I Think You'll Find the Real Victim was my Punchline

Robin Ince's Blog

I see there is another programme about stand up comedy and free speech.

I have seen a few reports and read a few articles and from my anecdotal experience it is usually “edgy comedy” that veers to the right that is focussed on. These are the people who make the loudest noises about feeling victimised by the opinions of social media.

I think the internet is damaging for many things and I think it has predominantly been somewhere between unhelpful and damaging for stand up comedians (and many other things).

Stand up comics are frequently fragile narcissists, barely balancing the egotistical nature of going on stage with the self-loathing that can drown out the rest of the day out of the spotlight.

Social media has not been good for my happiness. It is unlikely to increase the happiness of anyone whose job may involve an opinion, a stance or even just being in the public domain, however marginally.

I first got bile sprayed at me when touring with Ricky Gervais. It was not from many, but it was persistent and paranoia inducing. I remember sitting in a cafe in Manchester and starting to think, maybe one of those people who hates me is sitting near, staring, waiting to spit.

This paranoia brings a very ugly form of self obsession, not preening narcissism where you believe people take time to admire and envy you, but a deformed narcissism that means you spend too much time believing people waste their time loathing you when most probably don’t even know you exist. The negative voices become a mob in your mind even if it is really the numerical equivalent of a few drunken mid-life crisis men swearing at a bag of dropped chips as they rue their loveless marriage.

It might just be the anxiety developed through nurture exacerbated by age, but my vigilance is certainly more hyper since social media. A single negative voice stabs, multiple voices of congratulations are barely felt. For those with a predilection of self loathing, it doesn’t take much to tip them into the dark and a tedious circularity of questioning and doubt.

My experience is almost entirely positive compared to friends of mine who have been victims of aggression and hate that far outweighs their public profile.

The focus on the regressive voices being snowflake bombed rarely seems to find room to talk about some of the voices of the liberal and the left who have had to deal with death threats, rape threats and other grotesque verbal abuse. The person I know who really was cancelled lost their jobs over a single misplaced jibe at the right, not the left.

This man is extremely angry about something very important like an on screen message before an episode of Fawlty Towers.

What I find perplexing is that during a period of right wing dominate in British and USA politics, so many column inches are spent saying, “of course, the real problem is left wing people being cross with people on the internet.” Our myopia is most active when evidence comes into view that counters our favoured notion.

In some case, rather than damaging some stand ups , it seems to have been incredibly useful to them. It has allowed people with regressive voices to strike a rebel pose when they rehash opinions that would decorate the columns of numerous highly paid newspaper hacks. Whole shows now became about how something was said on stage and this is what the internet said back. Is Richard Littlejohn your Marlon Brando?

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There are just too many voices and it has driven us mad. There is enough negativity to make everyone feel that their victim status is greater than everyone us. The most vicious bullies also claim to be the real victims. Social media has put our hypocrisy in sharp relief. We encourage pile ons and then cry “the collapse of democracy” when piled on.

As repeatedly with Donald Trump, it is the shout of “but it’s not the same because it is me!”

Our empathy is crushed by our egotism.

The internet has not been good for free speech or politics. We have seen that for many people the greatest delight is in seeing others suffer. Look how quickly those who say “suck it up” or “get over it” throw violent hissy fits when reality delivers something they do not wish to get over or suck up.

Oh, and who the heel are the Twitterati elite I am told are in charge of the world?

Something that doesn’t often seem to be taken into account by those who tell us that twitter has a left leaning dominance is that our news media has a right wing dominance, so if there is a n increased left wing stance on twitter (though I never find a shortage of extremist right wing trolls in this Trotsky club) it may be because there voice is not as amplified in the Express, Mail, Telegraph, Times and The Sun. 

The problem of free speech and the internet is far bigger than some comedians worrying that a joke may make people tetchy so they decide not to perform it. This is the tiniest glass splinter in the vast motorway pile up of over-connection that seems to have led to a species jumping the shark. The real solution is to switch it off, but we’re hooked on the dopamine now and we are hooked on our righteous indignation. We are all typing in green ink now.

Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster.  As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London. His latest book, I’m a Joke and So Are You is out now.

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