Graham Linehan is 55-year-old Irish writer and director of sitcoms. He’s the winner of five BAFTA awards, that is awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He has also won awards from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and the Irish Film and Television Academy. In recent years, Linehan has made public statements disagreeing with trans extremism. For this, he has been canceled. Friends and colleagues rejected and abandoned him. Work dried up. His marriage ended. The LGBT website Pink News, he reports, has published 75 hit pieces on him – they’ve published more since that tally.
On October 31, 2023, Eye Books Limited released, in the US, Linehan’s memoir, Tough Crowd: How I Made and Lost a Career in Comedy. The book is 288 pages long. It includes black-and-white photographs. Most of the book addresses Linehan’s comedy career and comedy and popular culture in general. Much of the book is a meditation on the impact of the internet. The second half of the book addresses Linehan’s canceling and the extent of trans extremism in the UK. Irish identity in the twenty-first century and Linehan’s jaundiced view of Catholicism are constant themes.
Linehan created The IT Crowd, a British sitcom that ran 2006-2010, with a farewell broadcast airing in 2013. In an episode entitled “The Speech,” there is a comedic fight between Douglas (Matt Berry) and April (Lucy Montgomery). April – the character, not the actress who plays April – is a man who identifies as a woman. Douglas becomes uncomfortable dating April, and he breaks up with her. April is crushed to be rejected. At first she pleads in a hyper-feminine way for Douglas to recognize her as a woman. Douglas, apparently distraught and speaking in an exaggerated melodramatic style, insists that the two must part. April changes from sad to enraged and punches Douglas in the face. The two engage in highly choreographed, hand-to-hand combat typical of an action movie. The setting enhances the comedy. They are duking it out in a sterile laboratory as masked, white-coated workers look on. Eventually their fight breaks through a wall and into the resolution of another subplot in this episode. The combatants crash onto the stage where another character is delivering a speech she’s been anxious about. The scene is funny. It can be viewed here.
“The Speech” first aired in 2008. After it was rebroadcast in 2013, Linehan was accused of transphobia. These denunciations are hysterical, in both senses of the word “hysterical.” Online denunciations of Linehan are funny but they are also reflective of the unhinged psyches of Linehan’s accusers. See for example here, and a condemnation of “Linehan’s descent into deplorability” here. Nobodies of negligible stature, elevated to high priests in the Church of Woke, shriek imprecations into the void. Creatures with inert cortices, who lack any aesthetic taste, struggle into the black leather uniforms of wanna-be thought police and crack their whips of outrage over the heads of truly gifted creators like Linehan. As has happened before in history – see the rise of any given totalitarian apparatus – spiteful losers morph into terrifying monsters wielding outsize power when they inject just the right combination of Toxoplasma gondii and battery acid into the brains of the least integral of humans who achieve their destiny in the formation of froth-mouthed mobs.
Linehan writes, “my friends were giving me odd looks, ghosting and blanking me, not returning calls, giving my wife shit on the phone, writing nasty letters about the importance of kindness … I still believed it was only a matter of time before these friends and colleagues from the entertainment industry would fly to my aid. The satirists, the stars, the progressives, the feminists … Those I’d made famous, and who had made me semi-famous in return … I thought they’d be along any minute.” But of course they were not along any minute.
Linehan opens Tough Crowd with a description of his Irish childhood, and his job, begun when he was just a teen, as a movie and music critic. He offers insights into the career of a critic and advice on how its done. For example, as a critic, Linehan prefers to use the word “I” and to report his own reactions, even when his employer, Select magazine, told him that use of the word “I” violated their house style. He rejects the critical stance behind avoidance of the word “I,” that is that art has a “standarised value” that can be objectively quantified. A critic, Linehan insists, is as subjective as anyone, so he should use the word “I” when writing his own opinion, and not pretend it is some objective truth.
