Tough Crowd: How I Made and Lost a Career in Comedy By Graham Linehan. Eye Books. 2023. 286 pages. Following its publication earlier this month, my much-anticipated review copy of this book arrived a week or so later than originally expected, following receipt of a very vague email apologising for the “unexpected delay” from Amazon. What had gone wrong? Hoping to see if anyone else had been affected, I came across a rather paranoid thread on the popular British chat-forum mumsnet, implying Amazon had deliberately staggered distribution of the product to its pre-order customers in order to prevent it appearing in the ‘Top Ten Bestsellers’ list. Apparently, typed some mumsnetters, the online books giant had pulled this very same trick before with other “controversial” titles they had previously purchased When gossip website popbitch then reported (seemingly inaccurately) that the distinctly samizdat-style product had sold only 390 copies, failing to even make Amazon’s ‘Top 1,000’, never mind their ‘Top Ten’, it looked as if Amazon’s nefarious plan had worked. Then, however, Tough Crowd’s author, Graham Linehan, went on Twitter/X to explain the true reason for the delay in distribution was actually that it had proved so popular that it had sold out of its initial 10,000 print-run immediately, hence Amazon’s delay in getting the thing to me in the post. Yet direct sales to stores do not necessarily equate to actual sales to the public, muddying the waters a little. In its own story about this confusion, leading gay website PinkNews (which Mr Linehan feels has something of a vendetta against him) gleefully informed its readers that “on the Kindle ranking, Linehan’s book is trailing nearly 200 places behind a compendium of knock-knock jokes for kids.” What could have been so controversial about a book which, to all surface appearances, looked like little more than the amiable memoir of an Irish-born co-writer of several successful and much-loved 1990s and 2000s British sitcoms and comedy sketch shows, such as Father Ted, The IT Crowd, Big Train, Count Arthur Strong and Black Books? Quite simply, it is because, as the opening line of Linehan’s Wikipedia biography now has it, he is generally described in the British media these days as an “Irish comedy writer and anti-transgender activist”, albeit very frequently with those two professions switched around in their running order, as if his later path in life was somehow more significant than the other. Imagine if Oscar Wilde were to be listed as an “Irish homosexual and comic playwright”, and you get the general idea of how twisted this particular angle would be. Thanks to the best efforts of deranged online trans activists, Linehan’s life today has been successfully split down the middle every bit as much as that of a Batman supervillain. If mild-mannered Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent had penned his autobiography during his early years, it would have focused upon his entirely blameless life putting local criminals safely away behind bars. Had he written it following his sudden transformation into Two-Face following a gangster throwing acid in his face, sending him completely mad, however, then his life story would have focused upon his subsequent life in extreme organised crime instead. Linehan’s autobiography is likewise very much a game of two halves. As the book’s subtitle has it, the first is about how he made his career in comedy, the second about how he later lost it. Canned laughter Of the two, I have to say, as a big fan of Linehan’s work, I much preferred the first half of the book, which focuses upon his early existence in Ireland and subsequent success in the big wide world of the London TV comedy scene, back when it still had one. (As Linehan correctly observes, political correctness has now utterly destroyed the whole genre.) By the very nature of its subject matter, the writing here is simply much more amusing and entertaining than in the second half, which focuses more upon how leftist lunatics set out to ruin his entire life for the non-crime of disagreeing with them about what a woman actually is – i.e., an adult human female, not an adult post-human cosplayer or blatant gender-grifter. As someone happily raised on the programmes Linehan helped create, I loved reading about the making of some of my all-time favourite shows like Brass Eye, Jam, The Fast Show and I’m Alan Partridge, and the actors, writers and producers involved – many of whom, shamefully, later turned on Linehan after he had been publicly burned at the stake, even though he had been the man most responsible for making some of them famous in the first place, a bit like with J.K. Rowling and those ungrateful little brat child-actors from the Harry Potter franchise. Some of these classic programmes, it must be said, would stand no chance of being commissioned or broadcast now. I recall a segment on fake TV news show The Day Today in which a “Gay Desk” reporter named Colin Popshed reads out “today’s gayness” before cameras cut-away to the show’s anchor Chris Morris solemnly reassuring appalled viewers not to