Back then, the term 'toxic fandom' hadn't been invented, of course, but recently we've seen it lobbed around in relation to Rick & Morty fans, Star Wars fans, and - as of the past weekend - I've used it to describe Ricky Gervais fans.
I've met Ricky Gervais. Once, many, many years ago, I briefly crossed paths with him when I visited Channel 4 to discuss a Comedy Lab pilot I was working on. Ricky was pre-The Office, but I knew him from The 11 O'Clock Show, where he portrayed a version of himself who - in his own words - probably should've been called "Billy Bigot". You see, then everyone would've got the joke that he was only pretending to be a bigot.
I didn't have a great deal of an opinion of him, to be honest. I didn't watch The 11 O'Clock Show, after a producer turned me down for a job on it and then some of the ideas I'd pitched to them turned up word-for-word in the first episode.
But I knew who he was.
When I entered the room where I was having the meeting, Ricky was in there. He sized me up, nodded an "Alright?", finished the conversation he was having, then told me "it's all about the comedy" - and left. I didn't think much more of it, but got the sense that he'd sized me up, and I was left with the impression that there was a bit of professional rivalry.
Not that he had any clue who I was - why would he? - but it's something I've experienced a few times when meeting with writer-performers over the years; a guardedness, a feeling of them gauging whether I'm a potential threat.
It's weird and one-sided, but it happens.
Having managed to miss Ricky's Channel 4 chat show - where he interviewed, among other people, Jimmy Savile - I didn't really become aware of him again until The Office. Which I loved. I also loved the first series of Extras.
The second series, by contrast, I loathed. It deviated so far from the format of the first, and just came across like he was looking down on everyone working in British comedy. It felt like he was saying "I'm better than all of you". It comes across as deeply, profoundly, narcissistic.
I enjoyed his first big stand-up special, Animals, but since then it has felt like Gervais - mostly when cut loose from his writing, and occasional presenting, partner Stephen Merchant - has been exposed as somebody who got lucky.
His children's book series Flanimals felt like half an idea, and his self-written movies The Invention of Lying and Special Correspondents both came across like first drafts. They appeared as if nobody had dared speak up, because - in true Emperor's New Clothes style - they couldn't possibly have been as bad as they appeared to be.
The luckier Gervais got, the richer he got, and the more the chip on his shoulder seemed to grow. When Ian Hislop criticised Gervais's stand-up, he began ending every show by calling Hislop an "ugly little pug-faced cunt".
You know: it's funny, because it's something Billy Bigot would say!
I actually think Gervais is one of the best, most natural, most talented comic performers Britain has ever produced. When he's being off-the-cuff, he's very funny. I even quite liked David Brent: Life on the Road.
But I started watching his latest stand-up special, Humanity, last week, and I hated what I saw.
In case you don't know, Gervais made some jokes about Caitlyn Jenner when he last hosted The Golden Globes. He got some stick from it, and was accused of being transphobic. This formed the basis of his first protracted routine in Humanity.
He dressed it up as making a point about free speech, and SAYS that offence is about personal taste and feelings, but really... it was just an excuse to make fun of her being trans, seemingly to get back at his critics. It was punching down, aimed at one individual, but I didn't buy for a second that he was doing it to make a point about free speech. It seemed to me that it was entirely because Gervais is incredibly thin-skinned.
It just seems like an enormous waste of his potential.
You'd think that somebody with that much success, that much money, would be able to rise above criticism, but Gervais simply can't. He even talks about it in Animals - how he responds to critical tweets, when he knows he shouldn't. Of course, it's presented in an "I'm so funny aren't I?" way, but if there's always truth in comedy, then the truth of Ricky Gervais is exposed for all to see.
I mean, it's fine. We've all got insecurities. Having money and success doesn't necessarily make them go away. But in terms of his work.... a great, clever, comedian would make themselves the butt of the joke, rather than use their pulpit to kick somebody else whose from a community which is already marginalised, and suffering abuse.
Gervais's comedy doesn't have that weight of intellect of self-awareness behind it. He comes across as bullying and condescending, dropping in 'jokes' about AIDS and dead babies, and Caitlyn Jenner having been known as "Bruce" for 58 years, mining shock for laughter, without presenting a single idea that's particularly witty or insightful or original.
He gets by, of course, because he's such a natural performer, and because millions of people love that stuff. And while they do, Netflix - and others - will continue rolling barrels of money his way.
Maybe Humanity got better past the point I switched off, but I don't much want to hear dead baby and transgender jokes - at least not presented as they are by Gervais - because I had a niece who died of a cot death, and I've got transgender family members who I'm very proud of for having the courage to come out.
Even though seeing my niece's corpse was the single worst moment of my life, I can't expect the childless Gervais and his fans to understand why it might be upsetting to hear somebody make a joke about dead babies. It's fine. Let him joke about it. Let them laugh at how shocking it is.
They absolutely have that right. That's the price we pay for freedom, even if I wish more of us were slightly more capable of empathy.
So, on Saturday I tweeted this: "Got 15 minutes into that Ricky Gervais Humanity stand-up 'special' on Netflix last night, and turned it off. Millions in the bank, and a global platform, and that's what you use it for? What a thoroughly unpleasant little man."
And then it began...
"He uses his global platform to tell jokes? The same humour that gave him that global platform & those millions in the bank.....wots surprising about this to you? He’s just doing wot he has always done. U shud watch the rest...the bit about cot death is hilarious!"
"he also makes millions laugh...what's your contribution for breathing the same air? A jealous ego is ugliness personified. "
"It’s hard to get the joke when you are the joke"
"what a fucking cunt this guy is"
He was talking about me in that last one by the way, not Gervais. He'd tagged his mate to show him what a fucking cunt I am.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. It carried on for more than two days. It washed over me, not least when I saw how many of the people were Trump supporters (Gervais, of course, being massive in the States). I wasn't remotely bothered by any of it - I know me, and they don't, and based upon his comedic output I'm relatively certain I'm a better and more together, even if not as rich, person than Gervais - but it still intrigued me.
These people had, presumably, searched for Gervais, seen my tweet, and thought they should give me a piece of their mind. Why? What the hell is that about? Amiga owners, I sort of get; we were slagging off the Amiga as a dying format, and that stoked their rage. My Gervais tweet didn't tag him, or any of his fans. It's mental.
For the record, I agree with Gervais when he defends free speech. I just don't think he does it in the most sophisticated way, and that's a shame. The points he makes are route one, and seem more like a defence of his own actions, than any broader belief.
When he uses terms like "Get over it" - as he did in the wake of the Count Dankula Nazi Pug conviction, thus temporarily aligning himself with Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins - I roll my eyes, because it's something you'd expect from a 14 year-old.
But yeah, from a comedian's point of view... having the freedom to joke about anything is important. It's their livelihood, but - unfortunately - not all comedians are created equally. Just as we all have the freedom to drive a car, some of us are better drivers than others.
The best comedians can use shock to make a point, or challenge an audience. When Stewart Lee did his joke about vomiting into the "gaping anus of Christ" - a routine that came from a similar place as Gervais's Caitlyn Jenner skit - there was a weight of craft and intelligence and self-awareness behind it which Gervais simply lacks.
When Neil Hamburger tells shocking, filthy, jokes about Paris Hilton, or John Stamos, or DJ Diplo, the joke is on the character - an embittered, hateful, terrible stand-up comedian, whose targets seem entirely random. With "Billy Bigot", there doesn't seem to be an enormous amount of separation between character and creator.
Given Gervais himself, it probably shouldn't surprise me when those defending him aren't the most self-aware and emotionally intelligent people - and think they're defending free speech by defending him.
It's also depressingly unsurprising that there's a big crossover in the fanbases of Gervais and Donald Trump. Both appear thin-skinned, both seemingly driven by emotion over intellect, both using a global platform to settle personal scores, and neither are above mocking disabled people to get a laugh.
And with that, I shall leave you with my favourite Neil Hamburger joke:
Why did ET the Extra Terrestrial love Reese's Pieces so much? Well, because they have the same flavour that cum does on his own planet.