As a boy, I spent most of my time with other boys. I went to a boys school, so from 8-13, pretty much all of my friendships were male. During that time, I learnt one thing: get a group of good lads together, and the conversation between them will be almost exclusively insults. You will insult one another’s looks, height, masculinity, sexual desires, family history… nothing is sacred.
It shows that you’re mates. It says “Look, we understand each other. None of this is meant or mean. We’re trying to make each other laugh with the sheer inappropriacy of what we’re saying”. Infact, so commonplace is this way that British people –males especially – communicate with one another, it even has a name.
Sometimes, if I meet someone and quickly surmise that I like them, I’ll skip straight to insulting them. It shows that I like them, doesn’t it? I know that seems all backwards, but it isn’t. It’s brilliant. It means they get it. And because we both get the joke, we must be getting on as friends. Fantastic.
I think the first time I ever met my wife she said that I was the first presenter she’d ever worked with who looked homeless. It was love at first cuss.
Today, I was asked to record a message for a chap – an absolute stranger – that works at a place I was visiting.We were meant to have met, but instead, very sadly, he was at hospital. He’s previously suffered from a very serious illness and it may not have gone away as everyone had hoped. Supposedly though, he was even more gutted that he’d been called into hospital on the day that I was there, as he’d seen me on Juice and thought I was funny. So, I was asked, would I record him a message so he felt a bit less left out?
My message: “Where were you, you lazy bastard? You were meant to be running round the woods today ! Instead, you phoned in sick and had a lie down. Get up! Get up, you lazy bastard.” The people there who knew him, who knew his sense of humour, laughed . Pretty fucking hard, as it goes.
Why would I say that to a man who is having to battle a serious illness?
It’s because, illness or no, he’s still a person – not “a patient”. He’s still the person that’s seen me take the piss out of celebrities, friends and strangers on TV and laughed at it. So, why would I treat him differently?
This year, Help for Heroes brought wounded soldiers to the studio where we make Juice. There were three of them, but with fewer arms and legs than you’d normally expect three people to own. They stood there and from the get go, started taking the piss. How gay my moustache was, how big Fearne’s nostrils were, how ginger Keith is in real life…
Later I asked them what the worst part of being so severely injured was. They told me it was that suddenly people around them worried that they had to be treated differently. As though their sense of humour was kept in their legs, and that when they were blown off, so too was their ability to make or take a joke. That, on top of the physical anguish, there was the mental anguish of being treated in a way that no man ever wants to be treated. Humourlessly.
Tomorrow, apparently, there might be a story in a newspaper about an autograph I signed for a bloke in a wheelchair. Apparently he was so offended by what I wrote, that a mere 228 hours later he rushed to the newspaper with talk of his upset. I don’t know what the article is going to say, but I think the ‘journalist’ who’s writing it up has contacted various charities who work with the physically impaired, and got them to be very cross about it.
So, rather than respond directly to that story – which is fucking bullshit – I thought I’d write this post. I thought I’d write something that every British person understands to be true and it’s this:
There is a fundamental difference between saying something that’s intended to hurt and deliberately saying something outrageously offensive as a joke – and moreover a joke borne out of resigned camaraderie. Intelligent people understand this. Idiot’s probably struggle a bit. So, if you don’t get it, bad news I’m afraid: you’re an idiot. And because you’re an idiot, I’m not going to waste my time explaining it to you, as you will never understand. I’m sorry for you. I really am. Taking the piss is one of life’s great pleasures – possibly even, the only way to cope with the insanity of modern life.
If I read you wrong, if I thought you were someone who shared that curiously British sense of humour – preveailant from the playground to the gallows – but didn’t, just tell me. I will immediately apologise. Deciding that you’re so upset, weeks later, and trying to make a few quid out of it at the same time won’t make me apologise. It’ll make me think you’re probably a bit of an arse. I couldn’t give a shit whether you’re in a wheelchair, on crutches, on a gurney or dangling from a fucking rope – if you’re backstage at a TV show, asking for photos, having a beer and a laugh, I’m just going to skip to the bit where I treat you like any other person; just like the soldiers told me to.