'Ladies and gentlemen...' | Mat Ricardo thinks he could, and should, be a little more inclusive

'Ladies and gentlemen...'

Mat Ricardo thinks he could, and should, be a little more inclusive

Recently-ish, I posed a question on social media. I use the phrase ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ several times when I'm performing, and I wondered aloud, if there might be an alternative. Something that I could replace it with, that might be a tad more inclusive. And people, it turned out, had opinions.

It wasn't as if I'd ever had a complaint. I've never had someone who identified outside of the binary telling me that my use of that phrase got in the way of their enjoyment of my work. But that's not really the point.

The point is that I'm very lucky – I'm totally in charge of what I say and how I say it. When I'm on stage, I've got all the autonomy, and all the attention. My job is to make people happy. To entertain groups of strangers. So if there's something that runs the risk of making a sliver of that group of strangers feel dis-included, that reminds them of their differences rather than happily uniting them into my audience, and if that something can be easily changed, so that there's less chance of it getting in the way of fun, well then, why wouldn't I want to change it?

The vast majority of people who responded to my querying were constructive and positive, including a good number of fellow performers who had also been pondering it. But then, there were the others – those who took the piss, teasing me about being ‘PC’. So, let's deal with that first, shall we?

It really feels like those who have a problem with what they call ‘political correctness’ seem to think that lefties like me spend all day talking about it. That our every conversation is peppered with how we can use it to stop people saying things. They figure that over at my place it'd be impossible to have a conversation about anything without it being all PC this and PC that. So, newsflash, I genuinely think the only time I ever use the phrase is when I'm talking about one of that lot using it. 

Political correctness  was a term popularised by the right-wing press. By reverting the idea of tolerance and inclusivity and basic fucking human decency to the dumb PC acronym, they made it much easier to separate it from its meaning, and turn it into a stupid thing that stupid lefties use when they want to try to tell you what you can and can't say. Effortlessly, they turned the idea of being nice to people into a perceived attack on their freedom to be rude.

Along with that transparently agenda-based asshattery, comes its best friend, the ‘Oh some people are just looking for things to be offended about’ claim. 

I'm sure there are some people so lonely, shallow and self-servingly venal that they actively search out things to pretend to be offended by – many of them edit or write for tabloids – but think about this for a second: when was the last time you were actually offended? I mean truly hurt. The last time someone said or wrote something about you, or a group that you're a member of, that made you feel needlessly attacked, powerless, misunderstood? It's very, very unpleasant. Most people do not go looking for it. But it finds them anyway, often from people who either don't know any better, or do and don't care. People from larger groups than theirs.

A while ago I had a conversation about exactly this with a few friends sat around a table backstage. They were full of indignation about their right to use words like ‘tranny’. When I pointed out that they might, just possibly, be talking from a position of white, cisgendered, hetero, middle-class privilege, they roared with disagreement. The very idea that they might have to consider the feelings of an already marginalised group fuelled instant combustible rage. 

That stayed with me. So tight was their grip on their right to say whatever they like, even knowing that many of the people they were describing were hurt by their words, that the right to do that became all that was important.

Nobody is telling anyone what they can and can't say. Say what you like. But if you can be nice to more people, then be a human being about it, and do that. If you cry censorship over this idea, then you've never experienced real censorship, and probably never will. Your day is full of things you have every right to do, but don't, because you're not an asshole, hopefully. 

It's not censorship that you choose not to loudly fart in restaurants. It's not censorship that you choose not to point and laugh at homeless people. And it's not censorship if you choose not to use words that might hurt people, even if you could. It's just being decent.

So, back to our original puzzle. If I don't say ‘ladies and gentlemen', then what do I say? It has to be something that can be dropped anywhere into a script easily and cleanly. It needs to not draw attention to itself too much – it shouldn't distract from the flow of what's being said, but how it's being said. There's also a status thing at work here, ‘ladies and gentlemen’ elevates the audience by referring to them by titles, it gently compliments them, along with having a satisfying vocal rhythm.

This isn't an easy challenge, and I think the actual solution might be to replace it with a variety of phrases depending on the situation. On various occasions, while on stage, I refer to my audience as ‘delightful people’, ‘idiots’, ‘monkeys’, ‘fantastic humans’ and ‘punters’ - all of which work nicely, in the various contexts in which they are delivered. 

But the one I think I might add to my repertoire was suggested by lots of people, notably the comedian Jim Smallman, who told me what he uses instead of  ‘ladies and gentlemen’ for specifically the reasons we're discussing. It's also the simplest. 


So, as I sit in my dressing room about to begin a couple of weeks or two shows per day over the Christmas season, that's my little mission – to try to re-educate my brain away from its old gendered vocal tick, and instead, start calling them my friends.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year. I hope you all enjoyed the new Star Trek movie.

Using the wrong label is annoying, isn’t it?

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

Published: 3 Jan 2018

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