The Toughest of Crowds by Graham Linehan

If you arrive late at a party, it’s virtually impossible to understand what whipped everyone up to having a good time. In arriving late, we have to stand aside and figure out what magic essence brought people together. What sparked the fuse for the resulting revelry and joyful abandon? Figuring out what got people excited is crucial, so we can contemplate joining the fun. Graham Linehan’s book, Tough Crowd, depicts a party that went from eager celebration to busted flush, as the harsh reality of cancel culture, and the strangle-hold of gender identity politics, pulled the plug, popped the balloons, and dropped fag ash in people’s beer!

As a celebrated sitcom writer, Linehan has been forced into being a reluctant campaigner for the rights of women, lesbian and gay people, and most of all children. Tough Crowd is the story of being at a party everyone thought had been booked for one reason, where we could drop our guard and have some fun, but which turned out to be for something else. This something else was the self-interest of a small group of people who had different ideas about why and how we might enjoy ourselves. Deeply troubling and disturbing ideas, like medically sterilising children, and making life altering surgical interventions like mastectomies and castration. Or a deeply troubling ideas like erasing Lesbians from society, women from medical documents, and inverting the meaning of sexual orientation.

In Linehan’s account, this was a party that started off affirming diversity, but turned into a religious meeting for devotees and acolytes of a dogmatic faith founded in deeply misogynistic and homophobic beliefs. When coupled with questionable and deeply unsafe medical and psychological practices, mostly affecting young and vulnerable people, the party became toxic.

Linehan unfairly shoulders a lot of the blame for this shift in mood himself, when others are clearly responsible for allowing the absurd groupthink of gender identity dogmatism to flourish. I wonder if this comes from his Catholic upbringing in Ireland, and the burden of guilt that is built in to the social psyche. Or, is it the role of so many creative people to enact, to be a lightning rod in the storms that sweep through the collective unconsciousness? It could be that Linehan is from a working-class family, and that saying what you think is more important than protecting your social status. It might be a combination of all of these things.

There are many accounts in Linehan’s book of celebrities and cultural leaders who pass the opportunity to speak out because they want to protect their social status. By using social media as a tool for stating views with clarity, if not civility, Linehan demonstrates how many people have become corrupted and are complicit with a delusion – usually in the name of being nice – that enables a set of medically unsafe practices that are ideologically driven because they are founded on politicised forms of social activism. Graham Linehan selects his words on Twitter/X for maximum effect. There is surprisingly little equivocation for a man who in person is charming and warm in his generosity to other people.

I have to admit, I am late to this party. I’ve seen bits and pieces in the media, like the vilification of J.K. Rowling, but chose not to dig deeper. Like most people, I’ve kept my head down and followed The Guardian line, and dismissed the whole gender identity debate as a manifestation of an imported American culture war. It wasn’t until I sat with a group of people I was working with in early 2023, and heard one person describe one of their absent colleagues as a TERF, that my interest was primed.

The fact that radical gender activism had reached Leicester, and slurs relating to people whose views are grounded in reality, were now being bandied about like racial slurs had been in the 1970s, shocked me. Like a miscreant and out of control party in an Air-B&B, this stuff was now in my neighbourhood.

Graham Linehan’s book Tough Crowd is a memoir that covers his life as a comedy writer, from his childhood in Dublin, to his days as a music journalist, and his work on hit shows like Father Ted and The IT Crowd. The book is both funny and harrowing. Largely entertaining, the account unfortunately gets bogged down with Graham’s need to explain himself. It’s a bit like an extended preface. I can’t wait for his next book because the self-doubt that is offloaded in this book will have been cast aside. With any luck, the remarkable wit, warmth, and humour that repeatedly bubbles up, can be allowed to seep through in Graham’s future writing.

As Graham Linehan notes, for a generation raised on iPads, it’s easy for everyone to act like cattle, and walk meekly into the slaughterhouse, hypnotised by the promise of faster Wi-Fi! Graham Linehan rightly rebukes an industry where politically correct views are easy currency, yet few people have been prepared to show an ethical spine and stand by his side. Linehan has led the call to reject misogyny and homophobia in the name of gender inclusivity. He should be congratulated for reminding everyone that extremists never allow anyone to deviate from their proscribed agenda, nor think and act for themselves. God forbid anyone who wants to throw a party where fun isn’t proscribed, but comes from the natural connections and joy that people feel for one another.

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