Ricky Gervais: Over?


Written by Jack Sharp
22 Sunday 22nd January 2012

Gervais fans generally respond to criticism of their hero with either accusations of jealousy or by simply suggesting that those opposed to Gervais are offended by his “genius”, which at times stretches over so far into the realm of genius that it starts to seem more like a desperate man laughing at a dwarf in a frog suit.

Since the release of The Office, Gervais has epitomised intelligent, dry British comedy for many comedy fans. “Genius’ is a word I’ve often heard used to describe him, yet Gervais’ career is hardly proof of this. Ricky is not a comedy genius, much in the same way that I don’t think that genuinely great comics like George Carlin and Bill Hicks were geniuses. They were, however, extremely talented comedians who used humour to break new ground and tackle taboo subjects. They mocked institutions, corporate greed and ignorance, amongst many other things. Ricky has repeatedly proved that he favours much easier targets, but insists that he’s making fun of prejudice, not endorsing it.

So, in case you’re not clear, when Gervais is portraying his pre-Office character Derek Noakes, a 38-year-old man with a non-specific mental condition, that bares similarities to Down’s syndrome, he’s making fun of prejudice and definitely not endorsing it. We’re not laughing at Derek, but at our own (or perhaps Ricky’s) prejudice. Genius.

Gervais satirising prejudice.

Of course, it’s unfair to compare Gervais to two of the most influential comedians of all time. But then again, Gervais is the UK's self-proclaimed biggest comedian, and somebody who regularly associates himself with comedy greats, mostly through televised meetings orchestrated by his own production company. He’s not wrong either; he probably is one of our best-known recent offering. And as such, Gervais takes it upon himself to tackle all the major issues. This is seemingly why he took a metaphorical blowtorch to Susan Boyle in his latest stand-up DVD Science.

“I don’t think that she’d be where she was today if it wasn’t for the fact that she looks like such a fucking mong,” he joked, before briefly considering that some people in the audience might be offended by his irrepressible, shining genius. “’He said mong!’” he pretended to whine, impersonating an over-sensitive viewer. “Yeah, he did.”

The routine, perhaps in Gervais’ imagination, was not too dissimilar to the way that Chris Rock used the “N-word” in his acclaimed routine "Niggas vs. Black People", except in Science, Ricky uses a taboo word to ridicule an unattractive lady from an ITV talent competition.

The difference is, of course, that Chris Rock understands the importance of a joke’s context and that the tastefulness of a joke is determined by who’s telling it. If you’re applying pressure upwards, then fair enough; if you’re a multimillionaire who regularly travels around on a private jet, then perhaps not. 

Given Ricky’s popularity then, you’d assume that his targets would be extremely limited. A comedian of his stature would surely have to be very creative with their material. So why then does Gervais continue to return to these easy targets, believing that the disabled and dwarves are ripe for ridicule? It’s as strange as Gallagher, the 65-year-old, widely despised (although hugely profitable) prop comic, inserting homophobic and racist one-liners into his act. It serves little overall purpose, other than making the chap look like an enormous, unrelenting twat.

Perhaps Gervais and his admirers believe that he’s being brave or edgy, but he isn’t. This is easy comedy. And while Gervais likes to think that he’s on the same level as his peers like Garry Shandling, Larry David and Louis C.K., his output doesn’t quite match up. Unfortunately, while Ricky’s lack of self-awareness and writing talents diminish, his ego continues to grow, so perhaps that’s where the irony lies. He might be a multimillionaire, but perhaps in many ways, he feels that he is applying pressure upwards. He’s an ethically small man, laughing at a physically small man. Perhaps not.

So what next for Ricky? A second series of his genius dwarf lampooning sitcom Life’s Too Short and (fingers crossed!) a series of Derek in which Gervais aims to attack prejudice head on, and in no way endorses it. Then, who knows? Perhaps a prejudice shattering sitcom, featuring Gervais as a mentally disabled, black, female Asian Jew? Maybe a show around another of his pre-Office characters, Micky Bluff, a homosexual plumber who’s prone to making pipe-based euphemisms? Watch out prejudice!

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  • Guest: ktwachtmann
    Tue 24 - Jan - 2012, 10:55
    I once bought my sick sister Ricky Gervais' stand up dvd to cheer her up. She has ME and can barely get out of bed. Turns out he does a whole bit insulting people with ME, saying they're faking. She cried a lot.