And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

When celebrities Tweet: a Ricky Gervais special

Ricky Gervais rejoined Twitter in the last few weeks, having sworn it off almost two years ago with the verbal shrug of “I don’t see the point”. Now he’s back, gaining followers, and tweeting with the frequency of an out-of-work student. For me, it’s a mark of Twitter at its worst.

Now, I’m one of Gervais’s biggest fans, at least, in terms of the things he’s good at. The Office is my favourite television show of all time: perfectly cast and written, subtle humour and slapstick comedy mixed with character study and skillful observation. His radio work on XFM and later his podcasts were fairly innovative (or at least original) for the time, and Extras was almost as good as its predecessor, albeit too reliant on celeb cameos to raise audience sizes. But he’s awful at Twitter.

Why? Obviously he’s not to everyone’s taste, and in recent years his brand of comedy seems to have devolved to simply attempting to stir up controversy, then blithely playing the “pushing the boundaries” get-out card when anyone  suggests he’s been offensive. He’s a smart man who can argue the point when it comes to freedom of speech and the limits of creative expression, but along the way he seems to have forgotten how to actually be funny. His most recent stand-up tour (which I went to see and left particularly disappointed) featured an embarrassingly poorly-judged segment where he hilariously deconstructed, er, a children’s book about Noah’s Ark. Ha ha! Some children’s books have language that sounds a bit gay! And LOL! Christianity is pretty far-fetched! By pointing these things out, Gervais paints himself as some kind of modern day Renaissance Man – enlightened and equipped to challenge antiquated things like religion. He’s the same on Twitter: subverting the notion that our celebrities should be mysterious and aloof.

One of the most striking things about Gervais’s initial entry to Twitter was the sheer number of photos of himself gurning into cameras which he posted. This in itself was nothing new – he’d been doing it on his blog for years – but the frequency was worrying. Isn’t this guy meant to be writing a TV show? Worse still, even assuming he doesn’t spend 24 hours a day writing scripts, why wasn’t he at least filling his time with something more, well, interesting? I’m sure life gets a bit boring once you’re a megastar millionaire and can afford to do anything you want to do, but still.

After the gurning came the flaming: Gervais began tweeting links to articles by journalists (or “critics”, to use his childish, bogeyman-esque term for anyone with a contrasting opinion to his own) which criticised him. Predictably, the linked articles began to rack up comments from loyal Gervais followers, mocking the journalists in question for their perceived failure to appreciate Gervais’s genius.

And finally, of course, we got the debates on freedom of speech and ‘offensiveness’. Gervais’s repeated use of the word “mong” to describe his facially-challenged TwitPics was challenged by more than a few offended followers, and he began retweeting their complaints with attached responses, generally of the “the meaning of the word has changed” defences. It’s actually surprisingly pathetic to see someone of this status attempt to justify their own actions with quite so much smug and schoolboy-esque bravado. Gervais’s faux (?) arrogance is one of his hallmarks, but his interactions on Twitter make it quite clear that he thinks anybody disagreeing with him is simply too stupid to understand the fact of his correctness – at all times.

In his defence, nobody likes a boring celebrity tweeter. Gary Barlow, easily the musical equivalent of Waitrose, has also recently signed up and posted multiple desperate-sounding “retweet this and see if I follow you back!” promo efforts. At least Gervais is being challenging and “dangerous”. The problem is that, like with most celebrities on the internet, something of the magic and mystery disappears when you realise that they’re actually exactly like every other moron with an internet connection: eager to pump out their personality to an imagined audience whose interest is apparently tied to the frequency of amusing animal-related photos you can upload in a day. If it was anyone else you’d quickly tire and unfollow, but in Gervais’s case, his every “mong” pose is retweeted a hundred times and dozens of adoring fans desperately reply, hoping for acknowledgement from their hero.

Gervais wrote a blog entry for Wired, conceding he “may have been wrong about Twitter”. He peppers his article with quotes that half give off a “just googled” vibe, claiming that the central force behind his work is creativity, and thus Twitter is an arena for playful experimentation. I believe it. I believe he’s enjoying connecting with fans and followers in a controlled environment, and perhaps getting closer to his audience is a good thing. Is it a good thing for them, though? Do we want to see our heroes revealed in all their mundane glory? Do we want to be reminded every day that someone whose work we respect harps on about creativity and discovery while debating the semantics of the word “mong”?

It seems to me that when Twitter trivialises communication, we get so hung up on the power to share our thoughts with thousands of people, that the quality of those thoughts is the part that gets forgotten. Twitter teaches economy: 140 characters. Make what you’re sharing thought-out and interesting: creative. Like Gervais says.

  • Joe

    Matt, you’ve annoyed me so much with this whole thing. I can’t believe you’ve put in the time to write this blog about such a small matter. Also you called people who defended Gervais on this blog ‘cretins’, as if your opinion is the only one that matters and everyone else is an idiot.

