Things I thought

Saturday 28 July 2012

Cycleogical Warfare

Last night saw the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, an event which I and many thousands of others have spent the last seven years looking forward to with pre-emptive contempt. Despite this, and as part of my long running partnership with hypocrisy (Hypocrisy- For Lazy Ideologues Everywhere), I sat down with my parents to watch the much vaunted opening ceremony and, in a gloriously modern have cake/eat cake moment, simultaneously rip the shit out of it on Twitter.

It's a sign that the ceremony excelled beyond complete wank that my carefully readied arsenal of cynicism still lay largely unspent by the time the flame was finally lit. Indeed the entire event was so pleasant it even pissed off backbench Tory MPs and Toby Young, who also provided us with a chilling vision of just how shit it could have been.

However, for my fellow anarcho Twitterati and I, the social media platform provided us with an odd juxtaposition between the pomp of the ceremony and the increasingly weird and horrific stories of police brutality coming from the monthly Critical Mass event. As Isambard Kingdom Brunel sang about building Jerusalem here (planning permission pending), I was hearing the first reports that police had punched a man off his bike in order to make sure David Beckham wasn't late to the stadium. A little while later, as The Queen and James Bond parachuted out of a helicopter, someone forwarded me a video of a disabled man, who had reportedly been pepper sprayed, being beaten up by police. Finally, as hundreds of blue-lit, bewinged bikers washed into the Olympic stadium in a celebration of I'm-not-really-sure, hundreds of people who'd been celebrating actual bike riding were being arrested, loaded onto specially commandeered London buses and shipped around the capital.

Now I'd be the first to criticise the cops if I felt they'd gone too far, but on this occasion, I think Her Majesty's constabulary should be applauded for their calm and measured - nah, just kidding. This was obviously the instinctively fuckbrained powergasm of a police force that is so far out of control it isn't even in the same building. Despite what many people have reported, Critical Mass isn't a protest - it's a celebration of bike riding - one that last night met with one of the most heavy handed police responses in years, all because the people involved decided that an international celebration of sporting excellence was no reason not to go cycling.

The full details of the indignities and the injustice suffered at the hands of the cock-nippled, fuckburgling twatbastards who arrested Critical Mass have yet to come to light (there are reports that one group was held on a bus overnight without food in Croydon while others were taken to special Olympic detention centres. Those released have been given olympic bail conditions), but one thing is clear: the police let the whole country down. I'm not a patriot, let alone a nationalist, but when tens of millions of pounds have been spent on a spectacle designed to showcase the best of Britain, and that event is hijacked by a handful of violent, jumped-up thugs, then maybe it's time to cut down the tree that keeps growing bad apples. In this case, that must include the resignation of everyone involved in last night's debacle, from Gold Command on down to the people who drove the buses. Whether criminal proceedings then follow is a matter for the IPCC/an angry mob.

You may think this is hyperbole, but I'm sure those celebrating the games will agree that what happened last night is a national disgrace, and has gone a long way to ruining the hard work many thousands of people put into what should have been a joyous occasion. What's worse still is that this event will be widely reported in Russia, China, Iran and any other country we seek to lecture on human rights, reducing our standing as a nation and our ability to get things done. Even if you don't care about the olympic fucking games, or Britain's ability to throw its slender weight around on the world stage, you may still care about justice, fairness and democracy. Either way, with that in mind, a few heads rolling at the Met should be the very least we demand.

Friday 20 July 2012

Pie Me A River

It's a year to the day since I threw a plate of shaving foam at a man universally reviled as a twat, resulting in me, too, being universally reviled as a twat, presumably due to the transitive property of being a twat. I realise that during those 365 days the only thing I've penned about what I now ominously refer to as "The Incident" is a terribly written and wildly inaccurate piece for the Guardian. This is partly because the bewildering torrent of opprobrium I received rather convinced me that I should never open my big, stupid mouth again and partly because I felt the whole thing was a bit overexposed anyway. As time passed, though, the waterfall of dickheads slowed to a trickle and, more importantly, I stopped caring about them. Sometime around the point where a man said, earnestly, that if he'd been in the Select Committee that day he would have "bummed me to death", I achieved what Buddhists refer to as "not giving a fuck any more". So this, as briefly as I can make it, is the true and largely untold story of that day and all of the weird shit that came rolling downhill after it.

