Friday, 21 October 2011

Ricky Gervais: An apology?

Imagine my surprise on my way home from work, idly checking Twitter when I saw this exchange of emails between Ricky Gervais and Nicky Clark (the disability campaigner who was interviewed on this BBC show yesterday)

Nicky Clark

Ricky Gervais: A very public thank you for your kind, rational and understanding words in private.

Nicky Clark: Thank you for getting in touch. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of things? Nik
RG: Ask away
NC: I now understand that you didn't and wouldn't intentionally hurt anyone. Do you understand why people got upset by it ?
RG: I do now. Never dreamed that idiots still use that word aimed at people with Down's Syndrome. Still find it hard to believe
NC: How has the response to your use of it online and in the press made you feel ?
RG: A mixture of confusion, anger, terror and disappointment. But mostly naive. Never meant the word like that and never word.
NC: Some of your followers have attacked people like me for criticising you over this do you condone this behaviour?
RG: Definitely not - reason I contacted you to be honest. The hate mail I had was psychotic and wouldn't wish that on anyone.
RG: What do you think of how the press have portrayed me, out of interest?
NC: I think that had I not spoken to you,I would have believed that you were a bully.The tweets seemed out of step with your work.
RG: Cheers. Understandable Using that word to mean DS WOULD be bullying. I'm glad people now realise I'm an idiot instead. Ha ha
NC: many people have been confused by your tweets to anyone who has been hurt by them what would you say?
RG: Well all I can do is apologise and hope they don't confuse those people's views with mine. ( meeting now back in an hour)
NC: okey dokey.
NC: Thank you for that. It's certainly not how I expected today to turn out.
RG: This is better than Frost and Nixon by the way. Speak later

I actually felt a little tinge of emotion, a slight teariness (but I held it back) and I tweeted excited screen shots of this as well as a message of kudos to Ricky for seeing sense, however couldn't believe the self-absorption of the man as he asks what Nicky thinks about how he has been portrayed in the press!

I received a couple of messages from followers who had a mush more cynical outlook than myself, seeing it as "pathetic, now he's got the publicity for his TV programme to pretend he didn't realise for days and days." I may well be naive. And to be honest, this discussion between Gervais and Mrs Clark is all very well, but will his behaviour change. After all, actions do speak louder than words.

I was prepared to see this as a genuine apology and move on, but always keeping an eye on his next move. (I know it sounds a bit school maam-ish!)

Francesca Martinez
Francesa Martinez had a little more to say on the matter. She said to Mrs Clark "I'm so glad Ricky Gervais understood your point". I asked pointed out on Twitter that I was less gleeful and getting more cynical, but that Francesca was happy with the apology to which she replied "It's better than none!". Is that damning with faint praise? I don't know.

Robin Ince
The best response to today's kerfuffle was from Robin Ince who is a very intelligent and well-read comedian who back in the day was Ricky's proto-Karl, having supported Ricky on two tours and being the butt of many of Ricky's jokes. You can read this blog here in full (I recommend you do). Robin had not said anything about this issue up until now and had obviously thought long and hard before wading in. Even Ricky promoted this in his Twitter stream. In it, Robin explains that the more famous and rich someone gets, the less empathy they can have. Yes, Ricky has the right to say whatever he likes, but questions why he feels the need to. According to Robin, Ricky truly did not know that "mong" was still actively used against disabled people and thought he was just making a silly playground taunt. Ricky Gervais is the man that says shocking things. He was living up to his reputation.

Robin did then decide he was going to rewrite his blog as it had given some people the impression that he thought that Ricky was not aware that "mong" had been used as a Downs Syndrome slur.

After Ricky's meeting (with his publicist perhaps?) the conversation continued:

Ricky Gervais: And we're back. (Sweaty, but raring to go)
Nicky Clark: hello again.Aside from the words you were using you also posted photo's pulling faces.Was that supposed to be someone disabled
RG: No. The point is to look as hideous as possible without the use of props. Not a great art form I'll admit. Ha ha
RG: Interestingly chat shows and newspapers have shown them many times. but comedy is about timing I guess. Whoops.
NC: You have adopted a new word in place of your old one people might worry that it's similar to mongol.How do you respond?
RG: Yes it seems even a brand new made up word with no history can cause offence. I wanted to show that a word needs intent.
NC: I've seen the youtube clips of your character Derek Noakes. Is he supposed to be a man with a learning disability?
RG: Hello sorry. Long bath watching "Pointless" Can I answer this question on email then you can post it? I don't know how. Ha
RG: Can't do it in 140 characters. Writing now
NC: Thats great thank you. I'll DM my email shall I? I'll put it on my blog. Very best wishes Nik x
RG: I don't know what that means. Ha ha Useless
NC: I realised as soon as I sent that.
RG: I put my lack of social networking skills down to me being a genius. You should have my answer now by the way.
NC: I have and thank you. best Nik x