be alarmed as “He’s not gay, by the way: we would never employ a homosexual!” A sequence on spoof chat-show Knowing Me, Knowing You in which hapless host Alan Partridge tells a transvestite guest had been given away by his “great big flapping hands, like a goalkeeper!” would now no doubt be classified as an outright hate crime. Actors and comedians who were once perfectly happy to create and participate in such now-verboten (and to my mind now even more hilarious because of it) sequences, but have since turned on Linehan now the prevailing pinks winds have changed, are nothing but cowards, quislings and hypocrites in my opinion. Then again, those who did stick with him through thick and thin – such as the comedy actors Richard Ayoade and James Dreyfus – ended up being cancelled or criticised too, so no doubt their fears and actions were not wholly baseless. Just craven and immoral. Low comedy Nonetheless, most readers of this book – and this review – will doubtless be most interested to hear about Linehan’s subsequent cancellation, being perhaps less nerdishly interested in the ins and outs of his early failed and forgotten sitcom Paris. Instead, they will want to hear about how Harvey Dent became Two-Face. The answer is that, in 2018, whilst lying in a hospital bed doped up on painkillers following surgery to remove a cancerous testicle, he used his phone to post a tweet telling the blindingly obvious truth about The Emperor’s New Bra. It was not long before Linehan was receiving replies to the effect that “I wish the cancer had won” (some Queer Theorists do like their cancer, as I have shown elsewhere on Mercator recently …) To such trolls, Two-Face Linehan really had now become a supervillain. He provides a handy list of the kind of things these lovely, ‘tolerant’, #BeKind people have since done to him, including a pro-trans doctor creating a fake medical prescription implying Linehan had gone clinically insane before spreading it all over the Internet, and another weirdo ejaculating over a photo of him and posting it online for all to see. Although you may think these acts are blatantly crimes, it seemed as if the ideologically captured British police force were more interested in calling on Linehan himself, in order to provide him with intimidatory ‘advice’ about his future conduct.
It wasn’t just the violence. It was also the timing. Hamas’s October 7 slaughter of Israelis on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War sent a message to Israel. In October 1973 Egyptian and Syrian armies invaded. It was a close-run thing. Israel was caught napping; in the early days of the war, success was far from certain. But there are other anniversaries this year which shed light on the war in Gaza. 2023 marks the 100th year since the publication a famous essay about relations between the Arabs and Jews, the “Iron Wall” by Zeev Jabotinsky. Odessa-born Jabotinsky was a Zionist who fought for the British in World War I and migrated to Israel. In 1923 he published an essay that has been commented on frequently in the Israeli press after October 7. He warned his readers that the Palestinians were never going to accept a Jewish majority. "Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population,” he argued. “Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach." The Israelis remember the metaphor of the “Iron Wall”. A well-known conservative Rabbi, Hayim Navon, wrote recently in the magazine Makor Rishon: “We have to delete from our dictionary, plain and simple, the word ‘deterred’ and in its place we must substitute ‘crushed’ … For the sake of our children’s lives, we must never again allow anyone to crack the Iron Wall.” The other significant anniversary is the 70th anniversary of the Qibya Massacre. It foreshadowed Israel’s response to the savage massacre on October 7. On October 12, 1953, Palestinian infiltrators threw a grenade into a Jewish home a few kilometres from the Jordanian side of the armistice line. A mother and two of her children were killed as they slept. This capped months of killings by Palestinian fedayeen and reprisals by Israelis. The Israeli army decided to teach the Palestinians a lesson. On the night of October 14, half a brigade of elite Israeli troops led by Major Ariel Sharon – yes, that Ariel Sharon, later to become Prime Minister – forced their way into the Arab village of Qibya, on Jordanian side. They ordered the inhabitants to leave and then blew up their homes. Either because they didn’t know or didn’t care to know, many of the villagers were still huddling in their houses. About 70 people died. The raid was denounced around the world and in the United Nations. But the widespread outrage did not bother Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. As historian Daniel Gordis relates in his book Israel: a concise history of a nation reborn, Sharon briefed Ben-Gurion after the event. Ben-Gurion said: “It doesn’t make any real difference what will be said about Qibya around the world. The important thing is how it will be looked at here in this region. This is going to give us the possibility of living here.”
