The annoying smugness of Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais is an atheist, stand up comedian, and actor. He made a pretty funny film with an interesting premise called The Invention of Lying that I reviewed favorably back in 2010. More recently, though, he has joined with those comedians who are ticked off with audiences who do not find humor aimed at marginalized groups to be funny. They claim that they are being silenced for their edgy humor by those who can’t take a joke.

He has a new stand up comedy show Humanity on Netflix that I started watching. After a fairly funny opening bit about dogs, he goes into a routine complaining about the sensitivity of audiences and how he got complaints after his hosting of the Golden Globes award show a few years back. He then went on a riff that he must have thought was clever. He said that before he hosted that show, his partner said she hoped he would not say anything that would upset people too much. He said that he tried to get her riled up by pretending to her that he was going to tell some jokes that he knew would offend. He then told the audience the jokes that he said he had told her, even though he had decided they should not be told.

He then said that he had got grief from the transgender community because during the show he had told a joke about Caitlyn Jenner and had mentioned her former name, something that is known as ‘dead naming’. He said that he had not heard the term before or that it was considered not appropriate. He then said that there must have been a time when Jenner was known by his former name and he imagined a conversation that Jenner might have had with her then doctor and used that conversation device to have the doctor, in every sentence, call Jenner by her former name because that would have been what she was called then. He kept reminding the audience that he was not calling Jenner by her former name but that the doctor at that time would have had to have used it

While doing this unfunny routine, he was smirking at the audience. It was clear that he was preening about his own cleverness, that he was telling offensive jokes and dead naming Jenner under the guise of merely describing jokes that he said were offensive and that he would not tell. It is like children using racial slurs while pretending that what they are doing is talking about racial slurs and how bad they are. It is what children might think of a clever escape hatch.

It was utterly insufferable and after a few minutes of listening to this tedious routine, I turned him off.

Which raises the question: What is the matter with these comedians? The world is an infinite source of material that one can make fun of. Are they so bereft of imagination that they cannot find humor in all the other areas of life that they have to target marginalized groups? Are they such delicate flowers that any criticism of any of their humor makes them want to get their own back in such a childish way?


  1. says

    I’m so tired of all these snowflake comedians who whine that the world owes them applause when all they do is recycle tired material. They are so hypersensitive, “i want to be unfunny but you should cheer anyway.” They should respect fans’ right to free speech like “you suck Ricky!”

  2. colinday says

    People can only take (or fail to take) jokes about themselves. So unless Gervais’ audience was trans people, they could neither take nor fail to take such “jokes”.

  3. raym says

    The first time I came across him was in the original UK series of The Office. His character made me cringe, which of course it was meant to, and it wasn’t until much later that I realised it was also pretty much his real life persona. Since then I’ve steered clear of anything with which he is associated (I’m sure that troubles him!).

  4. sonofrojblake says

    More recently, though, he has joined with those comedians who are ticked off with certain individuals within their larger audiences who do not find humor aimed at marginalized groups to be funny

    Fixed it for you. Gervais isn’t ticked off with “audiences”. He’s ticked off with people who weren’t in the audience at one of his gigs (i.e. didn’t pay for a ticket) who’ve seen part or all of his routine online (i.e. didn’t pay for a DVD) criticising his material.

    I think SJWs (note: I identify as an SJW) are on a sticky wicket when it comes to this situation, i.e. criticising comedians and their material.

    We’re usually OK criticising politicians -- policies they espouse have direct, real world consequences. Jokes, on the other hand, contribute to a climate -- which is a much more nebulous concept, and it’s much harder to pin down a specific joke/routine as being damaging in an of itself.

    It doesn’t help that many people on our side are, or certainly come across as, humourless self-important pricks who will start from the position that “that’s not funny”. This utterly fails as an argument every time because the comedian in question can cock a sceptical eyebrow and indicate the hundreds or possibly thousands of people in the room laughing their arses off. If you’re the only person in a room not laughing at a joke, there are other explanations available than “it’s not funny”. “You didn’t get it” and “you are a humourless prick” are for most people more palatable explanations than “the joke is mean and everyone laughing at it is thus a terrible person”. Which is sometimes the case… but “funny” is subjective, and if there’s a room full of people laughing at something, it just seems perverse or ignorant to state baldly that it’s not funny.

    In which case you have to fall back to “I personally don’t find that funny”, to which a legitimate answer is a shrug and “OK”. Every comedian, no matter how right on, will tell you that some people don’t find their work funny, and that’s fine -- to paraphrase Stewart Lee, if you prefer a milder comedian, go find one.

    Which raises the question: What is the matter with these comedians?

    Indeed. What on earth is the matter with these multimillionaires who got to that position by selling a product people want to pay them for? Who do they think they are, churning out more of the same successful product over and over and making more and more money and winning more awards, when I personally don’t choose to pay for it?

  5. says

    used that conversation device to have the doctor, in every sentence, call Jenner by her former name

    In my country it is impossible for me to change my legal name (due to shitty laws). This results in me having two names, what I consider my real name and my legal name. When visiting doctors, I’m obliged to use my legal name. Nonetheless, doctors usually refer to me with “you,” for example, “How are you feeling today?” Purposefully trying to annoy a trans person is the only reason why somebody would use their non-preferred name in every sentence.

  6. anat says

    sonofrojblake, people who enjoy jokes attacking members of marginalized groups are people who are not treating the marginalized with empathy. Either they are being assholes deliberately or being assholes thoughtlessly. Plenty of people change their views and tastes regarding such jokes once they apply empathy and realize they don’t want to be such assholes. Many of the people who object to the asshole jokes are former fans who wanted to stop being assholes or supporting assholes. This is the point of bringing up the criticism.

  7. Ridana says

    There was recently a video of a group of frat (?) guys beating a duck before they strangled it to death while they all laughed. They obviously thought this was funny. Is it perverse or ignorant to state baldly that it’s not funny and there’s something wrong with people who think it is? Just shrug and say well it’s funny to some people?

    Telling jokes that dehumanize people is not the same as beating them to death, but normalizing the former sure makes the latter easier.

  8. says

    Revolutionaries always turn into conservatives once the staus quo is one that they like. They will fight for change until they no longer want change. That’s when the bigotry and oppression rear their ugly heads. It’s the same regardless of king or dictator, court jester or comedian.

  9. ardipithecus says

    For some reason, many comedians think that punching down is somehow edgy. It is not edgy, it is merely pathetic.

  10. Steve Cameron says

    Little late to the discussion here but, respectfully, I think there’s more going on with Gervais’ Jenner routine that you’re not giving him credit for. The big thing you’ve ignored is that it’s multi-millionaire Caitlyn Jenner he’s needling, whose greatest claims to fame — from track star to Olympic medallist to step-father to Kim Kardashian and father to Kim’s equally famous sisters — were under her dead name. There’s no question that Gervais is testing where one crosses the line with these subjects, but he couldn’t have found a more deserving subject than that rich, out-of-touch, dead-weight celebrity. He is very aware of “punching down” and thought that, given her past, Jenner was not “beneath” him. He’s actually discussed this bit in particular many times on his Sirius radio show and conceded that he came off meaner than he’d meant to and that he’d do it differently, with more consideration, if he could do it over.

    Stand up isn’t Gervais real strength in my opinion, and his specials all suffer from the appearance of being overwritten, which takes someone like me out of them, He’s not the best “edgy” comedian either, not by a long shot. If you’re interested in seeing a master go up to the line and gleefully cross it over and over and then stomp on it so you can’t see the line anymore, may I recommend Anthony Jeselnik.

  11. John Morales says


    If you’re interested in seeing a master go up to the line and gleefully cross it over and over and then stomp on it so you can’t see the line anymore, may I recommend Anthony Jeselnik.

    I’m not that interested, but I essayed the task. After all, I did like Billy Connelly back in the day.

    After a few minutes I learned: His brother is a “fucking idiot” wanker, his grandmother is demented so he restrains her. Funny for some, I guess. Gave up around that point.

    (You found that funny and masterful, did you?)

    Also, if he crosses the line, he’s crossed the line, no?

  12. ColeYote says

    Whining about political correctness is doing a lot more to kill comedy than political correctness ever could.

  13. Steve Cameron says

    I don’t know what to say John. Your mileage may vary? Watch the whole hour? Comedians aren’t what they used to be? There’s no accounting for taste? I wouldn’t consider Connelly to be an especially edgy comedian myself — not any more than countless others from his heyday to now — so it’s probably a matter of perspective.

    However, if you want to double down, Netflix has a series called The Degenerates that you could look into. I haven’t seen it, but I like the comedian from the first episode (I think), Big Jay Oakerson. His Live at Webster Hall special from a couple years ago (not on Netflix) is a personal fave.

    But if you’re looking for funny without any problems, pc or otherwise, my favorite comedian these days has to be John Mulaney. I’d recommend him to everyone! 🙂

  14. John Morales says


    There’s no accounting for taste?

    That’s the one. Though mine is, well, eclectic.

    It’s not that I particularly care about edginess, it’s that what I want from a comedian is funniness.

    I do appreciate your recommendation of John Mulaney, so thanks for that.

    (Oh, and I did get it wrong; it’s Connolly — but you knew who I meant, so all good)

  15. =8)-DX says

    @Steve Cameron
    Anyone still pretending that Gervais was being criticised for “punching up” at Jenner due to her being loved and admired is either an oaf or a liar.

    Just as blackface or n-word jokes are no better when made in the context of murderer OJ Simpson, finding an obnoxious, rich and privileged trans woman to shoot your shitty transphobic jokes at, to deadname and compare to chimps.

    This shit harms all trans people, it’s not funny, it’s not clever and fuck Caitlyn Jenner, but Gervais and his snotty defenders can stop pretending he’s a poorly misunderstood genius. It’s precisely because we can see what he’s doing and how it shows he understands neither comedy nor trans issues, that makes his attempts at comedy boring, bigotted garbage.

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