Ricky's email arrived which Nicky published on Twitter

RG I've never thought of Derek as disabled per se. Definitely nothing specific. Not Down's Syndrome, Autistic or someone with mental health problems.
He's certainly "different". But when does a bit weird become an official disability? it's ambiguous and he's certainly an outsider. He's based on some of the strange people that collect autographs or train spot (Oh dear now I'm really in trouble) but not in a sneery way. I love Derek. He's funny, happy, empowered and absolutely charming. I guess I've crossed a nerd with a child.
i think in the present climate people will assume this has to be cruel because he's not the "smartest tool in the box" but it's not at all. We could go back and question many comedy characters. What's Mr Bean for christ sake? DP Gumby? Everyone in The League of Gentleman? They're "weird" sure but "weird" people can't help who they are any more than any one with any form of learning disabilities.

I imagine it's also Ricky's lack of social networking skills that means he doesn't realise why "twong" can still be seen as offensive. Twitter has a long and silly tradition of making portmanteau words starting with the letters "tw". So "Goodnight people" and sometimes be seen as "Goodnight tweeple", and "Let's have a tweetup" etc etc.

Here is Ricky performing as Derek Noakes:

All in all I would like to remain is cynicism free as possible about this and will take it at face value for now. There were a couple of questions Ricky disappointingly didn't answer, and it would have been good if Ricky explicitly told his followers that their conduct was equally as unacceptable. (Even as I write this, looking at the @rickygervais column, it is still populated with "mong" tweets)

Richard Herring
An honourable mention should go to Richard Herring: the only "famous" comedian to make a stand about this a number of days ago. Richard has however pointed out that his SCOPE fundraising site has received many more donations. We have found out this week that language is very powerful, but this shows that the power is not always negative, and a lot of good can come of it.

Donate to Richard's SCOPE fundraising page here

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ricky Gervais: What's the problem?

So Ricky Gervais said "mong" on Twitter and people got upset? Big deal. He told us he didn't mean Down's Syndrome. He says the modern meaning is just "dopey". Ah that's fine then.

Except it's not.

Firstly he posted these pictures (an almost obsessive amount of them - there may even be more that I've missed)

Secondly, "Mong" is still used as an insult to disabled people.

Richard Herring, a long standing supporter of disabled rights and no stranger to offensive comedy wrote a couple of blogs about this which you can read in full here and here. It was a proud couple of days to be a Richard Herring fan, as he turned out to be the only "name" comedian who publicly stood up against Gervais' rather cavalier use of language.

Herring stated " I found the anger towards me quite surprising and largely amusing, but was also getting a lot of support from people who was glad I had made a mini stand. Ricky Gervais is a powerful figure in the industry and I know it is hard for a lot of people to say anything negative about him for fear of what might happen to their own standing. Funnily enough it's because I don't care about the repercussions or publicity that I am in a position to say that I don't think it's a brilliant thing that he's done."

It was also very  interesting to compare the mainly considered tweets from Herring's fans to Gervais with the mainly abusive ones from Ricky's fans. The abuse from his fans was even directed towards the mother of a disabled daughter who was interviewed on the Jeremy Vine show on the BBC.

The "debate" seemed to take a turn and gervais fans were soon talking about offensive comedy, and why shouldn't Ricky be offensive. Some fans accused Herring of being too scared to offend anyone. Others said that the Hitler Moustache could be offensive. This was a (and yes, I'm really going to say this. Let me clear my throat...) red herring.

I kept reminding people that Gervais kept stating that "mong" doesn't mean Down's Syndrome

<-- Look back at these lovely pictures. Remember them? Someone on Twitter asked me why I thought these were mocking the disabled, as if the offense was all in my head. It stacks up. The phrases, the pictures, and of course the clip from Science where he says "Even mongs can say it (mong). That's part of the beauty of the word. They don't see it as a perk I'm sure"

(Video that was here previously removed due to me not realising it was a spoof. Because I'm a twat.)

