Alan Ralph

Wearer Of Many Hats

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Words are shrapnel, you have to think about where you are aiming them

Content Warning: derogatory language, rape.

Robin Ince posted ‘I Am Sorry to Repeat Myself But…’ over on The Cosmic Shambles Network last month, concerning the use of language by comedians and the choices they make when doing so. (The quote I used in the title of this post is from the late Barry Crimmins.)

Barry was no shrinking violet.

Raped when he was little more than a toddler, he had grown up with a deep conviction to fight against injustice.

He wanted to battle to make the world fairer. The people he mauled in his stand up were the powerful. The governments whose foreign policy crushed freedom and whose domestic policies destroyed hope. He was also a relentless campaigner against the Catholic church for their shielding of abusers. He attacked those who were on top and crushing the people beneath them.

His work was far more likely to lead to him being “cancelled” because his forthright attacks of the status quo made many in the entertainment industry uneasy.

When I asked him what he might NOT say on stage he told me the story of a gig he was headlining.

A couple in the front row laughed uproariously throughout his set. After the show, Barry got talking with them.

They reiterated their love of his set but then went on to explain that they had not found the evening easy. They rarely came out as their child had severe disabilities and there was only one carer they were really sure of. Usually they went for a meal or to a band , but this night they decided on comedy. Throughout the evening, the other comedians casually threw about the word r****d and they just couldn’t relax. When Barry came on, they soon saw that he was not one to throw around easy diminishment of the marginalised and oppressed. As he said to me, “words are shrapnel, you have to think about where you are aiming them”.

As I have said, I know I have told this story before but it seems pertinent. The charity SCOPE receiving a great deal of abuse this week for questioning the recent trailer for Ricky Gervais’s Armageddon. In it, he explains why he is clever enough and nuanced enough to use the word r****d.

This hits close to home for me. Through my teenage years I was called a ‘spastic’ by other kids at school due to my behavioural tics. A child psychologist used the word ‘retarded’ in a report they wrote about my prospects. And the word ‘mong’ was sometimes thrown at me by a couple of work colleagues. That got stamped on, but the micro-aggressions continued for years, any mistake a chance to demean my status within the company.

I’ve never really gotten the appeal of Ricky Gervais. I’ve no doubt that he’s talented, but his humour falls flat with me. The fact that he continues to throw around loaded terms like ‘mong’ and ‘retard’, and then defend his use of them, means I’ll be switching off if I see him on any TV programme.

Sadly, Ricky Gervais isn’t alone, either in the use of such words or defending their use. But as Robin Ince notes near the end of his article:

And if it is just a joke, aren’t there better jokes?

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