Why trolls don't bother me | Mat Ricardo on why anonymous insults say more about the poster than him

Why trolls don't bother me

Mat Ricardo on why anonymous insults say more about the poster than him

I was once a guest on Jonathan Ross's chat show. I'm not bringing this up to dazzle you with the stellar level of my showbiz braggitude – I'm going to get to a point – stay with me. 

The show, at the time, had a viewership of somewhere in the region of three million people, and I got a decent slot on it. They let me be a bit funny, do a trick, talk to Jonathan, and arse around with some celebrities as if I belonged. 

When it aired, I didn't watch it. I was in a basement cabaret venue with no mobile phone reception, doing my thing. My usual Saturday night. After I'd finished, I trotted up the stairs back to street level, and my phone, now managing to grab hold of a signal, started windchiming with notifications, as I had hoped.

Sitting on the train home, I slid the little rectangles down my screen and, like the narcissistic social media floozy I am, and wondered how many new twitter friends I had. Twelve. It was 12. 

Three million people had seen me be funny and do a cool trick, and 12 of them had thought me interesting enough to follow. OK. Oh, but look – the dopamine-tickling little red number is telling me that I have lots of messages.

One by one, I opened them up. Most from people that knew me, basically pointing at me and going ‘Aaaaaargh!’, and poking affectionate fun. Nice. Then some from strangers, which fell into two distinct categories. 

Category one: People finding different ways to say, ‘You were just on the television’, to which there is no real interesting answer, other than ‘yes’. Then, Category two: People telling me I'm a cunt. I mean, literally, saying that. Saying that and nothing else. More than one person had seen me on TV, thought to themselves ‘I know what I have to do’, opened a whole new twitter account in order to be safely anonymous, found me, and then sent me a message telling me what a cunt I am.

Now I'm an odd combination of thick and thin-skinned. But even on my weakest days, this kind of thing doesn't really brush the surface of my emotional being. I mean, come on now, it's so…basic. There's no nuance. 

I worked as a street performer for nearly two decades, and most days, at some point, a crazy person would wander through barking and yelling foul things randomly at strangers. Everyone just thinks to themselves, ‘well, that guy’s going through some stuff’, ignores it, and maintains a safe distance. 

On Twitter, it's the same thing, but way less scary, because they're not actually in front of you. But does the same thing motivate it? Are these nameless little Twitter eggs going through some stuff and lashing out? 

I've read that some see it as a game. To get, I guess, a response. To see that their punch found its target by witnessing the bruise. But the thing is, it's a game that they're not very good at. A stranger calling me a cunt says more about the stranger than it does about their opinion. Listen, I once had a woman walk into the middle of my street show, yank up her skirt, and take a dump on the floor, before walking away, to the astonished shock of my audience. At no point did I devote any thought to the possible validity of her criticism. See what I'm saying?

I wrote a piece for this very website last month, the theme of which was, basically, ‘let’s try to understand people who are different from us, and be decent to each other’. A subject that, you might assume, would be fairly tricky for all but the most cantankerously shitheaded to argue with. 

The overwhelming response to the article was lovely and positive and friendly and constructive and all that good stuff. But a couple of people. Exactly two, in fact, found the concept of considering others’ feelings such an affront to their freedom to be unpleasant, that they had to let me know. Over and over again. One of them, adorably and hilariously, called me racist. I still have no idea why, and, luckily, even less interest.  Again, its something that says more about the person than it does about what they're saying, I think.

It's almost as if the people huffing about the liberal snowflakes who look for things to be offended by, are, in fact, themselves looking for things to be offended by. 

My rule is: if you say something to me online that would get you walked away from, or put on your ass, if you said it to my face, then I feel very OK about blocking, muting, or otherwise removing your aggressive idiocy from my life. It's possible to disagree with me, or dislike what I do, without having to attack me. You give me the phone number of the person with the gun to your head making you watch my shows or read my work, and I'll tell them to let you go, I promise.

A large handful of years ago, as part of the promotion for my first ever Edinburgh festival run, a popular website posted a little mention of it, along with my showreel. The comments underneath were vaguely positive and interested, except, right at the top, someone had written how they didn't think I looked any good, and that they'd seen another juggler at Toronto Buskerfest, who did tricks with cigar boxes much better than I did. This was my first experience with the bottom half of the internet, long before I realised what we all now know – not to ever go there.

Perhaps they expected this to sting a bit. And perhaps, if I'm being honest, momentarily, it did, just a little. But mostly, it piqued my interest. Who was this other juggler who did tricks like mine, but better? I was genuinely curious, thinking it must be someone I knew, but unable to figure out exactly who. 

So I went to the Toronto Buskerfest website and scrolled through the list of performers at the most recent festival. There were none who used boxes. I went back a year, scrolled through again. Nope, still no cigar box experts. I went back one more year, and finally found the most recent cigar box performer, the person that the commenter must have been talking about. 

Me. 

• Mat Ricardo is Chortle's variety correspondent. His website is here, and he tweets here.

Published: 2 Feb 2018

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