Ex comic, Christina Martin wrote a great blog where she talks about her experiences with people's reactions to her brain damaged brother and gave us quite an insight into Gervais's character:

"So, I did some stand-up at the Bloomsbury Theatre a few Christmases ago. I was really excited about it as I was on the same bill as Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Mark Thomas, Josie Long, Chris Addison, loads of really good people. Gervais was also on the bill. 

We had a massive green room, full of food and stuff that we were autographing for auction. As it was Christmas there was a lovely festive feel and everyone was having fun backstage.

I was waiting for Gervais to turn up but he never did. After a while it was explained to us by the organiser that he refused to share a green room with anyone, in case we bothered him. Can you imagine Stewart Lee going all fan boy over Ricky Gervais? Please!

They'd had to make him up an impromptu dressing room out of one of the spare rooms backstage. Food and drink was removed from our room for him, and the stuff to be autographed was collected and taken to him when we were all done signing it.

When the show started we all stood in the wings, cheering each other on and watching each others' sets. Then the organiser informed us that Gervais didn't want anyone standing in the wings when he was on, and that we were all to go back to the basement dressing rooms before and during his performance. Twenty performers, many of them top names, being bossed about by this diva-ish man. "

Francesca Martinez (a very funny comedian with Cerebral Palsy) who has  worked with Gervais in Extras where they did some amazing satirical work on the issue of disability. This is what's disappointing me. There is no sature here at all. It's just him pulling "mong" faces and saying "mong". There doesn't seem to be any purpose other than to upset people. He denies "mong" is anything to do with disability, but... THAT IS BULLSHIT.

Talking of Francesca, she has made her feelings pretty clear on the matter.

She followed this up with:

Now, I'm a fan of Gervais's TV work and The Office and Extras were both amazing pieces of work. And yes, I'll still watch his new show with Warwick Davis; "Life's Too Short". But I don't hold him remotely as highly as I did. I feel let down.

Anyway, before I go, let me leave you with this excellent blog that you must read. Incidentally, all of the blogs I have quoted are worth reading. Every one is much more considered and articulate than this addled mess.

Wow - this blog just looks really horrible. I don't know how to change the colour of the cut n paste text. I think I know but when I actually do it it looks even worse. But hey ho. 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

It's mad right? A comedian no one has really ever heard of, booking an 850 seat room, and not allowing the audience to buy tickets at the box office, online or over the phone? Where the only way to buy tickets was to meet him personally? Which meant he had to stand for days with a ludicrously large "Comedy Sale" sign all over London flogging tickets to passers by? Where he even made home visits to delver his tickets?

Well, this is what Sanderson Jones has done. I have written about him before where I first heard of this idea. Sanderson's logic is that as he is one of the few, or possibly only, comedian to sell all his tickets to his smaller Edinburgh Fringe shows by himself, why not book one big show?

Here is Sanderson's introduction:

Sanderson also arranged a few meet ups at his local pub for the audience to get to know each other. Well after all, it's a bit unfair if he has met every single one of us, and we haven't. There will be no strangers at this gig.

Now I tend to go to smaller gigs. It's just the way I like them. Looking back over the gigs I've attended the biggest would probably be a sold out gig at The Leicester Square Theatre. This means that the gig was the biggest comedy gig I have seen since I saw Billy Connolly back in the 90s.

Sanderson sells tickets to "chuggers":

New Londoner, Sarah had come along to these meet ups. As a big comedy fan she had seen Sanderson flogging his tickets in Edinburgh but hadn't seen him. I also met a couple of fun people at the pub meets and we arranged, along with Sir Bob to meet up at the White Swan near Highbury Corner for drinks beforehand. I made the surprisingly clever decision to eat at the pub which made the rest of the night much less embarrassing.

Why is my camera showing the wrong date?
The Union Chapel is covered in scaffolding but inside is a great space. The downside being that due to it being a church they don't let you bring booze into the venue (A-boooo!)

They do sell it though which is nice. We queued up for a short time before passing Sanderson on the steps, still flogging tickets.

Am enormous screen was showing #comedysale twitter updates. I've always enjoyed live broadcast twitter feeds before and naturally writing rude words to them so mentioned casually on twitter this was happening. And bless them, they sent them in thick and fast, but unfortunately the feed had to be manually refreshed so most of them got lost which was a shame.

