If you don’t know about the comedy writer turned white knight, Graham Linehan, you’ll be shocked to learn he’s one of the most significant troubleshooters of the past thirty years. You’ll recall Father Ted, a charming Channel 4 sitcom about three priests living in pastoral Ireland. You won’t recall it broke the Catholic Church’s stranglehold over Irish consciousness. You remember Eire’s referendum on legalising abortion, but you failed to register how instrumental Linehan and his ex-wife were in emancipating women on the Emerald Isle. You go through your day-to-day lives, oblivious to the fact that Graham Linehan, whose father inculcated in him an unapologetic chivalrousness, because, Linehan tells us, without irony, those who suffer the discomfort of menstruation deserve to have a door opened for them, is fighting a terrorist insurgency against a group of nascent fascists who, as you read this, are trying to destroy all womankind. Not everyone accepts Graham’s self-documented achievements, however. It’s these Linehan sceptics that form the tough crowd of the title.
Self-righteousness and a lack of self-awareness partner like meat and potatoes. Tough Crowd is an embittered rally against those who’ve vilified the former sitcom king for identifying with a series of reasoned propositions – that sex is observed, that body-changing surgical interventions on pre-pubescent children is problematic, that women should be protected from predatory men. He’s stunned by his inability to achieve consensus on these points, while showcasing a propensity for zealotry and Richard Littlejohn-like exaggeration, that would make the Daily Mail columnist double take.
This is the difference between saying immigration creates inner city tension and immigration is a threat to Judeo-Christian society, so must be halted at all costs. Linehan equates attempts at realising an impossible object – a child or adult whose gender dysphoria can be cured by appropriating transient masculine and feminine stereotypes, to the sadistic predations of Nazi doctors. Delighted with this silly and frivolous allusion, he doubles down, drawing parallels between his betrayal at the hands of the comedy establishment, and that of Anne Frank. The Nazis reoccur in Tough Crowd as stock villains so often that one imagines it being ghostwritten by Len Deighton.
It’s astonishing that Linehan, a writer, is oblivious to the impact of rhetoric and the framing of arguments in engendering popular consent. The book’s refrain is the call to the wisdom of crowds – the common sense of the common man. But there’s no moderation and little compassion in Linehan’s account of his own struggle. His arguments are incendiary in a bid to overpower his online detractors and shame the book’s real audience – the media set who were instinctively suspicious of hyperbole and a propensity to extremes, in order to create a moral panic worthy of the great man’s lost prestige.
Early on, Linehan leverages the juxtaposition of his treatment for testicular cancer with the dawn of the vitriolic backlash to his trans views, for pathos. The former, he tells us, is a mere flesh wound compared to the unrelenting assault that followed. But if you don’t believe in coincidences, you might think this threat to his masculinity coupled with the prospect of self-annihilation, is instructive. Men passing themselves off as women when Graham, a real bloke, has just lost part of his manhood? The audacity. And if that reads like English Literature wank – the biographical fallacy – then consider whether badging trans supporters as complicit in child molestation and trans women as “chancers” and rapists, isn’t equally reaching.
Tough Crowd asserts that trans activism is a middle-class indulgence – a petty bourgeois fantasy world and form of escapism of the kind once the exclusive province of science fiction fans like Linehan. But readers are invited to find references to being dropped from dinner parties, telling.
His memoir tells us his income has fallen off a cliff since he began fighting this battle on behalf of women who apparently cannot speak for themselves. Linehan’s solution is to find media-related workarounds – Substack, stand-up, YouTube. No regular form of income like a real job is sought. Therein lies a tacit acknowledgement that those preoccupied by survival and the boilerplate demands of everyday life, are unlikely to have the headspace to fixate on gender ideology. Working class women, the kind Linehan never meets, do not register an existential threat to their sex class – hardly surprising as they outnumber trans women 50-1. But despite this, Linehan asserts he is one with the majority of people who paradoxically for a man enraged by the indifference of his peers, haven’t given the matter a first, let alone second thought. “Conventionality,” wrote Charlotte Bronte, “is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.”
Of all the comedians who’ve betrayed him, who’ve thrown Daniel to the Lions, the only one named is Stewart Lee. In revenge for putting Graham “in the bin” on his end of year list of cultural undesirables, Linehan waspishly relegates the celebrated stand-up to an also-ran. But Tough Crowd evokes a terrific Lee routine about the IRA being good old fashioned gentleman bombers, whose demands could be realised, exemplifying a sense of British fair play. He compared them to Al Qaeda, whose stated aim was to destroy Western civilisation – a founding principle that made meaningful compromise impossible. What does Linehan want? For the “entire gender ideology movement…to be burnt to ashes.” That’s right, the wholesale capitulation of those trying to integrate trans people into society’s mainstream. Terrorism, incidentally, is another of the book’s hysterical metaphors.
Ultimately, it’s the impossibility of reconciling Linehan’s position with social justice and cohesion, that makes this memoir psychologically intriguing but politically worthless. A man who laments trans activists adopting the rhetoric of gay struggle, furiously adopts the ancient arguments levelled at gays and lesbians – that they’re sexually unregulated, animalistic, paedophilic, and a sexual threat in prisons and public spaces. One suspects this is news to the majority of trans people. But Linehan’s seen that argument coming and has an answer – trans is an unstable category – there’s authentic trans people and interlopers – would-be Jimmy Saviles, and any trans-affirming law protects both. One’s tempted to ask, name a law that regulates sexual behaviour that doesn’t cover both the psychosexually sound and the deviant? Every human interaction is a role of the dice. We’re left to consider that what Graham needs is not his tough crowd but tough love – someone who’ll pull him from his rabbit hole before the entrance collapses, burying him alive.