David Baddiel: ‘Online trolls on social media are just like comedy hecklers’

David Baddiel

David Baddiel - Credit: Archant

David Baddiel has a love-hate relationship with social media.

With more than 450,000 Twitter followers, he’s got a huge platform to interact with an audience across the world.

But it’s a gift and a curse, and the 51-year-old has plenty of experience of the ugly side.

In his live shows, Baddiel – a prolific tweeter – has frequently spoken about his delight in taking on the ‘trolls’.

Delivering a show in aid of North London charities Norwood and the Paskin Children’s Trust, the Hampstead comedian and author – whose Twitter profile simply states “Jew” – described the abuse and anti-Semitism on the web.

He recounted how he once posted a picture of his grandparents’ exit visas from Germany, issued three weeks before World War Two broke out.

Soon after posting, a Twitter user weighed in by asking his views on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Baddiel’s response, “Just. Fuck. Off.” may not have been the wittiest of his career, but he said it highlighted the frustrations public figures face online.

A post about his late mother was met by an anti-Israel reply from another user.

He’s not one to shy away from online hecklers or calling out anti Semites.

Speaking to the Ham&High after his performance, Baddiel said: “I like Twitter, it’s entertaining, but it’s shades of grey about whether it’s a good thing.

“When people are horrible, you can treat it like you would normally treat a heckler.”

As many comics will attest, one of the biggest challenges they face is to deal with a drunken troublemaker shouting abuse from the back of the room.

A lot of the abuse may now have moved online, but the principle remains the same.

Baddiel said: “If you were to check my response time to a troll, it’s quick, it’s almost the same as if there were a heckler.

“I don’t spend hours thinking up my response.”

He noted, perhaps with a hint of disappointment, that he’s confronted by less online trolls than he used to be.

“It’s like getting a laugh off an audience if you ‘own’ a troll,” he said.

But for all that he may enjoy being a social media personality, it’s clear stand-up is in his blood.

Reflecting on the performance he had just given, Baddiel stated: “It went down fine, but I don’t like big rooms like that.”

There was, unusually, a large boxing ring in the centre of the room.

He said: “I think comedy should be done in a comedy room.”

Asked what a comedy room is, he said: “It’s one that’s not as wide, where people are sat either at small tables or in an audience.”

An example of a good comedy venue, he said, is The Chocolate Factory in Soho.

This will play host to upcoming show My Family: Not The Sitcom, which opens in May.

While his previous show FAME: Not The Musical focused on celebrity and its pitfalls – including the Twitter critics – he has now turned his attention to his parents.

Drawing in references to his mother’s sex life and his father’s battle against dementia, it is reasonable to describe it as risky.

Baddiel himself described it as a “disrespectful” tribute.

Describing how the project evolved, he said: “At my mum’s funeral I became aware that a lot of people were saying she was wonderful.

“I noticed that’s what people always tend to say, but if all you can say is that they were wonderful, you might as well say nothing at all.”

And he continued: “I would describe it as ‘anti-funeral’.

“It’s massively disrespectful, it takes in their madness and flaws, and it’s worked incredibly well”

He admits feeling trepidation about the project, but feels it is loving and honest show.

“People have come up to me and say ‘I would love to have met your mum’.”

“It’s very emotional.

“People say it is a kind of love letter to my parents.”

Among those to praise the work are comics Rob Bryden and Sara Pascoe – with the later describing Baddiel’s father Colin as “a legend” after seeing the show.