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Jonathan Ross Withdraws from Hugos

Twitter has been alight with the news that one of the UK’s biggest and best known talk show hosts, Jonathan Ross, has withdrawn from his role as Master of Ceremonies at this year’s Hugo Awards.

Jonathan_RossFor those who don’t have a clue who he is, he isn’t too far from the mould of Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien. There’s no denying that his style is slightly edgier, he has at times stepped over the line (and apologised for doing so), but generally he is one of the very few interviewers that celebrities enjoy being quizzed by… In his most recent show, Claudia Schiffer who has never once featured on a UK talk show due to her anxiety and shyness of being in front of an audience made an exception for the friendly and charismatic ‘Wossy’.

In terms of popularity, his ‘Jonathan Ross Show’ on ITV is one of our country’s most watched programmes and draws in over 3 million viewers each week. Most importantly of all though, Ross is a huge geek. He has not only written comics himself, but openly and enthusiastically talks about and promotes the genre at every chance he gets – exposing SFF to an audience who would otherwise think it is for ‘recluse dorks’.

So, when this years WorldCon (Loncon3) tweeted:

We’re very excited to announce that Jonathan Ross (@wossy) will be hosting The #HugoAwards this year at #Loncon3!

I thought it was a brave decision, but could work out pretty well to carry forward the growing momentum. Bringing in a well-known celebrity to host SFF’s largest awards shows was pretty exciting. In recent years SFF has been exposed to the mainstream through HBO and Hollywood big time, now celebrities are feeling confident enough to host our award ceremonies? Ace! Well, that was until the SFF community turned around and told Ross they didn’t want him… Some used productive comments that his ‘form’ for off colour gags could be risky following the recent SFWA troubles, others others called him a monster and some – using incorrect and fabricated information – accused him of abusing women and the disabled.

Seanan McGuire’s Tweet was perhaps the most extreme by a published author:

Wait. WAIT. They’re letting JONATHAN ROSS present the Hugos? WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK.

And added, in the following tweets, as an explanation for her shock:

“You know, I’ve really enjoyed knowing that, were I to be nominated for a Hugo, the host wouldn’t see me and make fat jokes” … “Like, that thought has actually crossed my mind, when shopping for Hugo dresses” … “The host won’t mock me.” … “Thanks, @loncon3, for taking that small bit of comfort and reassurance away from me.”
Note: These are the first few tweets. Many more from Seanan here

Shortly after a barrage of Tweets, Loncon3 tweeted again:

“We regret to announce that Jonathan Ross @wossy has graciously withdrawn from his role as Master of Ceremonies for @TheHugoAwards.”

And Jonathan quickly followed that Tweet with:

“I have decided to withdraw from hosting the Hugo’s @loncon3 in response to some who would rather I weren’t there. Have a lovely convention.”

Jonathan-Ross-ComicAfter stepping down, Jonathan revealed that Neil Gaiman had personally asked him to host the event. And it was another genre giant, Paul Cornell, who was one of the first to respond to Jonathan’s Tweet announcing his stepping down:

I think that’s courteous and kind of you. I hope there’ll be an occasion when the SF community welcomes you.

Tony Lee pointed out the hypocritical look this gave to a number of the more personal attacks:

So @wossy has stepped down from hosting the Hugos at #Loncon3. Great to see that genre folk hate rudeness but are fine with cyber bullying.

A slightly longer post in reply to a blog Charlie Stross wrote applauding the decision to shun Ross, read:

For what it’s worth, I think a lot of the worries about Jonathan Ross are overblown. Yes, he’s a comedian, and some of his jokes are in very bad taste. On the other hand, he’s also been targeted by the tabloid outrage merchants: and a 20 year career in stand-up is more than long enough to give anyone’s enemies a ready-made armoury. I’m not in any position to judge how much of his public persona is a fabrication of his enemies: I just don’t know. So I will reserve judgement on Jonathan Ross, the man.

There is no word yet on who will replace him, but we will let you know as soon as we find out.



  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Personal feelings (which I have tried to omit from above) are that even if this is the right decision, choosing to barrage Ross over Twitter and in such a brutal fashion didn’t look too great for the nature of the SFF community. It would surely have been better to get a petition going for Loncon to see that many felt the decision.

    • Avatar Andrew Reid says:

      I agree, Marc. I’m ambivalent towards Ross* – I’m ambivalent about the Hugos, for that matter – but to me it felt like the announcement was used as an excuse to pile in.

      I would have expected the people unhappy with the choice to email or contact Loncon, rather than @-mentioning Ross himself (in the same way people always go on about not @-mentioning authors if you hate their books). I saw a reply by Ross himself doing the rounds: lifted out of context it seemed deranged, but considering the queue of people lining up to tell him to his face that they HATE him, I can understand that he lost his cool.

