So, I logged on to Twitter this morning and saw that Ricky Gervais had appeared to have poked a hornet’s nest with a stick again. Nothing unusual there, I thought – he’s always coming out with jokes designed to outrage people (that’s his shtick he shares with his fellow outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins). What did stop me short though was that one tweeter had objected strongly – and in strong language – to a joke about self-harming, having been a self-harmer herself.
And Gervais had retweeted her without comment, or responding to her. What followed for the unfortunate critic was several hours of non-stop vitriolic abuse. Gervais, hours after the fact, deleted the retweet that had kicked it all off. He then deleted the passive-aggressive abusive subtweets he’d aimed at her, but alas for Ricky, the mighty Print Screen button has been the downfall of many an ass-covering attempt:
It’s pretty clear from those tweets that not only did Gervais know what the result of him retweeting her would be, he didn’t care.
Finally, hours too late, he instructed his pack of wolves to leave the poor woman alone -
This was utter bullshit. Gervais’ actions were the equivalent of throwing chum in shark-infested waters. He knew what would happen. He knew his followers would rip her to shreds. Because he’s done it before – and bragged about retweeting people who insult or criticise him and siccing his 4 million followers on them. Now, here’s where some point out well, these people are abusing him, they want him to see their nasty or critical tweet, so they’re getting what they deserve. Except for that number I mentioned above: 4 million followers. One retweet from Gervais and these nobodies on Twitter attract the instant ire of at least hundreds of rabid fans, who proceed to fill their mentions columns with particularly poisonous bile. As a comedian, Gervais should have a thick skin. In addition there are the options of blocking or ignoring the tweeter. This is not an equal power dynamic. Gervais gets one uncomplimentary tweet from them, they get hundreds of people abusing them back. It is cowardly. In other words, it is also bullying. And bear in mind this is a man who’s considered ‘edgy’ and ‘brave’ for mocking Hollywood moguls at an awards ceremony.
Moving on then – in other news, Ricky Gervais is teaming up with Katie Price to end…online bullying of people with special needs.
You’ll appreciate the extreme irony already, but the irony intensifies and becomes more bitter when you discover what he, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington did to Victoria Wright, a woman with facial disfigurements which they cruelly mocked on the Ricky Gervais Show. It happened 10 years ago, but this kind of cruelty scars people, especially those who receive it regularly in a world that’s not kind to those who are different. Victoria tells her story here.
So, it’s great you want to end the bullying of the vulnerable Ricky, but first I suggest you look up the saying ‘physician, heal thyself’.
Rufus Hound? More Like Rufus Dog
In the same 24 hour period, another British comedian, Rufus Hound, displayed a deeply unsavoury side in a tweet to former Tory MP Louise Mensch:
Whether you agree with Mensch’s politics/approach to feminism or not (and she has plenty of detractors) this is beyond the pale. Hound pathetically attempted to justify this misogynist slur in a long equally misogynist tweet saying how in his experience, it wasn’t sexist. Oh and how suggesting a woman’s blowing her boss only in a figurative sense is totally not sexist. Yeah, you’re not a woman, Rufus – you don’t to be the arbiter of what is or isn’t considered misogynist, OK? And let me tell you now – the tweet was definitely sexist, and in that follow-up tweet you took an industrial digger and tunnelled all the way to Mansplainersville.
Which brings me to a wider pattern I’m noticing among modern-day comedians. I enjoy black comedy and edgy humour that cuts close to the bone, but there’s an increasingly nasty undertone or basis to a lot of jokes and skits these days. And judging from these comedians’ behaviour off-stage, it’s less to do with them trying to be provocateurs than the kind of person they really are. Ricky Gervais exemplifies this – we have two clear-cut examples of him bullying two women who are ill-equipped to deal with it, and it’s not a coincidence that the conceit behind his highly successful series An Idiot Abroad is he and his mate putting another of his mates in increasingly uncomfortable situations. The difference of course is Karl Pilkington’s in on the joke, but part of the humour (aside from Karl’s reactions, thoughts and sayings) is derived from him making someone uncomfortable.
So if you need an outlet for your unpleasantness, comedians, restrict it to your stage or show. Otherwise it’s just human bear-baiting.