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Tuesday 18th October 2011
Well fuck me, today was a wearing day.
Ricky Gervais' loyal fan base began a Twitter assault that became a little exhausting - though I did my best to reply to them, even though most of them seemed to think I was suggesting censorship, or was ludicrously politically correct, or was a hasbeen or they had never heard of me (which apparently means I am not allowed to think stuff - maybe they think the world is a film and they are the camera and nothing is happening unless they can see it) or I was seeking publicity for myself. For what I am not exactly sure. Some of them said I was seeking publicity even though I was such a failure I had nothing to promote, which seemed a circular argument. None of them thought that the person who started all this (who does have a TV show about to come out) might be the one aiming for publicity. I am not sure I think that. I mean surely he's famous enough already. But it does seem an odd state of affairs. You could look at it as someone goading people hoping for a reaction. Have I walked into his trap? I don't think so. And feel there is a big danger of such a trap backfiring on him.
I would be quite impressed with myself if I had set all this up as a PR sting. It would have taken years of planning. Back in 2004 I'd have had to think, "I'll run the Marathon" for SCOPE and then over the next 11 years cultivate a relationship with them, writing blogs about disability issues and my thoughts on whether some comedy was disablist and then just when no one is expecting it I will strike. But how to engineer it so that a popular comedian says something disablist? Maybe I can sort out some kind of Manchurian Candidate kind of thing...."
Fuck I am a genius. An evil genius. I actually hate all disabled people and actually any not yet disabled people who are not in prime athletic shape. But as long as I can promote my new Radio 4 series, it will be worth all the sucking up.
I don't really want that many more people to know about what I do. It's almost at the optimum number. Today I got a taste of the kind of pricks you can attract if you are massively famous. I don't want those people to like me. If all the people who like me now just convinced on friend to like me too (and vet them properly to check they're quite nice and not too much of a dick) then I'd be happy. That's how I've built up my modest following. I now make a lovely and profitable living, doing stuff I like.
If it was a PR thing (and maybe it's like Total Recall and I myself have been brain washed so I am unaware of my genius evil plan) then I really fucked up today as I was asked to write articles and appear on radio shows to discuss the issues that have been raised. But I don't want to. I have said what I think. I thought it was basically just, it seems a shame when comedy is used to bully people and that there are certain words that I don't think are good to use as punchlines, unless you've thought of something smart to do with them. I didn't call for censorship or try to bring in some law where certain words can't be said, just pointed out that some words come with a baggage and significance and that particular word can be hurtful to a group of people with very little power. Didn't seem too awful.
"Mong doesn't mean Down's Syndrome, you mong, it means idiot," was the basic message I was getting. I replied "If mong only means idiot then why not just use the word idiot?" The point was lost on many it seemed. But people use mong because it doesn't just mean idiot, it means "disabled idiot" with the implication that "all disabled people are idiots". Once you realise it upsets a significant amount of people and a majority of disabled people, might it not be good just to use a different word meaning idiot, if that's what you want to say? Like idiot. Or fucking idiot.
I tried to keep my cool and respond in a level headed way and though I hadn't sought this mild infamy was glad to use this as a mini platform to get some of the facts about disability out there. Last week at Downing Street I had been inspired by the hard working people at SCOPE and their struggle to get any kind of equality for disabled people. So maybe I could do a little bit. I found the anger towards me quite surprising and largely amusing, but was also getting a lot of support from people who was glad I had made a mini stand. Ricky Gervais is a powerful figure in the industry and I know it is hard for a lot of people to say anything negative about him for fear of what might happen to their own standing. Funnily enough it's because I don't care about the repercussions or publicity that I am in a position to say that I don't think it's a brilliant thing that he's done. The reaction of the people who like him shows that even if he genuinely believes that he has changed the meaning of a word (it's not his to reclaim or change and though he's powerful I don't think he is capable of rewriting the dictionary just by a tweeted pronouncement), that they do not get the subtleties.
On top of all of this I was trying to get to Manchester to do my half-remembered show. I had set off early because I know what the traffic can be like, but I got caught up in city centre gridlock (there was a Man City game and I think Peter Kay was also on at the MEN - it would have just been the perfect irony if it had been Ricky Gervais). I was desperate for a wee and stuck just two miles from the venue, over six hours after I had left home.
Finally things cleared up and I got to the venue about 10 minutes after the official start time, but as some of the audience were also stuck in traffic, we delayed a little longer. I had been so swept up in the Twitter madness that I hadn't had a chance to think much more about the show. It felt bit like grasping for imaginary apples at times. Or just unidentified fruit that I only could recognise once I had it. I forgot a few bits and had to um and ahh through others, but it was a great crowd and there was a slight frisson as many of them were aware of the Twitter debacle (I got a really good collection for SCOPE at the end after saying money would go to stop powerful millionaires using the word "mong"). I was a bit too distracted by life and my slight unfamiliarity with the show to properly enjoy it, but I still did the show well, even though I forgot the end line, but got a big laugh with something different instead. I am very much looking forward to getting out on tour and doing what a comedian is supposed to do, make people laugh and think.
My twitter feed continued to bulge with comments and I headed back to the hotel for a glass of wine and to post more responses. When I went to bed I felt pleased that I had made this tiny stand and moved by the positive emails and messages I had had. I tweeted "By the way, I was really right about everything today. Not often I can say that. But I am proud of myself." And it's true. I never feel that sure about anything I've done. Tonight I felt like Ricky Gervais seems to feel all the time. I am sure I can't get through two days in a row like that, but I felt that I had taken some flak, but done only good. It was a nice feeling. Be back to self loathing and insecurity tomorrow though, don't worry.
Oh and if I have the opportunity to promote anything out of all this, let it be the fact that I ran the Half Marathon for SCOPE - if you feel like sponsoring me (Ricky?) here's the link.
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