    Firstly, fuck you for being so high and mighty you think you should decide what someone puts on their twitter. Secondly, you don’t have to follow anyone you don’t like. You don’t have to be part of it if you don’t like it. People like Gervais don’t owe you anything, you’re getting mad as if they need to entertain you. He could just type random words all day, its his account to do what he wants.

    Your arrogance in the whole ridiculous debate has really pissed me off.

  • Matt Andrews (or in fact Joe being hilarious)

    I give up, Joe was always harder, better, faster, stronger. He is right. Sorry for writing this blog in the first place.

  • http://www.threechords.org/blog Matt Andrews

    Well, I guess I’m quite excited that something I’ve written has finally generated a bit of controversy – a blogging success! Seriously though, I’m sorry this entry annoyed you, but let me elaborate a little on some of the stuff you’ve said:

    Well, blogging about a “small matter” – that’s surely for me to decide, no? I think this is actually quite a big issue, and I’m not the only one. Whether he’s right/wrong is besides the point but I think it’s definitely worth discussing (surely you leaving this comment and getting this, er, “passionate” about it is proof of that?).

    As for calling people cretins: fairly sure I called them “imbeciles” which is even harsher than cretins – the rationale being that those commenters were clearly just leaving personal attacks on the journalist in question in a kind of blind defence of Gervais. Interestingly, on the second page of comments, the Guardian’s official “CommunityMod” account had to actually step in to ask people to play nice. Never seen that before. I reckon that qualifies as cretinous behaviour (and imbecilic, for that matter). I wasn’t referring to people defending him, but people pointless attacking anyone who criticises him – something Gervais does himself with the maturity of a 12 year old. I’m fairly sure that me describing those commenters in those terms is quite clearly my opinion of their behaviour, and don’t really see how I’m claiming that anyone disagreeing with me is wrong. People are entitled to their opinions, and I’m not trying to overrule them, just offering mine.

    Regarding telling people what they can post on Twitter: of course I can’t do this and wouldn’t want to. What kind of world would that be? The point I tried to make with this blogpost was that I consider(ed) myself a big fan of most things Ricky has done, but felt that he’s exposed all his worst aspects through Twitter, and I wish he hadn’t. It’s like when you see a friend do something stupid or make a poor decision and you know they’re better than it – that kind of situation. I don’t think that simply criticising the way somebody conducts themselves in public is the same as dictating how they should act – society has standards and celebrities have platforms: these things aren’t off-limits to discussion.

    Likewise, I don’t really buy into the “if you don’t like it, don’t follow him” comments. I stopped reading his tweets a while ago. What has affected me about this issue is that it’s finally confirmed what I didn’t want to believe about Gervais for several years now: he’s not as funny as he thinks he is and his reliance on saying offensive things for laughs has essentially passed the stage of irony and spoof and actually just become being offensive for offensiveness’ sake. Listen back to the podcasts/radio shows and make a note of all the times he says things that are actually considerably homophobic (then has the cheek to try to blame them on Karl). He also has form in mocking the disabled, all the while pretending it’s under the guise of irony and social observation because the Office/Extras had disabled characters in them.

    I agree though that it’s not his job to entertain me via his Twitter feed and I’m sorry if I gave the impression I thought it was. He’s entitled to post whatever he likes, but I’m equally entitled to think that the majority of it either a) isn’t funny, b) exposes his pettiness and c) finally confirms that he just isn’t up there with the Louis CKs of this world that he seems to wish he was.

    I can kind of see where you’re coming from in all of this, but I think maybe you should re-read this entry. Confusing “arrogance” with “criticism” is pretty much what Gervais does every time he complains about a bad review. I hope this makes sense.

    Matt

  • http://joeblade.com paul haine

    “People like Gervais don’t owe you anything”

    He owes me the 95 minutes of my life I lost watching ‘Cemetery Junction’

  • Josh Smarshall

    I agree with this Joe guy, he seems smart and good looking. Boooo Matt.

  • J. DARSHALL

    Yo, WTF?

  • Josh HARSHALL

    You seem to have a real COCK up your ass about this, just admit this, just admit this ‘Joe’ guy is right?

  • Ricky Gervais

    You’re such a mong.

  • Joe Marshall

    hey, thanks for the support guys. Maybe cut Matt a little slack? London does this to some people, but Matt used to be cool.

    Thanks again guys. You all have really cool names!

  • http://joeblade.com paul haine

    so this went well

  • Chaim Paddaman

    Ricky Gervais the liberal humanist who exploits the mentally disabled and vulnerable for commercial and comedy purposes. He thanks “God” that he is an atheist. So do we….. Gervais is a yellow pussy who only hits on safe and soft targets. He now cries crocodile tears for a bear. Does he think we are stupid.