David Baddiel, Trolls: Not the Dolls – Live Review – Hull City Hall
By James Robinson, February 2020
As the crowd takes its seats ready for David Baddiel’s latest show at Hull City Hall, a huge screen over the stage flashes up a selection of screen-shots from the social-media platform Twitter. We’re shown examples of tweets sent by the comedian himself, followed by their most memorably hostile responses, which range from the amusingly irreverent – one in particular describing the comedian as an ‘Aldi Jeff Goldblum’ becomes a running gag – to the downright unforgivable.
Baddiel’s personal experiences of online trolling are a pretty representative example of how online discourse has developed since the advent of social media, and this makes for a meaty subject for him to explore in ‘Trolls: Not the Dolls’, which he does with plenty of wit and much food for thought.
The show takes the form of a slide show featuring examples of the comedian’s funny or disturbing online engagement with fans and detractors. This could very easily have turned into a catalogue of ways in which the he bested his online antagonists (appropriately, perhaps, for the man who gave the world the catchphrase ‘that’s you that is’).
However, he manages to avoid letting the show become nothing more than Baddiel’s Best Burns by including examples in which he, too, did not behave in entirely good faith and also by allowing his set to digress into a wider rumination on the nature of human interaction. He is not afraid to confront the nastier undercurrent that blights social media, including the inevitable ad hominem attacks and anti-Semitism of which he is frequently the target.
“Big laughs and a warm atmosphere”
This is pretty heavy stuff for a stand-up routine, but Baddiel has a lightness of touch that allows him to examine even the most odious behaviour and make some incredibly insightful observations without ever becoming hectoring or leaving too long between laughs.
He has an effortless stage presence, delivering his act in a laid-back manner that still has echoes of his mid-90s laddish persona, illustrated, with evident personal amusement, by the inclusion of a 25-year-old clip in which the comic makes some still pertinent observations about the evolution of innuendo.
He also takes it in his stride when Hull fails, surprisingly, to provide a sold-out performance – possibly an unfortunate side effect of its coinciding with a local football match, Valentine’s Day and dire predictions about the devastating effects of Storm Dennis. Nevertheless, everyone in the two-thirds-full crowd is clearly a genuine fan, and the audience provides him with big laughs and a warm atmosphere.
The powers-that-be behind Twitter have at last come to recognise the sometimes toxic discourse the platform can display – as it turns out the comedian discovered when he set up a spoof troll account to promote the new show. As a result, during the encore he invites the audience to come up with some childish insults that he can send to himself without triggering the new automated abuse filters.
Of course, based on tonight’s performance, it’s clear that Baddiel isn’t deserving of any abuse at all, but in his amiable and unfussy style has crafted an absorbing and thought-provoking show that has much to say about the worst excesses of human behaviour.