      Meanwhile, there were plenty of tweeters losing their cool on both sides of the fence, each using the other’s vitriol as ammunition in their ever-escalating scramble for the high ground. It boggles my mind that people started purging their friends lists of one another over yesterday’s drama – that *Jonathan bloody Ross* is the line in the sand.

      Also, there were quite a few questioning his geek credentials: literally stating that he is not “one of us.” Does that make us look inclusive and welcoming? Jim Chines stated quite bluntly (in reply to Sam Sykes) that he doesn’t mind alienating those who make a career out of abusing women and the disabled. If we ignore the reductive summary of Ross’s career for the moment, is that really how you change things? Cut out the bits you don’t like with no opportunity for reform or reconciliation?

      If the community had come together and produced a brief to present to the Worldcon chair on their expectations for Ross’s presentation – “we have our reservation about this choice, but we’re willing to give it a shot. Here is our collective feedback, and if he bombs then it’s unequivocally his fault” – wouldn’t that have been a better road to take?

      Sorry for the massively long response.

      *fwiw, I really enjoyed his stint on Film ’99-’10. I didn’t always agree with his reviews, but he did a good job of making even niche film releases seem accessible.

      • Avatar Amanda N says:

        There were people who went to the chair with concerns and were told that it wasn’t up for debate. Some of these people resigned over the choice because they weren’t comfortable with Ross. Not because of his credentials, but because he’s well known for saying stupid and hurtful things about women. Given the various problems that SFF is already having with making women feel marginalized and not welcome, there were a lot of women who didn’t feel comfortable with his selection.

        I’m also uncomfortable with the way that Seanan McGuire was singled out here. She had a LOT more to say on Ross’s selection than just that, mostly stemming from the fact that she and a lot of other people thought that, should she win, Ross would make a comment about her weight. Because he DOES do that. So a happy moment would be turned to one of shame and embarrassment.

        Maybe it wouldn’t happen. But it was enough to make her think twice about going to the awards, period.

        SFF has already had a lot of problems with people saying shit stupid stuff about women lately. I can understand why a lot of people weren’t happy with the idea of having a host for the Hugos that is KNOWN for saying shit stupid stuff about women, too.

        • Avatar Overlord says:

          I do agree it was the right decision, but I think it could have been handled better. Now I worry that it will come across that our community said ‘stupid shit about Jonathan Ross’ to outsiders 🙁

          • Avatar Dakota says:

            Especially considering Ms. McGuire DIDN’T @ Mr. Ross in her Twitter feed, only the convention Twitter account. She was angry, and responded angrily. She’s far from the only one.

  2. Avatar John Cowell says:

    Jonathan Ross is one of my favorite interviewers & presenters. His funny, edgy style has entertained me for years and his clear and unashamed love of sff has not only been encouraging as he’s a huge voice in the UK mainstream but also one of the best advertisements for the genre we have going. More than that, he’s one of us. Authored comics and promoted us on TV & other media. So I agree. Huge own goal. And if anyone’s starting a petition to get him back–Neil Gaiman im looking at you–I’ll be the first to sign.Love ya Wossy.

  3. Avatar Arin says:

    I sure hope I’m never asked to host the Hugos. Twitter would undoubtedly find something wrong with something I said, one, and skewer me in its unforgiving court of public opinion.

    Hines, especially, needs to learn more about graciousness and forgiveness and get off his high horse. He comes off, constantly, as incredibly self-righteous.

    Maybe it’s because I have little to no experience with the comedian in question. But his tendency for knee-jerk, histrionic reaction to the slightest perceived (if not real) injustice grows wearisome.

  4. Avatar Sandra Norval says:

    Marc, a fantastic and well balanced summary of the saddening events of yesterday.

    I’ve been a bit of a genre voyeur over the last year or so, with other commitments taking priority right now but that doesn’t make me feel less of a member of the community. I hadn’t realised that I should be worrying about my ‘credentials’ as an sff fan, so maybe I should be working up my fandom CV just in case…

    Of course, I don’t really feel that way at all, but the discussions that I’ve been reading suggest that that is who we are as a community. Seriously? I grew up as the oddball that never fitted anywhere, and I know many who feel the same way, but we all fit here because we’re different and Jonathan Ross is exactly the same. He walks his own path and loves SFF which made him a fantastic choice in my opinion.

    I’ve read through the link in other pieces about his so-called 10 worst ‘offences’ against minorities and what I see is more of an Alf Garnett type of humour, making caricatures out of grotesque behaviours in others such as men objectifying women. It’s done in a way that emphasises the behaviour, showing them up for what they are, but it takes unambiguous intelligence to see it and sadly, it appears some have failed to get it.