On the morning of piegate I woke up in a squat somewhere in South London. I was running late, by which I mean I was running late for getting there 4 hours early, which I'd been told by my parliamentary contact I'd need to do if I were to have any chance of getting inside. Lest you think having a contact inside parliament made this operation in any way high tech or well thought out, here are the list of materials I used to fulfill my nonsense:

  • 1 packet of plastic plates, stolen from Waitrose

  • 1 can of shaving foam borrowed (permanently as it would turn out) from a housemate

  • 1 suit, obtained from one of the "free shops" that dot london squats

  • 1 bus fare, which I did not have

Did I mention I was broke? Not the kind of broke where you don't have much money. The kind of broke where you don't have any money. So I skipped the bus to parliament.

The question everyone always asks me is how I got inside the building. The disappointing answer is that I walked in, using my normal human feet, which I grew myself. A lady searched my bag and I tried not to stare nervously at the machine gun toting stacks of uniformed beef that littered the lobby. Then, despite the fact that half the contents of my bag wouldn't have been allowed on an aeroplane, it was handed back to me and I was ushered towards the committee room, where I excused myself for a pie-making toilet break.

Then, a stroke of luck: I was given a seat in the middle of the back row of the room, the worst possible place from which to launch my shenanigans. You see, by this point, I was glad of an excuse to abort the whole thing. Shit had not yet gotten real, but the prospect of rather real shit was dropping from the sky like an existentially unchallenged atomic shitbomb. So I silently, and with the now broken promise I would never tell anyone, thanked my lucky stars that I couldn't pull it off after all. I sat back and watched the enquiry.

Then, one by one, the people next to me got up and left. A creeping sense of horror and excitement gripped me, along with the distinct sensation that the universe was trolling me, or at least setting me up to troll everyone else.

I was left with a clear path, a pie in my bag and a list of spent excuses. When people talk to me about The Incident, they invariably ask why I did it. There are lots of possible answers to this question: I did it because Murdoch's a cunt, I did it for catharsis, I did it for fame, fortune and flan flinging, I did it because I thought it was funny,I did it because I was having a manic episode, I did it to impress my girlfriend. In the moment, though, when I decided to fuck my courage to the fucking place and go for it, my main motivation was the knowledge that, if I didn't do it, I'd forever wonder what would have happened if I had.

My accomplices (more on them later) caused a distraction and I went for the face like some kind of foam-handed baboon. A moment after the pie was thrown, a woman named Wendi Deng grabbed me by the arm and lunged at me. I instinctively stepped back, at which point she lost her footing and knocked over one of Murdoch's lawyers on the way down. On the way back up, the lady in question managed to grab what remained of the pie and lob it back at me. Sadly, the fast growing trend did not develop into a fully blown parliamentary pie-fight, petering out after just two rounds.

At the time, I was pretty convinced she'd missed me with her fist, connecting only with a splatter of foam which, in any case, I felt was just desserts under the circumstances. It was only when I got out of jail and I read numerous weirdly racist news reports of the almighty, killer blow Ms Deng had delivered to my curiously unharmed forehead that I began to wonder if I'd been mistaken. I found a small scratch on my nose the next day and wondered if this had been the work of her now fabled tiger's claw. I'm still not sure what really happened - even the video doesn't make it much clearer. What does make me angry, though, is that Deng's attention seeking stunt distracted from what was supposed to be a serious guerilla pie attack.

I walked over to the cops and, like any self-respecting scourge of the state, told them I would come quietly and wasn't in any way resisting their unamorous advances. Worryingly, they didn't read me my rights - because I'd been arrested inside the mother of parliaments, they told me, I had no right to silence and they could keep me indefinitely. Indefinitely, as in forever.

I was led downstairs and through a courtyard where a gaggle of hungry journalists ran backwards in front of me, partly for my amusement but mainly to ask insightful questions like "why did you do that?". I informed them that, much like Murdoch, I couldn't comment on an ongoing police investigation.
The investigation onwent in a little antechamber beneath parliament which resembled a dungeon only in that it was underground and I was being held in it against my will. The cops reiterated my rightsless status and told me that I'd better tell them exactly how I did it or I'd never get out.

