Comedian Ricky Gervais seems to have gone off the rails in a big way. After his breakthrough series The Office and the enjoyable film The Invention Of Lying, he seems to have run out of ideas and resorted to what other comedians have done in that same situation and that is resort too cheap jokes targeting marginalized groups.
I wrote before about his Netflix stand up special that I stopped watching when he began with an extended riff where he repeatedly dead-named Caitlyn Jenner, presumably as a response to him being criticized for doing so when he hosted the Golden Globes. Rather than. take the occasion to redeem himself, he doubled down, and seemed smugly proud for doing so.
But that is not all. He has written, directed, and stars in a comedy-drama series on Netflix called After Life where he plays a reporter for a small town weekly community free newspaper. He is deeply grieving over the death of his wife from cancer, so much so that he was suicidal at one point and often acts like a jerk towards other people. The series was getting very good reviews and I decided to watch it, thinking that perhaps he had learned something from the criticisms of his Netflix show.
No such luck. It started out well in his role as a reporter is to interview local people who have interesting stories to tell and this is where things got ugly because to him ‘interesting’ usually seems to mean people who can most kindly be described as misfits. Small town eccentrics can be portrayed humorously and sympathetically at the same time, if one is a good writer. But Gervais clearly lacks that skill because he sets up certain people to be figures of fun by caricaturing them to the extreme. The one transgender person is like that. The one gay character is like that. He goes after overweight people. And all this is mixed in with a constant steam of extremely crude and misogynistic language and graphic verbal descriptions of sexual acts, reliable indicators that a writer’s well of imagination is running dry and is resorting to try and shock to hide the fact. He did not ridicule people with disabilities. Maybe that comes in later episodes. I will never know because it was too much for me and I gave up on the series and on him.
Gervais’s defense against criticisms is the same as that of a lot of comedians who are called out for this kind of shtick, that he makes fun of everybody equally and that nobody should be immune from humorous lampooning and that he is the real victim here for being censured by people who have no sense of humor. But the point is that he was not being funny, not in the least. He was just being mean, very mean, especially towards particular targets. He may think that because he has written his own character in After Life as often behaving in unsympathetic ways, that makes it ok. But it does not. While his character often behaves like a jerk, he is never a ridiculous figure. We are invited to see his obnoxious behavior as an outlet for his grief. No such grace or insight is given to his other targets who are just figures of fun with no redeeming qualities. It was disgusting.
Comedian Nish Kumar has had enough of Gervais and delivers a stinging rebuke.
“What [Gervais] is doing is not edgy or interesting,” Kumar goes on to say. “All [he is] is just the same as every other rich white dude comedian who gets too successful, runs out of ideas, and so just shits on the latest minority group. In the 1970s that was my fucking family, it’s Black and minority ethnic people, in the 80s it was gay people. Trans people are just the latest to get it in the neck from comedians who can’t be bothered to try at their jobs anymore. I cannot stand there and watch another dogs**t comedian go, ‘Oooh if a woman can identify as a man, maybe I’ll identify as a chair’ – why don’t you identify as a good comedian you hack motherf**kers!”
Gervais is clearly incorrigible. I looked online for reviews of his show and they seem to be generally positive, sometimes gushingly so, and they don’t mention any of the things that I found so repulsive, which makes me wonder if we even watched the same show.