    I agree with Andrew that feelings could have been aired to inform him of appropriateness for the audience at the awards,. The tweeted tirade we actually witnessed showed up those in the community that see more benefit in a cheap ‘win’ in a twitter thread than in being seen as fair, unbiased and respectful.

    The other side of the coin is that those caught up in the row forgot that they were also publicly displaying themselves and the impression that came across was, for me, not a good one.

    I feel very disappointed, particularly after the BFS events a couple of years ago, it seems we still haven’t learnt a thing. Still, the good news is that Fantasy Faction, once again shows a balanced voice, proud of you as always!

    And yes, John, if there were to be a petition to reinstate Wossy, I’d sign too.

  5. Avatar AL G says:

    Is that the guy from Penn & tellers fool us? What’s wrong with him? Wouldn’t it be good to get a high profile celeb celebrating genre? (from US, oblivious to controversy)

  6. Avatar J says:

    What I find very surprising in all of this is that Neil Gaiman hasn’t said a thing despite (as alleged by Jonathan Ross and there’s no reason to doubt that he’s genuine in this,) asking Ross to host the Hugos on behalf of the Loncon 3 Chairs. It seems pretty unfair to Jonathan Ross and to the Loncon 3 committee that the person who brought this unholy alliance together is keeping his mouth shut. I thought I respected Neil Gaiman but that respect is slipping – not because he suggested Jonathan Ross, even though Ross is not a sensitive or appropriate host for these awards, but because he suggested Jonathan Ross, brought it all about, and is basically throwing his friend under the bus with his silence. Either come out and say you were wrong or come out in support of Ross, but do something.

    The most recent awards show I saw Jonathan Ross host was the Comedy Awards and wasn’t impressed then. Jokes felt forced, audience wasn’t with him or against him they were just ‘there’, it didn’t feel like a good atmosphere. I don’t know how much of that was Jonathan Ross’ doing, but it wasn’t entertaining, it was uncomfortable.

    Added to that is the issue that sci-fi has been a boys club for too long and most convention committees acknowledge that and have some claims to try and improve diversity. I haven’t seen a single tweet doubting Jonathan Ross’ geek cred or his genuine interest in the genre, but I do empathise with the people nervous of his style and not wanting to support someone who has taken part in ‘nasty’ comedy – the Andrew Sachs phone-in was nasty and no matter how many times Jonathan Ross apologises he still did a nasty thing to a respected older person and publically embarrassed Sachs and his granddaughter, who isn’t a public figure didn’t deserve to have her dirty laundry waved out in front of the general public, never mind her own grandfather. It may have been an error in judgement, but Jonathan Ross is an adult and capable of assessing whether an idea is good or crap before taking part.

    If they’re trying to support diversity why don’t they choose John Barrowman? Why don’t they choose Stephen Fry? Why don’t they choose Stephen K. Amos, if it has to be a comedian? Why don’t they choose Eddie Izzard? Why don’t they choose Miranda Hart, or Gina Yashere, or Susan Calman? I get that Jonathan Ross is high profile and has done this kind of thing before, but another straight white guy isn’t ticking any diversity boxes. We’ve heard enough from straight white guys for a while. It’s time for everyone else to be heard.

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      To be fair, I think there was logic behind Ross as a choice in the sense that he is married to a film producer (she worked on Kick Ass for example), he has written Sci-Fi and a number of Comic Books and is generally known for being a geek – promoting Game of Thrones as one of the best things on TV for example. That said, it doesn’t make sense to bring him in ‘this year’ after all the SFWA stuff. As you said, it would have been logical for Loncon to make an effort to show they were supporting diversity or at least sensitive to what has been going on.

      • Avatar J says:

        Thanks for your thoughts. I think this is one of the more even handed round-ups of what happened this weekend!

        I definitely think Jonathan Ross can’t be dismissed as not belonging to the sci-fi ‘community’ (…whatever that actually is since we’re all a disparate bunch who happen to enjoy sci-fi, it’s a bit like claiming there’s a ‘car-driving community’ or a ‘pigeon-fanciers community’…) since he’s demonstrated so many times that he is a genuine passionate fan and contributor to the genre, but I think it was a mistake to ask him to host without testing the waters by giving him a place on, say, a comics discussion panel at a convention first (which I think he would do brilliantly on because it’s not about comedy or making people laugh, it really is about geeking out about what you love and I think he would have shown the more genuine side of himself there.)

        Since his wife has hosted her own tv shows previously and is a previous Hugo winner I think had Jane Goldman been asked to host the reaction would have probably been quite favourable – and I actually believe that had Jane Goldman and Jonathan Ross been offered the gig as a double the reaction could have been a great coup – the Sci-fi community know and respect her and people who don’t know anything about Sci-fi will generally know him. Hugos hosts are usually drawn from the pool of previous winners and nominees, so asking Jane to host had precedent that asking Jonathan did not.

