“He wrote the ‘It’s Coming Home’ Football Song,” became my most used phrase the week before interviewing David Baddiel. He’s also an acclaimed novelist, TV presenter and been on the stand-up scene for over thirty years but who cares about that when there’s an annoying football chant involved, ey?
If you wish to complain to Baddiel about the song, or anything at all for that matter, then you’re in luck – there’s a platform for just that. Once called a “cocktail party with all your wittiest, loveliest friends” now something a little less comforting, Twitter is your place of worship. It’s the social media channel of choice should you wish to tear Baddiel limb from limb, straight from your keyboard.
Baddiel is an extremely easy target. He thinks of his mind like a squash ball and hits back at any incoming question or slanderous attack immediately, no matter the consequences. “Have you ever thought of saying the second thing that came into your head?” his wife, Morwenna Banks, asks. Of course he thinks about it, just straight after the moment has hurdled past. Censorship? Never heard of her.
Twitter trolls love the uninhibited. They get their five-a-day from berating people online and from Baddiel they can get a swift, clever reply (and an even swifter blocking after that). For the ten years he’s been on Twitter, he’s been replying to his comments. The campaign ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’ doesn’t align with his personal policy and he prefers to treat them like hecklers in a club. For normal, non-abusive people like you and I, this provides plenty of comedic entertainment and with the enthusiastic pressing of the ‘like’ button, Baddiel decided there was a stand-up show in it.
Trolls: Not The Dolls is the third in the ‘Not The’ series since Baddiel’s return to stand-up in 2013. His comedy still has the “odd gag about wanking” but is now a little more “age-appropriate”. Trolls includes examples of interactions Baddiel has had with haters but also delves into the much darker side of social media. What is the psychic cost of seeing an endless reel of 240-character tweets of abuse on your phone every morning? When did insulting someone on the other side of a screen become a viable way to express your rage? Where is this lack of empathy leading humanity?
I’m assured by Baddiel that the show will not provide answers to all these questions as he is not the omniscient god of Twitter. However, the fact that he is able to read this abuse and consequently turn it into something joyful is pretty amazing in itself. Most would run and hide, or at least delete the app. The depressing reality, he explains, is that he is very used to being slagged off. In the early part of his career there was no comment section to write a quick comeback to journalists, you just had to take it or not read it at all. Baddiel opted for the latter when it came to Julie Birchill’s Guardian column. But one week, thinking a piece about America couldn’t possibly involve him, she wrote: “America has been worse for this world than Fascist Japan, Nazi Germany and David Baddiel put together.” People are always going to have something to say about you, it’s your choice whether to internalise it or not.
Twitter can be a dark and discouraging place but (surprisingly) Baddiel quotes Maggie Thatcher and is sure there is a “silent majority.” The number of those who are scrolling through Baddiel’s tweets searching for comedic relief from the mundanity of life are greater than those shouting (metaphorically) at him. Some might be mad at him for simply breathing but there are many that find joy in replying to a picture of his breakfast with pictures of their breakfasts and starting a long, jovial breakfast thread. This is the part he chooses to focus on. If only he could be immortalised in British culture for this mentality. “Treating the trolls as hecklers is coming home” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Trolls: Not The Dolls comes to Theatre Royal Brighton on Sun 22 March 2020