Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

In defence of rape jokes

In Comedy, Uncategorized on August 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I realise the title alone has already got people furious with me, but please hear me out on this. I will not accuse anyone of lacking a sense of humour, nor will I say all rape jokes are defensible. Like all jokes about painful subjects, they need to be treated with great care and intelligence. With the current fashion in stand-up, that care seems to be sorely lacking. This is the real problem.

They say Comedy = Tragedy + Time, but in the case of rape victims even a million years would not be enough. I am aware of that and, yes, I do know at least a couple of victims of rape. Nobody is genuinely suggesting victims laugh at these jokes. Hopefully, a well-crafted joke should be understandable, though, the same way Holocaust sketches (or even entire films) can be things of beauty.

The problem we are facing in comedy clubs and on television now is the proliferation of mainly male comics using ‘rape’ as a go-to punchline when they can’t think of anything genuinely funny to say (looking at you, Mr Boyle). In the 1960s merely swearing was edgy and breaking boundaries. Once everyone swore in their sets, they had to go beyond that to press buttons and prove their rebellious comedic chops. Now what hacks consider to be short-cuts to edgy chic have become in reality the safest subjects of all. How many comics have we seen in a show start a sentence with: “So, I’m an atheist” and wait for the response? They act all high and mighty as if anyone in a comedy club is really going to complain about that stance. It’s the easiest round of applause/whoop they’ll get all night, yet they think it’s what stands them out for their bravery. Bollocks.

The same goes for rape jokes. What ought to be treated with kid gloves is now thrown into the audience like a stinkbomb. Worse still, as this is ‘fashionable,’ it means going to one of those Best of the Fest type nights will see the young, male comics in their jeans and t-shirts (The Russells, as Stewart Lee puts it) lining up to throw the stinkbombs again and again and again, each without context, or time to build up a persona. It also makes it very difficult for a woman to go to a comedy club and avoid hearing this subject discussed in the most flippant and insulting of manners.

Persona is crucial in comedy and more than ever in rape jokes. I have written before about how Boyle and Gervais personas on stage make their routines seem more like bullying, as they always punch down on to the weaker elements. The best rape jokes are performed by those who are clearly comic monsters, who always end up being ‘the bad guy’ – like Sadowitz, Stanhope or Roy Chubby Brown. Where it becomes a huge problem is when the t-shirt and jeans brigade decide to throw in the odd rape joke along with a generally likeable persona who talks about visiting IKEA and other such ground-breaking comedy subjects. This is where it loses all sense of context and may contribute to what many claim is the ‘normalising’ of rape.

I am told there are studies showing that jokes about rape normalise the subject among men, but I find that rather strange. Nobody would say the same about dead baby or Holocaust jokes, would they? The thing that really irks me about the debate on these jokes is the underlying assumption that all men are potential rapists and have to almost prove themselves different from the rest. It fundamentally changes the way you view jokes. Comedy works on absurdity and incongruity. The audience and comic have to start from the shared knowledge that rape is horrific and nobody in their right mind would actually do that to someone. If we cannot agree on that, then we may as well never leave the house or speak to anyone ever again.

I conclude with the magnificent Louis C.K, who gets to the heart of comedy like nobody else: “I’ve read some blogs during this whole thing that have made me enlightened to things I didn’t know. This woman said how rape is something that polices women’s lives. They have a narrow corridor. They can’t go out late, they can’t go to certain neighborhoods, they can’t get a certain way, because they might get—That’s part of me now that wasn’t before – and I can still enjoy a good rape joke.”