The Last Laugh

“What the hell is WRONG with you people?”

The comment sliced through the internet forum like a knife. People had been giggling at photographs of fans at a sci-fi convention posing awkwardly with their idols. The jokes – some cruel, some offbeat – focussed on how socially awkward each autograph-hunter looked with the actors in their practiced poses. Nerds laughing at nerds.

The forumite raged that the kid clearly had learning difficulties – what kind of monster laughs at that? You could almost hear the shuffling of feet; almost see the downcast gazes of shame.

So, last night, Ricky Gervais presented the Golden Globes. He’ll likely never work again – in Hollywood at least – but that’s not the tragedy here.

Ricky Gervais introduced Bruce Willis as “Ashton Kutcher’s dad”, ridiculed nominated films and made a number of jibes about Robert Downey Jr’s past addiction problems as well as poor-taste age jokes about the head of the HFPA, Philip Berk. Picking on someone they perceive as weak – what’s next? Cripple jokes?

For his part, Downey Jr responded graciously, taking Gervais to task about the “mean-spirited” overtones, but adding “it’s great to be funny, but it’s better if you can do it without hurting people.”

Robert Downey Jr has had his problems, sure, but he’s risen above them and seems to work hard. He’s given great performances in good films, and it’s great to see him doing so well.

Gervais, by contrast, will likely never work in Hollywood again. He certainly doesn’t deserve to, and not just because he took the piss out of the rich. If you take the low road to humour – mean, cheap, nasty swipes designed to humiliate other people – then you’ve failed. You haven’t just failed at comedy, you’ve failed as a human being.

Ricky Gervais built his name by making television programmes laughing at petty bigotry and ignorance, but proved in five minutes that he’s become everything he professed to hate. By the end of his un-funny opening monologue, I found myself asking, “What’s next? Is he going to make a fat joke?”

He concluded by suggesting that Hurley on Lost had eaten the other survivors. Cheap, cruel, lazy, nasty and rude.

The Guardian had much to say on Ricky’s performance, pointing out the humane, dignified responses by Downey Jr et al, but then lost its footing in its Lifestyle column, which had this to say about Lindsay Lohan’s cosmetic procedures:

She had a forehead so taut and shiny it looked like an iPhone 4. Her lips were inflated to the size of a melting Twix, and her cheekbones looked as if they were climbing her jaw in order to dive to their death. Each change to her then 23-year-old face seemed to nod towards youth, but in fact imply age … she looked like lamb dressed as mutton dressed as duck.

I like Lindsay Lohan. I think she’s a fabulously talented actress, a singer with an unusual and pleasing voice, and someone still with a lot of creative potential to fulfil. I just wish she’d stop faffing about with the paparazzi and – in every possible sense – get her act together. I don’t gain any pleasure from seeing a troubled 23 year-old described that way – it’s like kicking someone when they’re down.

It’s up to Lindsay and Demi (Moore) to do what they like with their own faces, and perhaps any sort of comment is unfair, but it does set a precedent: it normalises that behaviour. I already know very ordinary women – friends and colleagues – who have had things “done” and it worries me. There is no “perfect age” – you’ve either done the things that you wanted to do at a particular point, or you haven’t. If you have, then no age should worry you, and if you haven’t, you will always be unhappy and wishing that you could turn the clock back and it won’t make any difference how much poison you inject into your head.

I often wonder why people would deform themselves this way – I don’t even wear heels, so the idea of hacking myself to pieces in the name of fashion is just not something I understand. The Life and Style section, however, makes an interesting observation:

…so you believe that fame is the lifeline that rescues you from the choppy waters of mediocrity (even though it is, of course, the thing that will eventually drive you insane with paranoia, narcissism and loneliness)

That sad phrase sums up why I don’t believe – like many of my friends – that the recipients of Gervais’s jokes “deserved it”. You have to be a special kind of f***ed up to want to be famous.

I remember as a kid I wanted to be famous, but when I grew up a little and stood on the tiny stage with the band I was in, I realised I didn’t need it. The people at the front clapping? Well, they’d always applaud no matter what I did. The ones at the back will always be there, too. There’s nothing I could possibly do to gain their approval – like Robert Downey Jr, I could turn in the best performance in the world and they’d stand there, sneering, waiting to remind me of my past mistakes and gloat at my downfall.

Who “deserves” to be picked on? Someone whose output I don’t enjoy? I know I’m no saint on that one – still do it from time to time – but ridiculing someone else to make myself feel better just makes me mean and small. How do I arbitrarily decide who gets spared? Do I know enough about them? Or should I, like the horrified audience at the Golden Globes, decide that to retain that moral high ground I should just be that little bit kinder to that next generation of f***ed up kids who think the only way they’ll ever be worthy of love is to perform before a heartless crowd?

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