Linehan is a big fan of pop culture, British and American. He says if given a choice between saving the life of a human being and saving the last existing copies of Fawlty Towers, he is not sure which he would choose. “I loved fanzine culture, comic culture, music culture, nerd culture.” He devotes to pop culture a religious fervor. “The Beatles turned the lights on and the world was never the same.”
Before he was canceled, he maintained an active online presence, sharing his enthusiasms with other fans. He writes, “One of the most painful aspects of my eventual exile from polite society was not being able to share things any more. I could no longer recommend a band or a comic or a game or any piece of art – which is essentially sixty percent of what I used Twitter for, to share the things I found exciting and valuable and life-enhancing.” He realized that if he continued sharing in this way, trans extremists would immediately contact any artists whose works he enjoyed and demand that these artists condemn him or suffer themselves if they refused to condemn him.
Linehan’s world is very male. He himself says that when he had intimate contact with a woman – sex on the floor of a comic book store – that that contact violated everything he had said about himself so far in the book. His ex-wife, Helen Serafinowicz, is hardly mentioned. The reader will not discover how the two fell in love, or the details of their separation. No woman in Linehan’s memoir is described using the vocabulary of passion, longing, admiration, and intimacy that Linehan devotes to his male colleagues and role models.
Linehan’s hair is coiffed in just-rolled-out-of-bed style and his attire is rumpled casual. Linehan doesn’t like to exercise, he likes to eat junk food, and he prefers to spend his time bathed in male-centered music and male-centered films by directors like “Scorcese, Truffaut, Tarantino, Mamet – all the standard film school male crushes.” As a young man, he would have, he said, spent all his money on movies, comics, and music. He didn’t because, of course, as a published critic, he received all this material for free. “If you had a mattress, a CD player, and photos of Beatrice Dalle, Iggy Pop, and Raymond Carver on the wall then you were living large.”
He adores the older men who mentored him in his journalism career. He partnered with Arthur Mathews, another Irishman. Mathews is a “gentle, punk, comic genius … I worshipped the man … my heart belonged to Arthur.” Linehan developed “an entirely unreciprocated romantic bond” with Mathews, his “first love.” Later, Linehan “fell in love with” a man with whom he drank so much that his urine became stained with blood.
In his self-descriptions of himself and his friends, Linehan reminded this reader of Jay and Silent Bob, two fictional cinematic characters played by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. They, too, are homosocial guys who dress like slobs, hang out, and consume and talk about pop culture films and comic books.
With Arthur Mathews, Linehan created comedy that resisted current British norms. Others created comedy that reflected “liberal groupthink – a winky, middle-class, everyone’s-reading-The Guardian secret handshake. Always the same targets too. There was one particular award-winning TV show that we literally couldn’t watch, it was so grimly politically correct; all the right opinions, all the right targets.” Demands that comedy “punch up” are really demands that comedy “operate along tribal lines.” But, Linehan insists, “comedy isn’t tribal. Comedy is a mirror in which the whole of humanity is supposed to see itself. If you remove certain groups from comedy and criticism, you remove their humanity. Cosy political satire only served a single purpose for a single group; to flatter.”
Linehan’s observations about “liberal groupthink” comedy reminded me of Jon Stewart, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and Saturday Night Live. All of these are talented, and, at times, funny. All are supposed to be courageous and daring. They are supposed to skewer the powerful and tell, through humor, truths too shocking to speak in other registers. But all are terminally smug and lacking in self-awareness. And all are, in the end, cowards. In recent weeks, the world has been focused on Israel and subsequent massive demonstrations. We fear World War III. And Meyers, Colbert, and SNL keep making the same, tired Trump jokes, jokes they have made hundreds of times before. Bill Maher, no paragon, has shown the courage to mock pro-Hamas protesters and to mention Israel in his monologues.
Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews created the Father Ted sitcom. It ran on Channel 4 1995-1998. The show centers on three priests who, for their misdeeds, have been exiled to the fictional Craggy Island with a housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle. At least two of the priests are atheists; one is an “idiot,” and one is an alcoholic. Linehan imagines Mrs. Doyle, a woman in her sixties, as “boiling with repressed sexual desire.” This characterization of an elderly woman is a reflection of his lack of knowledge of women.
Linehan says that growing up in Ireland was very boring. When the internet came along, it seemed miraculous. “We were making great strides as a species, in our own chaotic way, flapping and gasping into a new, exciting part of our existence like prehistoric lungfish, exhilarated on the first few gulps of air … I simply couldn’t imagine how an epoch-defining darkness like the Holocaust could ever occur again. If we were all keeping an eye on each other, then everything should be fine, shouldn’t it?”
Graham Linehan was very surprised that the internet was used to destroy his life. He is an atheist and he says he hates the Catholic Church. He’s very much a people person. He really believed that humanity would use the internet mostly for good, and that his friends would eventually support him. I’m Catholic and it doesn’t surprise me at all that humanity has managed to muck up the internet in the same way that humanity mucks up everything else. The Garden of Eden story, to me, is an allegory, and not literally true. But it is literally replayed age after age. Humans find themselves in something really good, and humans turn that something really good into something really bad. Including the internet. Including friendship. Including marriage. We need something higher than Lennon and McCartney to guide our paths and save us. That something higher, to be useful, must acknowledge the darkness we are all capable of, including Linehan’s former friends, colleagues, and drinking buddies, who had once seemed such great lads.
After the re-broadcast of “The Speech” episode of The IT Crowd stirred up allegations of transphobia, Linehan began to “dig into” trans extremism. He turned up disturbing material. Aimee Challenor was a young man who identified as a girl. He became a Green Party spokesperson for equality. The Guardian published a “fawning profile.” Challenor’s father, David, was Aimee’s representative and photographer. David was arrested in 2016 for the imprisonment, rape, and torture of a ten-year-old girl. At least one senior Green Party official knew about these charges but didn’t speak out. David Challenor was sent to prison. Aimee Challenor claimed transphobia. Aimee Challenor became a fundraiser for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. Aimee then moved on to Reddit, where he became an influential moderator and paid employee. Challenor’s spouse, Nathaniel Knight, is a furry fetishist who admits to writing about molesting children.
Linehan also writes about Barbie Kardashian, born Gabrielle Alejandro Gentile. The boy’s father abused his mother and encouraged his son to join in the abuse. Kardashian is now a violent and dangerous adult man who insists that he is a woman. He wants to put a “knife into [my mother’s] body and into her genitalia [and] prolong my mum’s suffering for as long as possible.” He brutalized a woman social worker, tearing her eyelids as he attempted to gouge out her eyes. Her screams were, he said, “music to my ears.” His “continuing wish to murder and to rape” women was “a source of pleasure” to him. Because he declared himself a female, Kardashian was housed in a woman’s prison.
There’s much to be said about the damage that trans extremism does to young bodies. Linehan details just one topic, breast binders. Breast binders are not surgery or drugs; they might be seen as a minor intervention. And yet even breast binders cause lasting damage.
Linehan writes, “a major US study had found that almost ninety-seven percent of women who bind their breasts experience a negative physical effect … Back, chest, shoulder and abdominal pain … Almost half [report] musculo-skeletal problems … from bad posture to spinal and rib changes, shoulders ‘popping’ in their joints, overall muscle-wasting and even fractured ribs. Half … experience shortness of breath, and a small number end up with respiratory infections. Forty per cent experience neurological problems.” Breast binding can also cause a lung to collapse.
Linehan also mentions the negative impact of trans extremism on others, who, like him, have been canceled by trans extremists. One victim of trans extremism is Rachel Rooney. Rooney is a children’s book author who wrote a picture book called My Body Is Me. The book, like most picture books for children, is short. It is lovely. The book invites children to celebrate their bodies, no matter how much those bodies depart from powerful beauty norms. Rooney was called a terrorist.
