2019 Dec 31, 7:43am
138 views 1 comments
There’s a moment in Ricky Gervais’s 2018 Netflix stand-up show Humanity when he talks about buying a first-class air ticket, only to be informed that nuts would not be served on board due to a fellow passenger’s serious allergy. ‘I was fuming,’ he says. ‘If being near a nut kills you, do we really want that in the gene pool? I’ve never wanted nuts more. I felt that she was infringing on my human right to eat nuts.’A member of the public tweeted him directly to complain after hearing him tell this story on The Tonight Show, but instead of apologizing Ricky wrote a routine about it. As he points out, when someone is needlessly offended, ‘it makes it funnier’. Contrary to those who argue that political correctness is killing comedy, he insists that it is driving it. ...‘The new puritans aren’t 60-year-old women in twinsets and pearls, the Christian right trying to make us turn off our televisions because they don’t like it. It’s a younger crowd with trendy haircuts, who you’d think would have left-leaning liberal sensibilities, who have invented this new term “hate speech”.’ ...... now the term “racist” is meaningless. It went from someone who was filled with vitriol and hate and oppressed particular races to meaning a bloke who didn’t let you park where you want. The word “Nazi” used to mean someone who wanted to take people to a concentration camp. Now it means fighting for someone’s right to say whatever they like.’ ...I have a routine [in his new stand-up tour, Supernature] about these comedians writing articles in the Guardian, trying to set the rules of comedy, insisting that we should never punch down. And I say sometimes you’ve got to punch down. Like if you’re beating up a disabled toddler.’That’s the kind of line that could so easily be taken out of context and used as ammunition against him. Perhaps it’s a failure among certain critics to appreciate the theatricality of stand-up. It’s the ambiguity of intention, the oscillation back and forth from the persona to the authentic self, that makes the medium so exhilarating. ‘People think that comedy is like the window to your soul,’ he tells me. ‘Well, it isn’t. A lot of the things I say I don’t believe. And it’s a sliding scale. It’s non-binary. Sometimes I mean it and sometimes I 100 percent don’t mean it. And if I have to explain which bits I mean and which I don’t, that destroys it.’In the past, the fear of being misconstrued has led him to delete jokes on Twitter. These days he takes a different view. ‘What’s the point? Why should I expect everyone in the world to get my joke? That’s arrogant. I don’t want to go so low and obvious and anodyne that everyone gets it. Now I challenge people to tell me a joke that’s not offensive and I can find something offensive in it. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Fuck you, my chicken died yesterday.’There is something inherently funny, as well as deeply entitled, about those who believe that stand-up comics should be able to anticipate the personal boundaries of strangers before writing their material. ‘I want people to stop saying “That joke is offensive”. You should say you found it offensive because you’ve got to own the emotion. That’s all it is. It’s an emotion, an opinion. As a comedian you can’t please everyone. If you try you’ll end up pleasing no one and saying nothing.’When the Twitter mobs come, he is never tempted to apologize. ‘You mustn’t, because that’s the end. The end of satire and the erosion of freedom of speech based on people’s feelings will have a catastrophic effect. It’s not just that comedians will be a bit grumpy or won’t be able to say things. It’s not the same as not allowing Bernard Manning to say the N-word on TV. It’s something much, much darker and more Orwellian. It really is.’He considers ‘hate speech’ to be the invention of those who ‘feel they shouldn’t have to hear something they don’t agree with, and want to complain. They can call the police because someone’s wearing a T-shirt they don’t like. This is actually happening.’ ...He believes that the puritanical trend is ‘already on the turn’. I end our conversation by asking how comedians might hasten its demise. ‘Ignore it,’ he says. ‘You keep doing what you always did. I’ve lived through probably three phases of new wokeness in my time, it comes and goes and it has different guises.