Oh Robin, My Robin

In Comedy on August 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Robin Williams was my first love. I never met the man, nor saw him perform live, but he is the first person I ever had a proper crush on. I always used to describe how I stood out from other kids in my class because while their walls were adorned with posters of Bros and A-Ha, I had Robin Williams. Not a poster, because you don’t really get pin-ups of comedians even today, so I’d cut a picture or an article out of a magazine and blu-tack it up there.

You never forget your first love. He set the template for all that followed and, looking back, I had damn good taste in men to choose him as the ideal. Over the last traumatic week we’ve heard tale after tale of how kind, generous, sweet and giving Robin Williams was. I sensed it all from just those interviews where I first saw him.

That open-mouthed giggle that would erupt from the back of his throat when he found something genuinely funny. The way when talking about himself seriously his voice became so soft and quiet, his sparkling blue eyes darting around the room to anywhere except the interviewer’s gaze. With the characters and manic voices, he’d look you in the eyes then. His response of ‘Yessir’ or ‘Yes Ma’am’ to questions. And hell, to this day I find hairy forearms sexy.

For decades, even recently, I had this recurring thought I’d love to win a lunch with Robin Williams as part of some competition. He’d come in, start doing his usual manic shtick until I assured him he didn’t need to. I wanted to talk to him, not get a performance. That’s why I gave this blog that title, because for all the great movies he made, I was always happier seeing Robin as himself. I wore down video tapes of his stand-up and interviews, but not so much the films. To this day I’ll always prefer a rehearsal to a finished performance, out-takes to the perfectly-edited scene.

When I heard in a recent round of interviews he was chugging Red Bull, I got worried. He was forcing it out of himself. It must’ve been exhausting to keep that level of intensity up around interviewers and complete strangers, but he clearly thought that was what people expected of him and he seemed to have a terror of letting people down.

I also suffer from depression, so I know it can make you feel horrifically guilty for just about anything, even the most irrational situations. Hearing he had died, not by illness or even accidentally blowing himself up, but by suicide, was like a stab to my heart. I keep feeling guilty, like I or anyone could’ve done something, could’ve made him feel less… lost.

I have the desperate urge to hug people who need it, even if they don’t want my hugs. I sent a tweet cuddling Jim Carrey, who always reminded me of Robin Williams a great deal. They had that same desperate desire to please, fear of letting people down and let through only glimpses of that oh so vulnerable person inside behind the mania. Now I’m more worried for him than ever.

Robin Williams was my first love. Funny, sweet, kind, thoroughly mischievous, but above all a genuinely good man. Yeah, 12-year-old me was right, that’s the definition of an ideal man.


Peter Capaldi: Who are you calling old?

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I protest and not just because I have fancied Peter Capaldi for the best part of 20 years and many people are only just catching up with me thanks to Malcolm Tucker. Reading the reaction to Capaldi’s casting as Doctor Who has been utterly disconcerting and downright offensive.

The immediate response from young girls on Twitter was in the ‘who is this old bloke?’ territory, but we can mock them as people who probably wanted Harry from One Direction cast in the role. The real problem I have is with the media. Every article in newspapers, magazines and websites, whether targeted at long-term fans or the casual viewer, has focused on this meaning the end of sexual tension between Doctor and companion. Why? Is the character over 900 years old or isn’t he? Does the idea he looks 25 make it more acceptable?

Besides which, a 55-year-old man can be attractive. If we had read this kind of reaction to a female actress cast in a role, Twitter would have been up in arms protesting the rampant ageism of the debate. Would they write that Helen Mirren obviously has no sexuality now that she is past 40? Of course not!

It’s not that you have to find Capaldi sexy. It’s that these articles are all presenting his lack of sex appeal as a FACT. There is no discussion; it is simply stated as beyond dispute. ‘Of course,’ they write, ‘now this means winding back the sexual tension between Doctor and companion that has become a recurring theme in the new series.’ Of course. Obviously. Naturally. Evidently. These are the words the media have used to describe the situation. I’m offended on behalf of Peter Capaldi, on behalf of older men and on behalf of women who are treated as if they can only be attracted to some muscle-bound gym bunny with gelled hair who looks like he belongs in TOWIE.

The media also noted this would mean less running around for the Doctor. Good. Did William Hartnell ever run around? The Doctor is not a superhero, he does not have special physical powers. He solves problems with intelligence, craftiness and heart. These are all attractive qualities and ones we should look up to in our television heroes.

So enough of assumptions about how women will react to Capaldi’s Doctor. The media must learn to stop assuming the worst of its actors and its audiences.