While farcical, this threat still presented a bit of a problem. Not only did I not want to spend the rest of my life living in the same house as John Bercow, I also didn't want to incriminate my friends who, as far as I was aware, had escaped custody. I spent a while stonewalling and arguing points of law which it was clear neither side understood, occasionally demanding to see the statute that allowed them to do this and being pointed to several incomprehensible passages in green leather bound tomes, one of which I'm fairly certain referred to the Law of The Sea. Eventually, though, my refusal to answer questions becomes more suspicious than a convincing lie would have been, so I span one. Despite a few near misses and a horrible Columbo-esque "just one more thing" moment where they asked me about my missing bag, the plan worked - mainly because my compadres were doing an excellent "what a fucking wanker. I can't believe he did that" routine upstairs. My friends escaped and I was shipped off to Charing Cross police station where one of the officers took the unusual step of advising me not to talk to the cops. This, by the way, is good advice. Unless the circumstances are exceptional and bizzarre, talking to the police will only get you into more trouble. In fact, even if they are exceptional and bizzarre, a shut mouth won't incriminate you.

Looking back at my night's stay at The Metropolitan, there were a few clues my actions might not be being universally celebrated: the distinct note of nervousness in my girlfriend's voice as she told me I was trending on Twitter, the fact a baying mob of journalists had shown up at my parents house (one of them actually forced his way in and had to be ejected by a family friend) and, most tellingly, the fact that my lawyer brought a selection of "positive" news clippings to show me. At the time these were presented as representative - part of a plan hatched by my friends to just not tell me that the internet had gone certifiably batshit and that politicians and media were all but considering bringing back hanging. This was all a well meaning attempt to stop me from freaking out. What my friends didn't realise is that I'd already freaked all the way out around the time I chucked a messy plastic plate in the face of the world's most powerful bloke inside the House of Commons. After that, there was no more out to freak. This policy of drip feeding me positive information continued after I'd gotten out, so I didn't realize the true scale of the catastrofuck before me until the morning, when people woke up, logged on Twitter and started calling me a shitbollocking cockcunt.

The abuse was monumental, terrifying, bewildering and weird. It also had the presumably desired effect of hurting my ickle feelings. I'm a terrible one for always trying to see other people's point of view, and when their point of view is that you are an unmitigated bellend, it can be hard to reconcile them with a positive mental attitude. I'd made the mistake of not going to bed after I got out of jail - I was too high on adrenaline and WTF to sleep in any case - and so spent a day talking to various angry journalists and twitterati whilst doped up on caffeine and supernoodles. The only pleasant part of the whole day was responding to an interview request from Sky News by informing them that nothing would give me greater pleasure than telling them to go fuck themselves.

I went to bed at 3 PM, got up at 7. For the next few days I don't think I got a longer unbroken stretch of sleep. It was like that episode of Battlestar Galactica where the Cylons show up every 33 minutes, but with journalists. And some Cylons too, by the end. I think. I really wasn't getting enough sleep.

I shaved (dry, my foam was in custody) my beard and put on a hoody before leaving the house. I assumed that anyone who saw me would A.) recognise and B.) kill me. It proved that neither was the case - the handful of assorteds who did twig who I was were oddly pleasant. Where was the lynch mob I'd been promised? They were on the internet. I often wonder now, when I meet people who want to shake my hand, whether they're the same people who shook a virtual fist at me back then, and simply find it harder to be dicks in person.

I quit comedy for a while as the radioactive limelight was giving me some kind of personality cancer and, in any case, I'd just done a gag so bad I would soon go to prison for it. I spent some time considering my next move legally, postulating at one point that the funniest two words I could ever say would be "not guilty". Until the date of my plea hearing I was only charged with a Section 5 public order offence, which isn't imprisonable, the ever merciful Mr. Murdoch having dropped the assault and criminal damage charges. In the end, I decided it would be better to plead guilty as the stakes (a fine) were pretty low, and dragging out the media circus any longer would have been a selfish and obnoxious decision considering that it wasn't just me, but my friends and family, who'd have to sit through the bullshit parade.

Then something odd happened. On the morning of my plea hearing, the CPS reinstated the charge of assault. This happened about 20 minutes before I was due to plead, meaning I didn't get to assess the evidence against me or apply my sleep deprived and scrambled brain cells to the task of working out how I should respond. Looking back I should known it was an attempt to inflate the repercussions of a minor offence so I could be put in jail, but assurances were made that the assault, if it were one, was so minor in nature that the law precluded me from landing in prison. With so little time to make a decision, I instead made a mistake: I pled guilty. I strongly recommend you never do this.

The normal rules governing when the sentencing should take place were thrown out and it was instead deliberately scheduled to coincide with a period when I was supposed to be in Devon acting as primary carer for my nine year old son. In retrospect I should have just mugged it off, not turned up and let them put out an arrest warrant. But the smidgeon of faith I had left in the system misguided me: I believed the reassurances that prison was out of the question, and walked blindly into a pretty obvious trap. I got sent down.

So boo fucking hoo, poor little pie boy wound up in jail because he did two stupid things in the space of two weeks. Still, while I think the process that got me there wasn't exactly in keeping with the rule of law, it would be churlish and orgasmically dull for me to sit here and whine about it, particularly as prison was the most interesting and educational place I've ever been (if you don't count all the daytime TV).

Speaking of TV, once I finally escaped from prison (the trick is to wait until they open the doors and "free" you) and we'd had a big pie fight in the road, I got a call from ITV asking me to come on something called "That Sunday Night Show". My appearance on it is only notable because I think I may be the first person in history to be told by Shaun Ryder to sort his life out. I also pissed off Frank Skinner and drank some free wine. Showbiz.

Once the dust had settled (and most of it now has) I was left with a life that no longer resembled my own. I remember an evening spent playing a phone app called Akinator, which tries to guess who you're thinking of, and finding that it was unable to work out who I was, even though I was in its database. This was hardly surprising as my public image was of a News International shill and company director's son who'd punched an eighty year old man before being eaten by a tiger.

At some point, though, I realised I'm not what other people think about me, or even the things I've done, I'm just me. There's a parallel universe out there where I meekly packed up my pie and walked away from the whole thing. Despite the best of intentions I'll always wonder what that me is doing, but, for good or bad, I suspect his path wasn't quite as scenic.

Nb: This post was originally written July the 19th, 2012, but I got distracted by other events so have only been able to post it now. So sorry about that or something.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Dear Comedians, And People Like Me Who Think They're Comedians: Please Stop

Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape jokes

Hey funny people. How's it going? We haven't talked much lately - I've kind of been out of the comedy loop for a while - but something happened recently that grabbed my attention. I'm sure you've noticed this before but there are a lot of people on the circuit who find rape pretty hilarious. In fact, one of our compadres across the pond decided that rape was so funny, he invited the audience to gang rape a heckler.

Total chucklefest, right? I don't know about you but I laughed so hard that I despaired for humanity.

Still, I was wondering if this might be the wakeup call we've been waiting for. You see, when it comes to rape jokes, I'm just not sure we get it. In fact comedians get it so little, that many were quick to defend Daniel Tosh and his first amendment right to traumatise people with his mouth against the legions of angry Twitterati telling him that rape jokes aren't funny.

What idiots. They think they can hurt our feelings that easily? Of course rape jokes are funny. Anyone who's spent any time in a comedy club knows that - you tell a joke about rape, then the audience laughs. That's the definition of funny. That's why comedians tell rape jokes. Or why I used to, anyway. I used to have this gag I'd do - I'd bring my pint up on stage with me and then tell the audience that, even though I had a beer in my hand, I wasn't an alcoholic. In fact, I'd brought my beer with me because girls were always trying to spike my drink... so I wouldn't try and rape them later!

I'll give you guys a minute to recover from your fits of laughter. Ready? Great. Now the reason that joke is so hilarious is because I misdirect the audience. First of all they think I'm trying to avoid being raped (a guy getting raped by a woman! we all know it works the other way round!) then switch back the other way (I'm such a big rapist women spike my drink just to escape!). The funniest thing of all? I'm bragging about my kickass super-rapeyness right there on stage! As though it's fine and something I'd never get into trouble for! Which, in the vast majority of cases, I wouldn't!

So, believe me comics, I get how funny rape jokes are. I think I even saw someone laugh at mine once. Then, one day I was talking to my sister and she told me what a fucking shitty person I was being. I was pretty taken aback. She was talking about some weird shit like fostering rape culture and suggesting that somehow my harmless joke (jokes are made out of words which can't hurt people, apart from when they do) was promoting violence against women. So I did what any self-respecting comic who believes in the integrity of his work would do: I ignored her. After all, she isn't a comedian like us. She doesn't get it. She doesn't get that we need to stand up for free speech. We need to push back the boundaries. We need to allow our muses free reign to offend people, like those manatees that write Family Guy. Most of all, we need to show our fellow comics how cool and out there we are, how we're so big and brave we don't care who we offend - we'll even humiliate and shame rape survivors to get a laugh! In the fiercely, pointlessly competitive world of stand up comedy, we need to make jokes about women being brutally violated so that other comics will know that we're hardcore super-clowns who won't take no for an answer! Figuratively, I mean.

And that's the point, isn't it? We're not actual rapists - in fact most of our jokes rely on the premise that rape is a horrible, despicable and - most importantly - shocking crime.We'd never think of really raping someone. In fact we think about rape so little, we don't really understand what it is. For most male comics (I'm excluding female comedians though, god knows, some of you inexplicably join in the trivialization too) rape is such a heinous crime that it's basically abstract, something that only happens in your darker police procedurals and never to real people in the real world. Never to people you know. Never to audience members, one in four of the women in the room, for whom the idea isn't quite so absurd. For those women, for some of them at least, your joke isn't so much a what-if or a can-you-imagine as a trip down memory lane to the worst moment in their lives, now underscored with a laughter track. Laughter at a joke you told! Don't you feel proud? You triggered deep emotional trauma in someone while loading everyone around them onto the chuckle train! Pretty edgy stuff! You're like a modern day Lenny Bruce, fighting for free speech against the forces of government oppression, except that you're the one oppressing people and the government isn't trying to stop you! After all, it's your *right* to tell rape jokes, and if something is your right, you have to do it! That's which I spent the afternoon nailing my dick to the wall!

What made me stop telling rape jokes? I wish it had been what my sister told me, I wish I'd stopped that day instead of spending around a year loftily telling women why words couldn't hurt them, that they should lighten up and that they didn't get it. At first I felt I had to keep telling the jokes - had to! - simply because someone didn't want me to. Otherwise I wasn't being true to my art. It would be self-censorship. Comedians had to be free to say anything. Most importantly, how could I stay friends with the godawful, cowardly dickheads who told these jokes on a nightly basis if I turned around and said I wouldn't? Sooner or later, though, I just couldn't. Perhaps it was the jaw locking, knuckle clenching effect these jokes were having on the friends I brought along to shows. I'd sit next to them in the audience, see their discomfort, their disgust and realise I was doing the exact same thing up there, whether I knew it or not. Perhaps it was realising just how rarely rape is reported, and how making fun of it makes that less likely still. A lot of comedians say you can make a joke out of anything - and I believe that's true. But when you joke about your grandfather's cancer or the riots, it's a public airing of laundry. It brings some collective fear out into the sunlight to be mocked and defanged. Perhaps I stopped because, in all but a few cases, joking about rape doesn't do that. Instead, when we joke about someone else's secret fear, it drives it deeper into the dark cracks of our national consciousness, only to be spoken of in brutal jest. Whatever the reason, I stopped.

This post isn't meant to admonish other comics - I get where you're coming from and why you're doing it. This is just a plea to stop making the circuit a place where women don't feel safe or comfortable. I know it's your right, and your passion, and nobody can stop you but please, for the love of being a halfway decent person, would you stop? Stop triggering terrifying memories. Stop undoing the hard work survivors have done to overcome trauma. Just please, please stop telling rape jokes.