Known for his smart mouth and quick wit, Richie Tozier masks trauma and the pain of childhood bullying with humor that evolves into a successful career.
“Welcome to the Losers Club” is a seven-part series that looks at and analyzes each member of the famed Losers Club from Stephen King’s It. It will be published in the weeks leading up to “It: Chapter Two”. Beyond this point, there will be spoilers for the novel It and for the film “It: Chapter One”. There will be discussion of extremely upsetting topics. such as bullying and racism. Please proceed with caution.
Richie Tozier is the resident jokester of the Losers Club. He’s the sort to always mask his deeper turmoil with a quip—whether the quips are well placed or ill-timed is certainly debatable.
Richie is best known for his what is referred to as his “voices.” Richie’s voices are his clever imitations that eventually bring him much fame and success as a radio DJ. But as a child more than often his wisecracks go awry and draw the ire of Henry Bowers and his equally sinister friends.
Sometimes he can be downright cringe worthy with his adolescent antics and less than sensitive impressions. But as an adult, he grows into a deep thinking and sometimes poignant man who is battling the scars of childhood trauma.
When Richie receives his phone call from Mike informing him that It has returned, he is quite literally triggered by the mention of Derry. Memories of being bullied start to swirl around his mind instead of fighting against the eldritch entity that terrorizes Derry. He recalls the various slurs that Henry Bowers and his group of goons used to relentlessly hurl at him.
This is not an uncommon occurrence in those that suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder as, “…a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”
Richie is experiencing what is called intrusive memories. He muses on his PTSD episode, further thinking:
They’re not records but dead bodies. You buried them deep but now there’s some kind of crazy earthquake going on and the ground is spitting them up to the surface. You’re not Rich “Records” Tozier down there; down there you’re just Richie “Four-Eyes” Tozier and you’re with your buddies and you’re so scared it feels like your balls are turning into Welch’s grape jelly. Those aren’t doors, and they’re not opening. Those are crypts, Richie. They’re cracking open and the vampires you thought were dead are all flying out again. (King 64)
There are people who might think that this is an extreme reaction to bullying, much less bullying that took place 27 years earlier.
But that’s an entirely dismissive and harmful view that allows bullying to take place. Bullying has been viewed by society simply as some perverse rite of passage that happens to all children and that the effects of bullying are only temporary. This is the furthest thing from the truth.
Bullying is its own insidious and damaging kind of abuse that many children have to face in their lifetime and bear the permanent psychologic scars from.
Bullying is even considered an adverse childhood experience, commonly referred to as ACEs. The article “School Bullying: Do Adult Survivors Perceive Long-Term Effects?” by Nicholas Carlisle and Eric Rofes, recounts a study done involving adult men who were bullied in their youth. The findings report:
Many wrote about the vulnerability, fear, and anxiety that bullying engendered, ranging from mistrust of playful banter to constant anxiety, running away from school, and, in 1 case, symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Several used evocative language (destroyed, obliterated, and inferiority complex) to describe the extent to which their self-esteem was affected. Others reported suppressing the feelings of fear and anger and the development of psychosomatic symptoms (e.g., bedwetting for 3 years). (19)
The Carlisle and Rofes study is illuminating and helps us understand Richie and his trauma.
The damaging effects of bullying don’t stop there. The grim reality is that the effects of bullying on children is similar to that of child abuse. Carlisle and Rofes state:
There are many objective similarities between school bullying and child abuse. There are some differences (linguistically, the term school bullying generally refers to acts of aggression perpetrated by a minor on a minor, whereas the term child abuse is generally reserved to actions perpetrated by an adult on a child). In both situations, however, the perpetrator relies on superior power to violate the child’s psychological and sometimes physical integrity. In both cases, it is difficult for the child to escape the perpetrator. (23)
Richie’s reactions and subsequent intrusive thoughts and memories are completely in line with his experiences and are reasonable given his trauma.
Part of Richie will always feel like he’s that bullied young boy, and the idea of going back to the place that is so tied to his trauma is terrifying to him.
Mike’s call dredges up horrible memories and causes him to experience an onslaught of feelings that he has fought desperately to keep pushed down below the surface over the years — and the distance he has put between himself and Derry, Maine.
A good deal of Richie’s humor and his voices are a way to combat the horrors of the cruel society that he found himself in as a child, and he wears it as a sort of armor as an adult.
In childhood, Richie is often reined in by the other children, particularly Stan, with his jokes and capers. Adolescent Richie manages to walk the thin line between irritating and endearing. But in the end, he’s more lovable than he is annoying. Even with all his goofiness considered, he manages to be full of heart and abiding love for his friends.
But his inherent nature can make it difficult to take Richie seriously.
At face value, it’s extremely easy to dismiss Richie and his issues because of the façade that he displays to the world.
With Richie, King produces some of the most insightful writing on how extreme bullying can lead to anxious and traumatized adults who have trouble coping when the ghosts from the past manage to creep up.
Much like with the other Losers, King has a way of making Richie’s story personal to the reader by grounding the tale as a whole in these all too real world issues.
It’ll be interesting to see adult Richie’s character translated to the present day in Chapter Two.
Radio is still very much popular today like it was in 1986 when It was published. It would be neat to see Richie as a DJ on a Sirius XM channel or even have branched out into podcasting. But aside from that, I see Richie’s character and arc staying extremely similar to how they are written in the book.
The trailers have teased audiences relentlessly with footage showing a scene very close to one in the book where Richie has an encounter with It involving Derry’s famously perturbing Paul Bunyan statue. With what we’ve seen so far from interviews, fans can rest assured that Richie is in good hands with Bill Hader.
Hader has spoken at length in featurettes and interviews that, while It is very much a horror movie, it is also a story about trauma and facing that trauma.
In fact, Hader has been getting quite the buzz from previews screenings for his portrayal as the Losers Club’s resident trashmouth. Some critics have even brought up how Oscar worthy they think his performance is.
One thing is for certain: it would be lovely and gratifying to see It: Chapter Two make it to the Academy Awards in any capacity.