        I was definitely uncomfortable with how people were directing their comments at him when any criticism about his appointment should have gone to the convention organisers, and even then, those criticisms didn’t need to be worded in quite the way that they were! Jonathan Ross’ involvement neatly began and ended with his agreement to host, the decision to ask him in the first place (and the decision to not involve the convention committee in the decision) belonged to the Chairs via Neil Gaiman, and I would also argue that they did an awful job of preparing him for the negative reaction he was likely to get from some quarters. He didn’t deserve the barrage of tweets directed at him and seemed pretty shocked by the negative reaction, which tells me that no one prepared him for the idea that having him host wouldn’t be widely praised.

        It’s a shame that this all kicked off at all – it ruined a weekend in the Goldman-Ross household, made fandom look bonkers and vicious, and made the convention organisers look stupid. I don’t think anyone came out of this very well.

  7. Avatar Johann says:

    I lost a lot of respect for quite a few authors and bloggers over how they attacked Ross. Sure, he’s a little controversial, but basically bullying the guy to withdraw is not on. And this comes from quite a few people who has stated that they are against bullying and exclusion of any type.

    This same blogger and authors will be very vocal in a few weeks, bemoaning that SFF isn’t taken seriously by anyone in other literary circles. This showed that they shouldn’t be taken seriously in anything, seeing as they are more than a little biased and two faced if their actions. This idiotic knee jerk attack proved a few people no better than the trolls lurking in every corner of the internet.

    And really, bloggers on twitter stating that it’s good he withdrew because we “cant take the risk?” What, that a fan and comedian might tell an off colour joke or two? Really? Not even giving him a chance? The guy wasn’t even going to get paid, was asked by Gaiman to host as a favour, he did it for the love of SFF, and now parts of the community basically kicked him in the testes.

    Some days it’s depressing to be an SFF fan. This is certainly one of them, since the illusion that most people are nice has been comprehensively shattered. Shame on the SFF trolls, you know who you are.

    • Avatar Colum says:

      # I lost a lot of respect for quite a few authors and bloggers over
      # how they attacked Ross. Sure, hes a little controversial, but basically
      # bullying the guy to withdraw is not on. And this comes from quite
      # a few people who has stated that they are against bullying and
      # exclusion of any type.

      These people you speak of, where have they been when we had trolls in the community attacking the writers, calling for them to be beheaded (as I’ve had) or have acid thrown in their faces, etc, etc?

      Online bullying has become standard practice in SF. If it’s not actual death-threats or threats of violence (all supposedly made in jest) then it’s name-calling and claims that you’re racist, mysogynistic, etc, etc. They thrown the mud, hoping some will stick. If it doesn’t, they say it was all in jest, if it does, then it’s a pile-on.

      I’ve had fiction that I wrote ‘critiqued’ by people online in ways that painted me in a really bad image, and it was only thanks to a couple of lines in the story that disproved the thesis, that I was able to defend myself. What if I’d cut those lines, they didn’t pull much weight? Well, then I’d be pilloried, not for what I’d written, but for what someone could *claim* was in my story.

      To be fair, I’m sure that these people believe they’re opposed to bullying in all it’s forms, but they don’t actually follow through on that when it’s there team doing the bullying. This isn’t an issue of ‘bad apples in the barrel’. SF has created a culture in which people expect to conduct themselves in certain ways. I’m sure that many of the people who’ve attacked me in various ways *believe* the things they say, because the community conditions us all to think the worst of each other by default. We’ve been teaching people to go from 0-to-angry in an instant, and rewarding them for being outspoken on that basis online. How many times have you heard someone saying “don’t give me the tone argument!” as an excuse for aggressive name-calling behavior.

      People in the community run in packs, and are used to having a pack at their back so they can pile in and beat down someone who’s opinion is different to theirs. That’s what all the ‘debates’ that people refer to really are: they aren’t debates, they’re gang warfare. (At least, that’s what I’ve seen. I’ve never seen a debate in the community, I’ve never seen two people with starkly different views talking respectfully to each other in this community. I don’t think this community can do that. To be fair, not many can.)

      The problem is that there’s always a bigger fish. The community has gotten used to mass-attack as the means to get it’s own way, but sooner or later it’s going to try those tactics outside of it’s fiefdom, and then things are going to go south very quickly.

      It would be wonderful to think that Rossgate would cause SF people to reevaluate how they conduct themselves, but I am confident it won’t. There’s more like this to come until we get The Big One.


  8. Avatar Narmitaj says:

    Nitpick: The comment you quoted, ie “For what it’s worth, I think a lot of the worries about Jonathan Ross are overblown.[…] So I will reserve judgement on Jonathan Ross, the man” is not exactly a reply to Charles Stross’ blog post but was a comment by Stross himself in his own blog comments.

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