The show started with a slide show of all the tickets he had sold to each punter. This made us feel integral to the show if we didn't already. Sanderson came on and seemed genuinely blown away by the turn out. One man, selling 750 tickets was no mean feat!

He had done his research and the first part of the show was peppered throughout with rather embarrassing Facebook and Twitter updates from the audience. A comedy critic had not shown up, so Sanderson decided that in return he went onto Amazon there and then and left a terrible review of his last book. He reviewed the critic more than the book! I think it started with a C and ended with a T.

There was a section where Sanderson put a backdrop behind a lady in the front row and signed into Chat Roulette, finally dropping the sheet to reveal the entire cheering audience as soon as he saw an erect cock (or, as this was in a church, a man in pants - we still saw cock though!)

There was video footage of "sexy" 7 year olds dancing - (Totes Inappropes!), as well as the story of Sanderson's love lost, won, and lost again when he was in Australia. Sanderson spoke about his failures and lack of concentration, all backed up with this amazing multimedia presentation.

The show ended with fire eating, juggling, sexy
nurses (that he had chased round the room Benny Hill style earlier) and the biggest round of applause I've heard for a comedy event in a long long time. There was even an unforced standing ovation.

It's really not 2008!
What an astounding show! At the end of the show, Sanderson told us of the after show party at The Garage, so we hit the bar at The Union, then headed straight there but found it was closed till 11pm. Not to worry, we headed to The Famous Cock (no sniggering please) and went back over. For people in their 40s like me, it was great music and everyone seemed to be having a lot of drunken fun. Sanderson certainly was !

I think I may have even took my top off and may have grinded against a guys bag as he was doing the same from the other side. I think that may have caused a little bit of bafflement and confusion.

I did bump into the lovely Martin White in the Union Chapel bar who reminded me that his Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra is playing at the same venue today (ie Saturday) so think I should wrap this blog up now and get ready for MFMO !

Here's a little snippet of what you missed:

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Curse Sir Walter Raleigh

I had an awful cold and had been suffering bravely and silently. I considered staying in but decided to risk it. After all was is the last ever Curse Sir Walter Raleigh show.

Michael Legge took his first ever solo show to the Edinburgh Fringe last month and decided to finish things off by playing 3 nights in the Lounge of the Leicester Square Theatre. I have seen Michael do a few of these previews - and to Michael, they are all previews - before, and have always had a brilliant time. I actually came along on Tuesday as well, which ended up with Michael, myself and quite a number of the audience sprint-walking to The Phoenix for the Do The Right Thing podcast.

There was less of a rush this time, and after meeting up with Misha, Woolhouse, Jack, Neal, Paul, Simon, Rob and Michael at The Imperial and having a long discussion about the "Smooth Groove", we headed up to the venue where there were some lovely front row seats waiting for us, with a conspicuous 2 seat gap right in the middle.

Michael came on, and immediately noticed the gaps, telling us that they were his least favourite seats. A couple turned up really late (I mean really late, probably about 20 minutes after the start of the show) and Michael made sure they sat there and gave them a lot of attention!

Paul, Jack, Misha, Me and Simon
'Curse Sir Walter Raleigh' is a show about manners and Michael's obsession with them. You might read his blog and think he is a shouty angry man, but that is only in response to the rudeness of strangers. The show starts with a story about whn he and Colin Hoult were "rescued" by Hunter from Gladiators - "a man that doesn't even exist!"

It then moves on to Michael's obsession with Sir Walter Raleigh based upon a lie his father told him when he was 3. He loves him. He hates him. Whatever it is, Sir Walter is an important man in Michael's life. We then move on to where most of the stories from his blogs happen - the train.

taken by Claire Haigh at the Cambridge Comedy Festival
Michael usually works with other people in sketch shows, or tends to compere. I was so surprised to find out this was his first full length solo show. Hopefully there will be more to come. And hopefully there will be other chances for you to see this one.

Michael ended the show by inviting us all (yes, everyone in the theatre) to The Blue Posts in Newman Street, and, at a guess, around 15 of us took him up on the offer. The pub was being painted downstairs so we were herded into a bar upstairs. It was quite a squeeze, but our good time was continuing.

There was a long discussion with Simon and Paul, mainly about cocks and blow jobs, Paul Litchfield turned up and some how it ended up with an arm wrestling competition: Bear (Neal) vs Lion (Paul JL) vs Bird (Simon). Unsurprisingly, Bear won.