In defence of trolls! The greatest trolls in history, from Galileo to Ken M
I get called a troll on a daily basis. I’m not vindictively attacking anyone, exploiting grief or wasting anyone’s time. I just point out inaccuracies and hypocrisy. Trolling allows me to do this in a way that makes my friends laugh. But anyone who holds up ideas to scrutiny has always been denigrated and discredited – even if they’re right.
Ideas that offended majority opinion in the past include the idea that the earth orbits the Sun, the earth is round, evolution, gay marriage, bi-racial marriage, cohabiting before marriage, atheism, equality for black people, equality for women, smoking is bad for you and wrestling is fake. Anyone advocating any of these would be dismissed as a troll.
Trolling provides a valuable service. It questions the prevailing ideas and it pricks pomposity and hypocrisy. Trolling only truly works when there’s an element of truth in the troll.
Here are some of the most memorable trolls – Galileo, Ken M, Chris Morris, Jerry Sadowitz, Tom Green, George Cottier and Jeremy Beadle – comedians, scientists and entertainers who’ve trolled hilariously, on a grand scale, or challenged the prevailing groupthink.
Born in 1564, Galileo was an Italian astronomer and scientist at a time when people looked to the Church for answers about life. He greatly advanced scientific understanding of our place in the Universe, which clashed with the prevailing doctrine and led to him being accused of trolling the church.
In 1614, the Catholic Church accused Galileo of heresy (a medieval word meaning “trolling”) for supporting the Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the Earth being at the centre of the solar system. In 1616, the church barred him from teaching these theories.
However these accusations of trolling didn’t put him off the pursuit of objective truth. In 1632, he was again condemned for heresy after he published a book (a medieval version of a Facebook post) still banging on about the Earth going round the sun. Galileo was summoned to appear before the Inquisition (medieval version of forum moderators) in Rome. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment (medieval version of account suspended). He was also forced to delete all his Facebook posts about Copernican theory. Bad troll, Galileo!
People are still banging on about Galileo being wrong, but now they are the trolls (don’t watch this, it’s mental).
Morris worked with Armando Ianucci and Steve Coogan to mock news television in the 90s with On The Hour and The Day Today. But with Brass Eye – a spoof current affairs show – he trolled celebrities and politicians to reveal how misinformed and malleable these voices of authority were in the hands of documentary makers.
Brass Eye reached peak troll with the “Paedogeddon!” episode that skewered media sensationalism and moral panic around paedophilia. It led to its own national headline grabbing outrage with The Daily Mail describing Morris as “the most loathed man on TV” – at a time when Piers Morgan was on the box.
Chris Morris’s trolling convinced Dr Fox to nail a crab to a table because it contained paedophile DNA, Richard Blackwood (a celebrity at the time) to say paedophiles could make your computer keyboard release “toxic vapours that make children more suggestible” and even convinced MP David Amess to raise questions about a fictitious drug in Parliament.
For something to be truly funny, somebody else has to find it completely unfunny. That’s a rule I just made up. Tom Green has made a career of making people laugh by infuriating and disgusting other people – whether it’s making a cow brain boat, getting a turd out of a toilet and taking it into the audience, filling his parent’s house with farm animals or painting a lesbian scene on his dad’s car.
This clip is his finest hour – he appears as a guest on a standup comedy night but trolls the audience by making bizarre noises and refusing to leave the stage. They’re outraged, and it’s hilarious.
English comedian George Cottier is sadly no longer performing live, despite being lauded for his originality and bravery. Part of this may have been due to his exceptional trolling of other comedians on the British comedy forum Chortle, which has passed into comedy folklore. He’s documented it himself here: http://georgecottier.co.uk/Chortle.html (you’ll need to scroll right to read it all).
It’s got all the elements of a classic troll – brutal insults, deliberate misinterpretations of requests and outright lies (Larry Dean kicking a dog??!!!) and generally being a pointless dick to blameless people. It resulted in Mr Cottier being blacklisted by promoters, banned from the comedy industry forum, and hated by many. And it’s hilarious.
Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have used South Park – an adult cartoon about kids in a North American town, as if you didn’t know – to lampoon pretty much everything in society, from environmentalism to Scientology. They’re equal opportunity trolls, mocking the hypocrisy and idiocy of conservatives and liberals alike, and unafraid to tackle taboo subjects such as Islam or abortion.
A prodigiously talented precursor to the crowd-baiting Frankie Boyle, Jewish-Glaswegian comedian Jerry Sadowitz has spent the last 30 years seeing his career stifled by an entertainment industry unwilling to accept his controversial material. But even though he’s been the subject of countless criticisms and his incendiary live shows still see people walking out in disgust, his troll’s knack for identifying hypocrisy and immorality has been proved right time and time again.
In this clip, he identifies notorious paedophile Jimmy Savile as a child abuser. At the time, this was seen as vindictive trolling and no doubt contributed to the BBC’s decision to stymie his show “The Pall Bearer’s Revue”. But history has proven Sadowitz to be correct.
Beadle was ubiquitous on British TV in the 80s and 90s, presenting shows such as “You’ve Been Framed!” and “Beadles Millions”. But it was the candid camera show Beadle’s About that people remember him for. He trolled unsuspecting members of the public – dumping their cars in canals, convincing them that aliens had landed in their garden, or making them operate a slightly sexual out of control sausage machine – before appearing disguised as a policemen to point out the hidden cameras and reveal that although their car was indeed now underwater, they were on TV so it was OK.
So if someone calls you a troll, don’t worry. “Troll” is a hate word used pejoratively to discredit satire or anything that pokes fun at the prevailing opinion. It’s time to take it back and be proud of our trolling.
Share this article…