Twitter: Be excellent to each other

In Comedy, Uncategorized on September 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm

The term cyberbullying is a powerful one, and it should be, because it is every bit as vicious and painful as bullying face to face. This is also why the word should not be bandied about to represent anyone who disagrees with you. If you say something stupid and people pull you up on it via Twitter, that is NOT cyberbullying. Over the last few days Twitter has become increasingly tense and I see factions being drawn up between ‘celebrities’ and ‘plebs.’ Everyone needs to learn from this and change their behaviour.

My philosophy in life is pretty simple: ‘How is that helping?’ When using social media or indeed talking to anybody, it’s an important question to keep in mind.

Obviously it’s not nice to just send abuse to somebody and there are trolls out there who set out purely to be mean. If you did not enjoy a piece of work performed by a famous Twitter user, do not @ their name into your conversation unless it is something you would say to their face. It’s rude and entirely unnecessary. You’d be surprised how many performers receive tweets out of the blue reading: “Why are you so shit/fat/ugly?” It’s not easy to just shake that off, nor should anyone have to. I don’t care if they are famous or not, there’s no need to go around purposefully upsetting someone.

At the same time, celebrities have to acknowledge they are in a very different position of power and use it responsibly. Charlie Brooker is wise to reveal troll messages without including their usernames, therefore avoiding a flame war while getting his point across. Ricky Gervais does the exact opposite, actively encouraging his millions of followers – who we already know just LOVE to shout ‘mong’ at his request – to send insults to specific people. Surely nobody can say this is responsible behaviour? It’s not ‘fighting back’ because it is completely out of proportion. It’s revenge, pure and simple.

This brings us on to the problem that has sprung up over the last few days. It is delicate territory and very emotionally charged, so please try to read and only then form a response. Debate is important and Twitter has created a fantastic global conversation that was simply never possible before now. As I’ve already said, it can be abused, but we must protect the sense that everyone can contribute in a civil, reasonable manner. This now feels at risk.

Dissent is not bullying. It might feel like it when there are numerous voices piling in to criticise your position, but if there are so many over a long period of time, you might want to ask yourself why they are all saying roughly the same thing. Don’t dismiss them all out of hand as an organised mob. When you tweet that something has upset you, your friends and followers send sympathetic messages, right? Similarly, if someone is upsetting your friend, you rush to defend them and try to help vouch for their good intentions. In the recent case with Nicky Clark and cookdandbombd, watching this spiral out of control was horrific for everyone. Friends and supporters from both sides piled in to contribute and it felt like the individuals were being swamped with comments, some less well phrased than others. I am sad it made BOTH of these individuals feel afraid to use Twitter, but the more it escalated with blogs, counter-blogs and newspaper articles, the more people joined the conversation and the more shouty it all became. Imagine all these people in a room, talking to each other with a conversation that goes on for a week. Of course it’d drive anyone up the wall.

Ultimately, I don’t think Nicky Clark and cookdandbombd are all that far apart in their positions on cyberbullying. They have both shown us the strong emotional impact Twitter can have and just how carefully we must use it. I’m sure both will agree celebrities are not expected to just put up with insults, but on Twitter should learn to differentiate trolls from people with genuine points to be made. Today I saw a doctor accused of cyberbullying and reported to the POLICE for taking her up on a passage written in her book. That way madness lies. If you cannot find common ground in a debate, then someone has to take the initiative to say ‘let’s agree to disagree’ and leave it there.

I have been in this situation, which could’ve been so much worse. I wrote this blog: and sent it to Emma Kennedy via DM (she was following me at the time) because there had been a debate around a particular joke Frankie Boyle had made. I thought it reasonable enough and wanted her opinion on it, potentially keeping the discussion private, as it was clear this issue meant a lot to her. She immediately blocked me and complained that someone had “told me I should be laughing at breast cancer jokes.” She received multiple messages of sympathy about how I – thankfully unnamed! – was a “monster,” a “troll” and trying to upset her. I had intended the complete opposite and was astonished, truly hurt that my blog had caused her pain or prompted me to be considered in such a way. I then received numerous messages from celebrities, many of them her friends and colleagues, who assured me she had been “out of order” and totally unreasonable. They insisted I had nothing to apologise or feel bad for. They did it via DM, mind you…

I know it’s hard when two people you follow start to fight on Twitter, but sometimes we need the guts to stand up and say ‘listen, you over-reacted there and their intention was not to be cruel. Don’t make this turn ugly.’ Or, if it’s too late, sit back and write a really long blog.