) and someone has asked you directly how you feel or shoved a microphone in your face for the TV news and you haven't had time to process it, or you don't want to say anything. But that isn't the case on social media. No one is expecting you to comment immediately. No one minds if you don't comment at all. But if you want to comment and are going to say something cliched and trite then it might as well be, "Shit, this is really, really sad." Those are perfectly good words. That you have. And you know you have. Because if you're really that upset about something then your first thought isn't "Blimey, I really must let Twitter and Facebook know about how speechless I am".

This is all just my personal opinion on this. You can do what you like. I wouldn't tweet you or add to the facebook comments and write the diatribe above or say "unfollow". I am not so pompous as to feel that I know the correct way to mourn or that everyone has to agree with me. The point I am trying to make is that sometimes a supposedly "serious" response can be more offensive than a "jokey" one.

And the really important thing is that the above is a perfectly good piece of comedy that will more than fill the gap in my show left by Mandela's selfish death. And so none of us have to be unhappy any more.



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My new stand up show, Lord of the Dance Settee will be on at the George Sq Theatre at 10.45pm every night of the Edinburgh Fringe Buy tickets here.
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