Olivia Maurel always knew something was “off” about her birth. The secretive behaviour of her mother made it clear to her: the woman who raised her did not give birth to her. “There were no pictures of my pregnant mother, and I am five days old in the first pictures of me.” The 31-year-old was born through surrogacy in the American state of Kentucky. In her home in Cannes, southern France, the now mother-of-three opens up about her search for her identity, the daily consequences of surrogacy and her fight against the legalisation of the practice in France. “We neglect the effect surrogacy has on children.” Growing up as an only child in a well-off family, Maurel says she got everything she could ever ask for. “I had a very good education, and my parents dressed me in the best clothes.” However, emotionally speaking, Maurel claims to have lacked a lot. “It was difficult for me to grow up in a family where emotions and feelings were little talked about.” Maurel faces the consequences of that every day. “My husband sometimes says that I hardly ever hug him. Well, no one ever taught me to hug.” Purse From an early age, Maurel knew something was off in the family. “It’s this little unpleasant feeling that you have inside. You don’t know where to look, but know it is there.” So, when she became a little older, young Olivia snuck into her mother’s purse, looking for her identity card. “She had always been secretive about her age.” The age convinced her that her mother did not give birth to her: “She was fifty, and I realised that she couldn’t have had me at that age, now thirty years ago. Aside from that, there were also physical differences. I look a bit like my father but not at all like my mother. I am tall and blonde, and my mother is short and brown.” A DNA test done last year gave the definitive answer. Through MyHeritage, Maurel discovered that she had no French blood. “I was 33 per cent Lithuanian and 33 per cent Norwegian. However, I had nothing to do with France, where my mom comes from.” That her mother was not her biological mother did not come as a shock to the French woman. “I spoke about it every time I went to a medical appointment when they asked me about my medical background. I was not shocked at all.” However, something else did give Maurel a shock. “I was matched with an American cousin and uncle.” For Maurel, this was not a negative thing. “It was really pleasant because I have always wanted a big family. And I discovered I had a huge American family; it was the best present I could ever ask for.” Voids Eventually, Maurel got in touch with her biological mother. “She was happy to speak with me and was really surprised. She did not think she would ever meet me.” Conversations with her mother gave Maurel answers to questions she had had all her life. “I needed something from her: the answers to voids that were in me all my life. How was my birth? And why did she give me away?”
I have found the “Tradwife” trend rather fascinating to watch. Though I don’t ply the murky streets of Tiktok, where most of the movement’s canonical material is posted, enough content has seeped out onto my YouTube and X feeds to give me a working understanding of the subculture. To the uninitiated, “Tradwifery” is an emerging movement among some couples to upend conventional wisdom around marriage and family life in the West, especially in the United States, by re-establishing traditional gender roles. The moniker itself is a concatenation of “traditional” and “wife.” Tradwifery’s leading lights are women who have opted out of formal employment, and are talking up the virtues of staying at home, bearing and rearing children, and submitting to the will of their husbands. Before marriage, tradwifery means virginity and pure courtship. Upon marriage, it implies a fairly stringent separation between the homemaker and protector-provider roles. The movement is driven both by a nostalgia for a purportedly simpler past as well as a gathering sincerity among women about the unfulfilling and unidimensional nature of most formal employment, especially when contrasted with the meaningfulness of a well-ordered family life. There is something admirable here, especially the self-abasement that is a necessary precondition for this kind of life. Naturally, as with any movement that dares to so much as acknowledge hitherto obvious differences between the sexes, the tradwife trend has found no shortage of opposition. Most mainstream coverage of the movement, none of which approves, hearkens to its connections with “the alt-right,” “toxic masculinity,” “the patriarchy," along with a thousand other such modern-day mortal sins. As a result, the conversation around the movement, like much of modern American public discourse, has become woefully devoid of nuance. It has devolved into a two-sided quarrel, like a high school debate, complete with snarky but ultimately useless takes: tradwives are small-minded ignoramuses; the workplace is an unfulfilling rat race; feminism is a scam; women have rights. Yada yada yada. From my perspective as an African who has grown up, and still lives, on this old continent, I can’t help but wonder how different this conversation would be if those participating in it broadened their horizons a just little bit; if they were to, say, take into consideration the experiences of their African counterparts. African housewives For, as it happens, Africa has the lowest rate of conventional labour participation for women in the world. For this reason, most married African women are technically housewives. What is, for a few well-off Western women, an aspiration connected to the past, remains the present reality for the vast majority of African women. Yet most of these women wouldn’t qualify as housewives in the narrow sense in which the tradwife movement and its opponents define the term. For they not only work in the home, but often have a million other concerns going. They till farms, run shops, manage surprisingly prodigious financial collectives with their fellow women, and carry on many other such pursuits. Almost all the women in the neighbourhoods in which I grew up belonged to this category. Their husbands were generally in formal employment, while they generally took care of their homes. Even now, whenever I have to fill out one of those pesky government forms that ask me to state the occupation of my own mother, the most truthful answer remains “housewife.”
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