Warning: This blog contains a number of justifications for hypocrisy.
I’ve had this blog for ages, but only really updated it sporadically because to be perfectly honest, and despite the fact that I have chosen to earn my living standing in front of strangers, demanding their attention and craving their applause, there is something that makes me view attention seeking as somewhat distasteful. Doing stand-up may seem to be the anathema of this point of view, but the way I – as someone who has to spends hours plucking up the courage to send an unsolicited e-mail to someone I like or to phone an official body – see it is this: with stand-up, I have been given permission. There is no way I would prat about in front of a room full of people going “Me, me, me” just for the attention, but the infrastructure of a comedy night is such that there is a stage and a microphone that people have chosen to pay money to look at and listen to. The people who have been invited to tell world class jokes (say, Gary Delaney), issue satirical barbs (say, Mark Thomas), or fume about trivial issues in a way which would be unacceptable in proper social situations (say, um, … me) have usually earned the right to get up there and do it. Usually through hard work, perseverance or talent, although occasionally through chronic lack of self-awareness, overweening arrogance and bewildering good fortune (say, err, … no, I’d better not say). Despite my job, I wouldn’t describe myself (or indeed, most comics) as massive show offs. Around my family dinner table I’m not especially keen on dominating a conversation and I find new social situations with unfamiliar people absolutely crippling. Give me a microphone and an obligation to fill the silence, and any urge to receive attention feels legitimised (but still has to be earned).
One of the things I’ve tried to talk about on stage recently is how dreadfully narcissistic we have become as a society. Self-expression without the need for social interaction to facilitate it has bred a generation of keyboard warriors and worriers. People go to forums to join with like-minded individuals to share ideas and spread the joy about their hobby, passion or favourite TV programme. And then fall out with each other quite vociferously when they find out that not everyone enjoys every aspect of their favourite thing in
exactly the same way that they do. The rise of the internet troll has suddenly given worldwide exposure to the most kickable members of the human race. In the old days, if you wanted to be a mouthy prick you needed to be able to run fast or cultivate a powerful physique. These days you just need an e-mail account and no self-editor.
Twitter is the ultimate one way expression outlet, and with it comes a curious hierarchy that says everything about how it works. If I follow Mr X because he’s a famous comedian, I’m showing that I, Mr T (and why not?) admire him and want to read his jokes and opinions. The thing is, I’m also in his profession, so if he follows me he is conferring status and affirmation to me very publicly (his followers will think that if this comedian they really like, Mr X, follows this other comedian Mr T, then Mr T must be pretty good). If, on the other hand, he doesn’t follow me in return, he is accepting patronage but tacitly acknowledging that I am not in his league, or worthy of his attention. Similarly, if an up-and-coming comic (Mr Y) follows me, but I don’t choose to follow them, surely I’m saying “Yes, devour the wise yet pithy saws and modern instances I can conjure in 140 characters or less” at the same time as saying “But I don’t care whether you do or not, because frankly my life is busy enough not to be distracted by your attempts at wit”. Not so much Mr Y as Mr Y Should I Be Bothered By What You’re Banging On About? By that logic, there’s someone, somewhere, who follows everyone and is followed by no-one.
You sir, are officially the worst human being on the planet.
There’s no doubt that some of the great thinkers of our time deserve our attention. Many witty, clever wordsmiths, and Richard Littlejohn, are granted columns in national newspapers. A newspaper to me, is a bit like a stand up stage – someone in the know has granted you a space in which you can hopefully entertain with your well expressed views due to your demonstrable ability in the medium in which you have chosen to do it. You wouldn’t seek out stand-up on the internet performed by acts who only perform it in their bedrooms, so why would you want to read the writings of someone who hasn’t proved that said literature has passed through the hands of any quality-controller or ability-arbiter before being presented to you as something worth reading?
But this is the world we live in. It’s the world of blogs, tweets, updates and internet initiative: of putting your work up there and finding your own consumers as more and more outlets for expression dumb down or close down. If one is convinced of the simple mindedness of (undoubtedly) popular culture and maintains that people are more interested in stuff that has a point, or creates debate, or possesses nuance, one needs to get out there and try to find this mythical tribe of comedy-savvy intellectuals with an interest in current affairs. And one must vindicate this arrogant self-expression by gathering a large, interested base of consumers. It sounds horribly capitalist doesn’t it? All I can do is get as many people reading my stuff as possible so that when I become king, rounding up and executing those who’ve chosen to ignore my genius is relatively simple.
So in a way, reading this has just saved your life. Well done.
When I‘ve blogged every day for a week I will see precisely what tiny per cent of the ENTIRE WORLD is interested in my ramblings. I’m not sure I would be, and what I discover may be most sobering. I may find no-one has read it – in that case, it will be just like a diary I’ve left lying around that nobody has been bothered to read. I think I can live with that. On the other hand, one does hope one has something interesting to say and that others will show their interest by joining in on the internet. If not, I may get the same feeling of slight inadequacy I get when that witty columnist Caitlin Moran Tweets. She’s funny, clever, writes well, loves Doctor Who and lives near me. But am I important enough for her to follow me on Twitter? Nope. It’s a cruel hierarchy. In following her, I was really asking to be her friend. Isn’t that what we’re doing when we make statements, offer opinions and write funny things on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Aren’t we just saying “Please be my friend?”
If you disagree, you’re probably not my friend.
Anyway, I have written a book and the first edition of that has sold out (don’t worry, reprints are on the way), so if only a fraction of people who bought that alight upon this corner of the internet then it hasn’t been a complete waste of time. Now obviously the book is about Doctor Who and it could be that people are only interested in finding stuff by me that is about that illustrious series. In which case I’d have to keep inserting the name Doctor Who into my posts. That’s Doctor Who. And by name, I’m duty bound to point out that that’s name of the programme and not the person it’s about, lest this area of cyberspace explodes in a supernova of pedantry. What name are you talking about, I hear you cry? Why, Doctor Who, of course. Yes, that’s the one. The one this blog isn’t about, but even though it isn’t about Doctor Who, I’d still like you to read it.
Doctor Who related or not.
If, like me, you’re interested in Doctor Who, you could follow me on Twitter. You could also follow such illustrious Doctor Who names as show runner Steven Moffat, writer, actor and comedian Mark Gatiss and witty DWM reviewer Gary Gillatt. I do. Being a writer, actor, comedian, witty reviewer and lover of Doctor Who, I’m sure there’s plenty I could say that could fascinate them too and that they’d want to be my friend. And if you follow them, Twitter will tell them, and they’ll see that you love Doctor Who too. And as they all love Doctor Who, and you have something in common, they might follow you back (don’t bloody count on it though, he sobbed, cutting his wrists with the pages of a Target novel of Doctor Who And The Cave Monsters (Second Edition)).
Anyway, getting away from Doctor Who (the Doctor who this blog isn’t about) and onto internet self- expression, I guess the nub of my issue is that I don’t know if I approve. Thing is, I’m not sure I trust it. I am not sure it is healthy. I’m not sure we can trust humanity with it. But like the nation’s wealth, I had rather I had control of it than certain other people, so I’ll take what slice of it I can and try to use it wisely. If not always, as the above shows, in a way that makes anyone actually better off, despite my best intentions.
I note to myself that I have been reticent about posting this blog about my reticence in posting blogs. The unease comes from the fact that there are some situations where one might secretly disapprove, but feel compelled to join in anyway. In a football crowd perhaps. In a drinking game. At an orgy.
So welcome to my orgy. Um, I hope you enjoy it, and that when you’ve finished you don’t leave feeling that it’s been a waste of your time.
Or with a nasty taste in your mouth.