Rooney says, “I was once a gender non-conforming autistic child … I know how it is to be uncomfortable in your own skin, to hate what society tells you it is to be female … I had always been progressive, even woke.” Like Linehan, Rooney was abandoned by friends. Some did “get in touch privately and admitted to being too scared to speak out — others said they had been warned off from engaging with the topic.” Otherwise, “Fellow authors discussed my ‘hateful world view’, my ‘transphobia’, my bigoted, exclusionary nature and even my autism.” Trans extremists and their allies pushed Rooney out of publishing. She is a gifted author and her sacrifice on the altar of Woke is a loss to children and parents.
Towards the end of the book, Linehan reports the moment that sealed his fate. Hat Trick Productions offered Linehan two hundred thousand pounds for a staged musical version of Father Ted. Their condition: he had to disappear. He could have accepted the money. He could have disappeared. He didn’t take the money. He didn’t disappear. Why? He “happened upon” an interview with the mother of one of the college athletes forced to compete against, and share a locker room with, Lia Thomas, a man pretending to be a woman. The mother was afraid to go public. She spoke behind a veil of anonymity. Otherwise, trans extremists would destroy her and her daughter. Fighting off sobs, the mother said that her daughter told her that she had no choice but to share a locker room with a naked and ogling adult male, Lia Thomas. The mother said, “I still can’t believe I had to tell my adult-age daughter that you always have a choice about whether you undress in front of a man. What messages have these girls been receiving?” The interview with this mother is here.
Linehan, the rumpled guy who obsesses on pop culture and who bonds with other rumpled guys who obsess on pop culture, says something very old-fashioned and noble. “Men need a code … I see chivalry as just a basic level of respect for every woman that every man should hold. Our greater physical strength provides enough reason on its own, but if merely belonging to a group signs someone up to enduring intense pain for a week every month, then I think it’s fair enough to have a tradition where we open doors for them.”
Linehan makes an observation that just about anyone who has ever resisted trans extremism to any extent might also make. “None of the people who shot me nasty looks, or gave the press a juicy quote about me, or refused to share a stage with me, has ever been able to tell me where my analysis is wrong.” This is very true. Trans extremists resort to violence and destruction exactly because their ideas are wrong. They destroy because they cannot argue. The facts not only do not support their positions; the facts do to their positions what tsunamis do to sand castles.
Graham Linehan is a vivid, palpable presence to the reader of Tough Crowd. You will feel as if you are in an Irish pub and, as Linehan says, “someone plays a fiddle” and maybe even Milo O’Shea, the “Oirish” – Linehan’s term – actor shows up. As the pint does its work on the spirit and the night goes on, that Graham Linehan guy tells you the story of his life. In this stream-of-consciousness monologue, he produces some very beautiful and insightful prose, and offers some trenchant commentary on pop culture, on the cutthroat politics behind the scenes of beloved TV sitcoms, and on the hope and betrayal of the internet age. His quixotic tilting at monstrosities like male rapists in women’s prisons breaks your heart. But his way with a bon mot will delight you. Example: “Oscar Wilde was actually a mediocre wit but a scientific genius who built a time machine that sent him only two minutes into the past so he had enough time to think of a good comeback.”
A couple of aspects of Tough Crowd didn’t work for me. Linehan was not well-served by his editors. The book is poorly organized, and there is much repetition, a sign of poor organization. Linehan has many trenchant observations about what makes for a good TV show, or magazine article, or joke, but to make his points he references a lot of material that will not at all be familiar to many readers outside his milieu. It wasn’t familiar to me. I had to look up many of his references. In a subsequent edition of this book, I hope Linehan will provide, for his reader, the identity and significance of the material he’s citing to make his point. I also hope his observations will be better organized
Danusha Goska is the author of God Through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery