Editor-At-Large: Seems we'll use any word today except a word of kindness

 

Share
Related Topics

Ricky Gervais is smart – not a bully or a bigot, even though recent events might indicate otherwise. Now he's apologised for using the word "mong", let's get the affair in perspective. Sure, he was naïve, and posting oafish pictures on Twitter was dumb. They attracted a storm of protest – and Gervais was even accused of ramping up the controversy to promote his new television series. But after Nicola Clark, the mother of two teenage girls with severe autism, cried on the Jeremy Vine radio show as she described the insults she's had to deal with from the public, Ricky contacted her and they talked privately and he said sorry. He then offered her a "very public thank you" on Twitter. Unlike Frankie Boyle, with his revolting comments about Katie Price's disabled son Harvey, Ricky knows when to admit he got it wrong.

Leaving aside whether words change their meanings, freely abusing people is absolutely acceptable in modern comedy. Along with jokes about getting your girlfriend to enjoy anal sex, uses for amputees, and bestiality. Comedy remains overwhelmingly male – look at the Edinburgh Fringe and the performers on television and radio shows from Live at the Apollo to 9 out of 10 Cats to QI, Buzzcocks and Have I Got News for You. It's a very macho world. I'm not too bothered about that. What's more concerning is the general level of verbal coarseness, which tends to happen when one sex is over-represented.

When I get asked on telly with some male comics I decline, because I can't cope with the nastiness. I threatened to walk out of one show a while back when a well-known comic made a homophobic gag about a friend, saying "he takes it up the s*****r". During a recording, you expect comics to show off to keep the audience interested, but in this instance, they were appalled. I was made to feel as if I wasn't being a sport. After a grudging "apology" we continued the show.

On Facebook, in chatrooms and on Twitter, the level of repartee these days is routinely judgemental and savage ... and it's in this context Ricky used the M-word. Jimmy Carr's on-stage nastiness has been well documented – but funnily enough he's a very pleasant person in real life. Hugely intelligent, he has thoroughly researched what works with his audience – the filthier and more unpleasant he gets, the more they like it.

Years ago, I was the BBC executive in charge of a late-night comedy show in which Bill Hicks delivered a hilarious monologue about how throat cancer victims could have a tracheotomy and smoke two cigarettes at the same time. It brought the house down, but it emerged a few days later that a senior BBC executive was suffering from throat cancer, and I was ordered to make a grovelling apology after the programme. My boss told me I was supposed to be monitoring taste and decency issues and had failed in my task. I disagreed – but was overruled. Good comedy will always offend someone, but I'm more concerned that our society as a whole seems to have got more uncaring and insensitive and popular comedy reflects that in all its forms.

Ricky Gervais thought he was chatting away on Twitter, like a bloke in the pub, but he seems to have made a rare misjudgement. I saw his outrageous set at a teenage cancer charity event at the Royal Albert Hall a few years ago, when he referred to disability in a routine that could have caused offence. The kids in the wheelchairs were howling with laughter. That's a sign of true genius. I've interviewed Ricky: he's highly cautious and comes across as mildly insecure. Some say he's arrogant, but I disagree. He's only really happy performing and hopeless at small talk, which is why he messed up on Twitter.

Instead of picking on Ricky, consider the way kids talk to each other 24/7 via text and messaging. Think about why nurses are accused of insensitivity when dealing with the old. Look at the abuse and nastiness on the internet, the swearing in the street and in shops. We've all become more brutalised. We have less time for real feelings; we trade on instant reactions. Those who come up with the smart-alec insults are the prize fighters of our era. Don't blame Ricky – he was just trying to be contemporary, on-message. But why are we all so unspeakably insensitive?

Sally's big fat gypsy television stunt

The Bercow family faces another period of turmoil. Sally is swapping her spacious grace-and-favour flat in Westminster for a gypsy caravan in North Wales when she moves in with Irish traveller, former bare-knuckle boxer and Celebrity Big Brother winner Paddy Doherty for two weeks next month.

The odd couple are being filmed for a Channel 5 reality series: another step in Mrs B's plan for media domination. How will our much-mocked Speaker be handling the news? Will Mrs D be taking up residence in Whitehall? Who is going to look after Sally's three small children as she cooks, cleans and dusts the Doherty mobile home?

The week after next has been designated Parliament Week, a Bercow project that will "explore how people can get involved in democracy". Perhaps Mrs Doherty will get a chance to put the travellers' point of view, post-Dale Farm. Or she could ask Mr B why he refused to follow other MPs and ministers and cut his pension, in spite of David Cameron's request.

He will have about £40,000 a year for life, when he retires, and doesn't even have to contribute to the scheme. Democracy is a pretty elastic concept when it comes to Parliamentary perks.

Look, it's a gull. Not an 'experience'

Last week, Radio 4's Saving Species explored why herring gulls are flocking to cities where they scavenge for food, and declining in number in their traditional habitats.

Before long, an RSPB spokesmen used two of my least favourite bits of jargon in one pompous sentence, talking about consulting the many "stakeholders" involved and announcing the herring gull is a familiar seaside "experience".

I thought the gull was a loud squawking white bird, but what do I know? I'm probably not even a stakeholder. Can the Beeb police the unnecessary use of jargon?

Closing St Paul's is beyond belief

When protesters set up camp outside St Paul's Cathedral last week, Giles Fraser, the Canon Chancellor, welcomed his new visitors in an exemplary Christian way. As they've grown in number, he's changed his tune. Visitor numbers and takings at the gift shop and café have plummeted. Now the cathedral has closed – an unthinkable act.

It should open its doors to demonstrators who have the guts to stand up for what they believe in. They may be incoherent and irritating, but they have a right to protest about our society's blatant inequality. If Jesus were alive, he'd be one of the campers. The C of E, with its vast property portfolio, admission fees and souvenirs, has a warped sense of priorities.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Texas Gov. Rick Perry might try to run for president again in 2016  

Rick Perry could end up in jail for the rest of his life — so why does he look so smug?

David Usborne
 

August catch-up: architecture, suitcases and ‘pathetic figures’

John Rentoul
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape