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

Recruitment Genius: Programme Manager

£30000 - £35500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

What Lord Myners tells us about the Royal Mail sell-off shows just how good the City is at looking after itself

Chris Blackhurst
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city  

After the Sydney Siege, would Australia be safer with American-style gun laws? The answer is simple

Neil Brennan
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum