Author Topic: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?  (Read 28314 times)

I've been wondering this for a few weeks now, basically ever since that Tramadol Nights episode, which caused a fuss about the racist material.  It wasn't his (mostly defensible) usage of racial epithets I am referring to, though, rather it was jokes of the following pedigree:

Quote from: A cunt
My Granda is one of those guys who could be funny just reading out the phone book...

He's a spastic.

This flew under the radar, as far as I can see.  Then it's quickly followed up by another episode of The Morgana Show, where you have Gilbert - a 'special needs' character, who has been disengeniously rebranded since his first appearance in The TNT Show, where he was surrounded by disabled people.  He's just socially inept, honest!!  He grimaces, and tics, as do the redneck family, who are so inbred and/or nuts, that they tic in a kind of rhythmical sequence.  Teehee, those people with physical and/or mental disabilities, aren't they just the pip! 

Harry Hill broke free of his carefully cultivated, family-friendly, Saturday tea-time, cowboy supper ITV persona to give the under-privileged a damn good kicking.  With car numberplates bearing the inscription "CHAV 1", he caricautured the working classes as being shallow, rampant consumerists, who care very little for the value of life, be it human or animal.  He depicted them as lazy, self-absorbed scum, who care about nothing other than trying to get famous, despite the fact that he perpetuates this state of affairs.  Hill picked, as a target for his satire, underage girls who get pregnant, and put it all down to a lack of morals, brought about by the fact that all us council estate scum apparently also cause crime constantly.  We're the ones who hate society, you see. 

Robert's Web kicked off its first episode by pointing at Tourettes.  I feel, personally, that it did so with the wrong intentions, and it wasn't about celebrating the creative aspects of the syndrome, rather it was about pointing and laughing at the swearing.  This despite coprolalia being a very small part of Tourettes, and affecting only about 10% of sufferers.  Robert's Web helped perpetuate the overly simplistic, cartoony media representations that we're always given.  Swearing, right, is dead funny - they proved this in other segments by having montages of people saying "cunt."  When you take into account the general tone of the show, I feel that they were just laughing at the condition, without empathy, despte the fact that they covered themselves by getting Guy Francis to record a video where he gave his consent, which they then played on air.  Just a slight 'freak show' vibe to it, for me.

Harry and Paul had a family called "The Benefits", but pretty much got it right, really.  Enfield always punches in all directions.  What's also notable about his generation of comedians - and that bunch specifically - is that they have something which is fundamentally missing from the likes of Morgana/Tramadol Nights etc.  Warmth.  An underlying respect for the people being depicted.  Empathy has gone out the window, because a lot of the dynamics of modern British comedy are shot, largely thanks to Channel 4.  You know the way Morgana shouts everything?  That's symbolic of the problem - you can get away with doing pretty much anything controversial now, so that's all that they do.  Rather than harness light and shade, and surprise you with the darker material, instead they show a desperately poor understanding of how it all works.  They seize upon the moments which made them laugh the most, miss why that happens within a wider context, and just pack their shows full of those bits, expecting comedy gold to ensue.  Paedo rape nigger spastic poof chav mentals.  All shouting, no whispering - no respect for dynamics.  Boring, and ineffectual.

It really does feel to me that 2010 was a significant moment in British comedy history, and we'll look back on it as the new 70's.  The likes of Gervais and Little Britain have ushered in a new sensibility where you can get away with anything, and pass it off as irony, but the facade of irony has fallen by the wayside now.  British comedy is punching down.  It's picking on the weak, the sick, and the defenceless.  It's not righting wrongs, it's not speaking truth to power, it's not attacking the corrupt.  It's taking the easy, cunty path, and noone in the industry really seems to give a shit.

Any more for any more?  Let's list 'em, while talking about all this.  I know there must be a bunch more examples I've left out, which would kind of fit in here, such as Jack Whitehall, and his jokes about South Africans giving people AIDS and stealing their tellys.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2011, 02:22:13 AM by Neil »

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2011, 04:04:55 PM »
I don't want this to be another thread where we just whine and fight about Gervais, as that's dull, and has been done.  However, I've invoked his name for a reason.  Morgana directly follows on from Gervais.  The Office was great, blah blah, satiricial intent, blah blah.  Hiding behind irony etc etc. 



The problem is that his sensibility is now, as I mentioned, proliferating.  Derek, his Downs Syndrome stand-up character, [nb]For more on Derek, try reading this post here.  For the sake of balance, I would request that you also make sure to read this one.[/nb] is the antecedent of Gilbert.  Gervais' willingness to fill his shows with minorities, and to then have those minorities defined solely by their minority status, can be seen in the TNT Special Report bits.  Chucking in gay people, or those who have disabilities, just so others can then react awkwardly.  It's spreading.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy0nfcBYNYw#

The Office did have points to make, about how uncomfortable we can feel around people who are different.  It's moved past the stage where you can pretend that the awkwardness is being highlighted for a reason, though.  When you stop exploring that dynamic, when you stop caring about that dynamic, and trying to change it, trying to provoke thought, then all you do is reinforce it. 

In other words, The Office was largely: We feel awkward around those who are different, and that's a shame.
Something like Morgana: We feel awkward around those who are different, and that's really, really fucking funny! 

Look at those TNT Show clips on YouTube.  Look at why the entire team have disabilities.  It's to put the celebrity on edge, so they don't know how to respond.  There isn't enough wit and intelligence to skewer them in any other way.  The money shot, for Morgana, is simply low-rent celebs - easy, easy targets, many of who are cross-promoting C4 reality shows - sitting, looking around, confused.  They talk to Gilbert with nothing but softness in their voice.  They show extreme patience, because they've been told the whole set-up is about empowering the disabled.  They all walk out of it with infinitely more dignity than Morgana Robinson, or anyone else involved with this fucking lame shit.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2011, 02:41:24 AM by Neil »

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2011, 04:15:25 PM »
It'll only date badly if the country socially moves to a point where people are no longer encouraged to segregate and bully the more defenceless and vulnerable areas of society. However, that seems to be getting worse, so for the time being 2010 will probably be part of a period in comedy that's remember fondly. Maybe in 30 years time people on panel shows will say 'remember chavs? they were awful!' for big laughs.

A comedy that flipped the coin to the other side and deliberately targeted the hypocrisy and twattishness of ordinary people might cause the nation to reflect on itself.

The trouble is, there's a definite section of society that thinks of itself as the role model of tolerance, decent values and fairness, and we all think we're in it. It needs saying now more than ever: We're all twats!

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2011, 04:20:41 PM »
A comedy that flipped the coin to the other side and deliberately targeted the hypocrisy and twattishness of ordinary people might cause the nation to reflect on itself.

It might, but I can't see it selling out the O2 Arena.

Then again, if chancers like Bill Bailey can sell out stadiums I suppose anything can.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2011, 04:27:11 PM »
Speaking of the O2 arena, they repeated the Comedy Gala on C4 last night, and it was a somewhat depressing sign-of-the-times for British Comedy. As much as I'm not keen on Lee Evans he seemed to be the only one there who really cared about anything even approaching charity.

Either way, to echo somebody on the Tramadol Nights thread, it could be the beginning of the end for all these Mock the Week/Comedy Roadshow/Live at the Apollo comedians, and I can't help but hope it is. Boyle is just one example of a comedian who was given an easy ride and a full series off the back of a handful of TV appearances, and look what it turned out to be. I'd go as far as saying that it was Channel 4's biggest failure in years, and I'd be surprised to see it even make it to DVD in 2011 (The Morgana Show is already guaranteed for DVD according to a number of websites).

Anyway, we've got 10 O'Clock Live to look forward to in 2011. God help us.

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2011, 04:48:41 PM »
It'll only date badly if the country socially moves to a point where people are no longer encouraged to segregate and bully the more defenceless and vulnerable areas of society.

Yes, this is the crux of the issue.  I'm not precious, I succumb now and again, but I strive not to.  Comedy can point out the diferences, but it needs to do so in a more positive way.  British comedy needs to show more of a social conscience, again.  People need to be railing against this shit.  That which makes us different needs to be celebrated, not endlessly pointed and laughed at!  In so doing, all that is happening is that school bullies (of all ages) are being armed with new ways to hurt people.  They're squatting there in their complacency, feeling it's fine to punch down, and hey, it's only jokes, man.  Just a laugh. 

Just a little bit of warmth is all that's needed.  Come from a place of empathy and understanding.  Stop fucking cackling at others, so you feel better about your own shortcomings.  Seek to understand, and soon you'll find out how unfunny it all actually is.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2011, 04:54:56 PM »
Funny to think that someone who did it really well once was Peter Kay.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2011, 05:05:48 PM »
Excellent opening posts Neil, but I'm afraid I have little to add except my agreement, and my comment that -- as I'm sure you've said elsewhere on this forum recently -- there was a time when comedy punched UP at the Establishment, rather than down.

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2011, 05:39:27 PM »
I used to follow Last Comic Standing quite closely and I remember it featured a guy called Josh Blue who had cerebal palsy, he went on to win the show, but little was heard from him since. The key to his act is his self-deprecation. I wonder what would happen if he was an able bodied stand-up who impersonated cerebal palsy. Would he be better known?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0pdmqdb5Uc

I think 2010 provided the full glare of ego. The TV Shows, the late night Live at the Apollo Slots, The Panel Show Appearences, selling out Arena's, all of which has severely distorted many comedians perceptions of themselves, and of how they perceive the intelligence of their audience. British comedy has lost its class. This has meant there has been a steady reliance on recycled material, and if all else fails the need to shamelessly, tastelessly shock.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #9 on: January 01, 2011, 05:45:47 PM »
It'll only date badly if the country socially moves to a point where people are no longer encouraged to segregate and bully the more defenceless and vulnerable areas of society. However, that seems to be getting worse, so for the time being 2010 will probably be part of a period in comedy that's remember fondly. Maybe in 30 years time people on panel shows will say 'remember chavs? they were awful!' for big laughs.

I can't imagine what the state of TV will be by 2040.  Will there even be panel shows by then?

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #10 on: January 01, 2011, 05:49:55 PM »
Thanks Sheepy.  I'm still watching Gilbert's Special Report/The Gilbert Show bits on YouTube, and I'm very surprised to see the amount of kids who are emulating this crap.  They're uploading their homemade homages, and they all talk in 'spazzy' voices, and pull Joey Deacon faces, and let their tongues loll out of the side of their mouths.  Fuck you, Morgana. 

With warmth, and with conscience, this kind of emulation could be a really good thing.  Unfortunately, this is just giving me very unpleasant images of kids picking out those who are different, and screaming their Gilbert impersonations into their tear-stained faces.

Funcrusher

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #11 on: January 01, 2011, 05:54:51 PM »
Do people think that this follows a trend of some kind in society as a whole? That from Thatcher onwards society has become harsher, more competitive, more individualistic, and that this leads to a hardening of sensibilities. I was looking at some of the Encyclopaedia Dramatica stuff after its mention on here, and it's pretty savagely nasty to my ageing sensibilities.The underlying ethos is 'nothing is too harsh, suck it up and grow a set if you don't like it'.

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #12 on: January 01, 2011, 06:06:10 PM »
Where's the hope for the future? I was proud to see Burnistoun, Bellamy's People, new Peep Show and (especially) Limmy's Show coming out of the British Isles this year. Other than these the scots and the (by now) old guard, where is the talent? Where are the fresh faces? You'd think that with YouTube and Vimeo there would be a untapped current of talent just waiting to be discovered, and for their amateur media to be given a decent budget (Armando Ianucci said this all very well a couple of years ago on CaB radio)... but it hasn't worked out that way. I'm not too bothered, as there's an embarassment of comedy riches in the US, which I've been happily swimming through this year past - however it does mean I lament not having comedy heroes who write about my country and situations I can relate to.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #13 on: January 01, 2011, 06:10:36 PM »
I was looking at some of the Encyclopaedia Dramatica stuff after its mention on here, and it's pretty savagely nasty to my ageing sensibilities.The underlying ethos is 'nothing is too harsh, suck it up and grow a set if you don't like it'.
They're pretty good about making sure visitors know their staff is black, white, male and female though, and their community tends to trim the worst stuff out (the entry on "lolcows" used to be a lot less pleasant, for example). Not perfect by any means, of course.

I remember when Baddiel and Newman sold out Wembley Arena and there was all this fuss about comedy shouldn't be in arenas that large, and so on. Now, that would be small for some of the acts out there. When there's that much money in it, then it's going to gravitate towards the conservative (small c) and those people who reflect the ideas of the people at the top, rather than the people at the bottom, are going to be those who'll get the jobs, the praising column inches, and so on.

Funcrusher

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #14 on: January 01, 2011, 06:33:50 PM »

I remember when Baddiel and Newman sold out Wembley Arena and there was all this fuss about comedy shouldn't be in arenas that large, and so on. Now, that would be small for some of the acts out there. When there's that much money in it, then it's going to gravitate towards the conservative (small c) and those people who reflect the ideas of the people at the top, rather than the people at the bottom, are going to be those who'll get the jobs, the praising column inches, and so on.

Doesn't that process lead more to inoffensive stuff like McIntyre? Like the avalanche of bland, landfill indie after Oasis.

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #15 on: January 01, 2011, 07:05:02 PM »
Could it not be the case this is more of an economic initiative due to the shifting point in mediums than a trend? The whole 'lol spastics', 'Mr Men with AIDS', 'Bagpuss on crack' thing has never really gone away and most people go through a phase in their early teens where all that kind of stuff is hilarious. The question is why are adult comedians tailoring their material for this age group rather than the more traditional working professional demograph that has always been saught-for. Could it not be a conscious decision that viewing figures of a TV sketch show are a one time affair, yet these sketch shows inevitably get divided up into clips on the internet and passed around. The young teenage audience would be the ideal target to amass online views in this fashion, hence the material completely playing to these standards. Views on 4OD or youtube probably have as much carte-blanche as TV figures these days so why not go down the viral culminative views popularity road than the one-night-showing chancery of TV, especially if you're using the sketch format which lends itself to the youtube medium.


Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #16 on: January 01, 2011, 08:35:20 PM »
Do people think that this follows a trend of some kind in society as a whole? That from Thatcher onwards society has become harsher, more competitive, more individualistic, and that this leads to a hardening of sensibilities.

It wasn't that uncommon for some comedians in the 1970's to do an entire set based on 'Irish' and 'Paki' jokes. You don't see much of that nowadays but at least it shows that society wasn't all warm and cuddly before Thatcher, just that the targets for unjustified abuse were different.

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2011, 09:22:23 PM »
That's an interesting post, Steven.  I'd be intrigued to know whether any of the writers are being told to make YouTube-friendly material.  I just see it as comedians being lazy, really.  Robert Florence (writer and performer in Tramadol Nights) has stated on Twitter that they made the show they would have made when they were 14.

You have to empathise with comedians to a certain extent - yes, it is tough to know what you're 'allowed' to joke about, and how to tackle shifting attitudes.  However:  tough titty.  Society has moved on, and comedy must reflect this.  Any comedian who spends a serious amount of time moaning about political correctness making his job harder, is probably just uncreative, and doesn't realise that limitations force creativity.

You can still joke about ANYTHING, you just need to be creative, and the material needs to come from the right place.  Mostly, it just isn't. 

Funcrusher

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #18 on: January 01, 2011, 09:52:46 PM »
most people go through a phase in their early teens where all that kind of stuff is hilarious. The question is why are adult comedians tailoring their material for this age group rather than the more traditional working professional demograph that has always been saught-for.

Is the working professional demographic much more mature or intellectual these days though? People seem to just cling onto teenage type culture and enjoy trash culture 'ironically'.

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #19 on: January 01, 2011, 11:27:10 PM »

Any more for any more?  Let's list 'em, while talking about all this.  I know there must be a bunch more examples I've left out, which would kind of fit in here, such as Jack Whitehall, and his jokes about South Africans giving people AIDS and stealing their tellys.

Would Angelos Epithemiou be an example?

He's someone I still haven't made my mind up on. There's something in that character that doesn't quite sit well with me and I think that's because there's an element of mocking the social awkwardness of people with learning disabilities, but I'm not sure how much that is me making that connection rather than the character itself. Would be interested in other people's views on this one.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #20 on: January 02, 2011, 12:48:07 AM »
re. Thatcher.  I think that's one thing you can't blame that wretched woman for.  Quite the opposite in fact, the surge in great comedy during her reign as people rebelled against her was one of the best things about living through the 1980s.

I suppose you could argue that the fallout from her social policies has created a more uncaring populace; but then as Danger Man pointed out, the 70s was full of racist comedy, so that doesn't really wash either.

Not often I say Thatcher Woz Innocent, but in this case, I think she was.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #21 on: January 02, 2011, 01:09:14 AM »
They're pretty good about making sure visitors know their staff is black, white, male and female though, and their community tends to trim the worst stuff out (the entry on "lolcows" used to be a lot less pleasant, for example). Not perfect by any means, of course.

And, of course, ED is it's own little monster, sat in a corner of the web. You have to know about it to find it, and will inevitably go in with some idea of what it's about. It's not - unlike Morgana et al - appearing on massive posters on the London underground or being featured on a mainstream TV channel.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #22 on: January 02, 2011, 01:15:56 AM »
Would Angelos Epithemiou be an example?

He's someone I still haven't made my mind up on. There's something in that character that doesn't quite sit well with me and I think that's because there's an element of mocking the social awkwardness of people with learning disabilities, but I'm not sure how much that is me making that connection rather than the character itself. Would be interested in other people's views on this one.

Hmm, I know what you mean: the carrier bags, NHS specs and lack of personal hygiene scream 'mentally disabled stereotype'. But - in his Shooting Stars appearances, at least - Angelos's character usually comes out with some sharp one-liners and observations. I think he's supposed to be a character who's badly socially adjusted rather than one who's actually disabled in any way. But, appearanc-wise at least, he seems to be drawing on some uncomfortable stereotypes.

Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #23 on: January 02, 2011, 01:39:27 AM »
Hmm, I know what you mean: the carrier bags, NHS specs and lack of personal hygiene scream 'mentally disabled stereotype'. But - in his Shooting Stars appearances, at least - Angelos's character usually comes out with some sharp one-liners and observations. I think he's supposed to be a character who's badly socially adjusted rather than one who's actually disabled in any way. But, appearanc-wise at least, he seems to be drawing on some uncomfortable stereotypes.

It's not just the appearance, it's the relationship with Ulrika.

As I said before, I haven't made my mind up on this character yet. There's something there, but for a loser character to work (mentally retarded or not) they need to be a lovable loser: like Neil suggested, they need some warmth and maybe I'm just not feeling enough of that warmth towards him as a character.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #24 on: January 02, 2011, 01:41:12 PM »
Hmm, I know what you mean: the carrier bags, NHS specs and lack of personal hygiene scream 'mentally disabled stereotype'. But - in his Shooting Stars appearances, at least - Angelos's character usually comes out with some sharp one-liners and observations. I think he's supposed to be a character who's badly socially adjusted rather than one who's actually disabled in any way. But, appearanc-wise at least, he seems to be drawing on some uncomfortable stereotypes.

I think we'd need to have an idea of how Skinner portrays Angelos in his solo shows rather than as part of Shooting Stars for a full picture, as on SS he regularly subverts the stereotype suggested by his look not only through the afforementioned one-liners, but also through his usually very competent magic tricks and high brow performance art.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #25 on: January 02, 2011, 02:19:47 PM »
If Skinner is at all deserving of criticism, is Angelos parodies a certain identifiable type of working class figure and extracting laughs from his amusingly scummy life. However, I think it's done to a level of safe surreal exaggeration rather than being nasty. Plus is character is sympathetic and to a large extent exists to say surprising things- to use his obvious character attributes to pull the rug under the audiences expectations.

I don't know where the 'mentally disabled stereotype' thing comes from!


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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #26 on: January 02, 2011, 02:30:03 PM »
I've always just seen him as a socially awkward idiot - a staple of comedy since... forever.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #27 on: January 02, 2011, 02:48:08 PM »
That comment is something to hide his character behind unnecessarily. It certainly is based on an identifiable type of working class person, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Saying 'he's just a socially awkward idiot' reduces both what we're talking about and his character which is much more than that.

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #28 on: January 02, 2011, 05:44:23 PM »
What about Charlie Chuck/Uncle Peter? (Seeing as we're looking a Vic n Bob related characters)

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Re: Will 2010 be remembered as the year that British comedy punched down?
« Reply #29 on: January 02, 2011, 06:11:28 PM »
Possibly, but Charley/Peter always struck me as a bit too dangerous to laugh at easily. Far from being too easily-mockable, there was an unsettling, disturbing edge to him that made him less of a point-and-laugh figure than one that you chuckled at with a slight air of unease. Whether this is a more laudable comedy approach to such a character is, of course, arguable, but for me at least it certainly meant that he wasn't a figure that you could just look down on and sneer at.