Andrew Doyle is a comedian and creator of the Twitter persona Titania McGrath
The curse of the literal-minded strikes again. This time it’s Ricky Gervais’s new stand-up special SuperNature which has sent the congenitally humourless into conniptions. Predictably, Pink News led the charge with a report that disapprovingly quotes the most offending lines. The effect is not dissimilar to Mary Whitehouse reading aloud the contents of an erotic novel; few are likely to be aroused.
“Ricky Gervais’ new Netflix special is nothing more than an anti-trans garbage fire,” bawls the headline. Apparently, “Gervais ‘jokes’ at the LGBTQ+ community’s expense throughout the show” and “spends much of the special punching down at trans people”. Of course, framing the word “jokes” in inverted commas is a form of criticism as criminally unoriginally as doing so with the word “comedian”, but when it comes to sophisticated analysis from Pink News, one’s expectations are invariably low.
Other activists have been hastily competing to see who can denounce the show in the most histrionic terms. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) issued a statement in which they refer to Gervais as a “so-called comedian” (another cliché) and claimed that SuperNature is “full of graphic, dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes”, “anti-gay rhetoric” and assured us that Netflix would “be held accountable” for content that is “designed to incite hate or violence”.
None of these characterisations of the show is remotely close to the truth, but they do offer us an insight into how comedy is routinely misconstrued in the strange and moiling clamour of the culture wars. Far from “punching down”, Gervais exposes the increasingly unhinged ideology of the ruling class: the sanctification of gender identity.
We live in a time where the most prominent gay charity in the UK is promoting the homophobic myth that lesbians are the equivalent of racists if they exclude men from their dating pool. All major cultural, political, corporate and educational institutions (including the NHS, the BBC and the College of Policing) are in thrall to the new orthodoxy, while policymakers throughout the private and public sectors are urging employees to conform to the quasi-religious notion that we each have an innate gender identity. Are we seriously to believe that mocking this hugely powerful, regressive, and bullying movement is a form of “punching down”?
Gervais has been explicit in his support for equal rights for trans people. This ought to be a given, but such is the determination of these latter-day puritans to take jokes at face-value that it has become necessary for comedians to provide these caveats. “My target wasn’t trans folk,” Gervais explained, “but trans activist ideology. I’ve always confronted dogma that oppresses people and limits freedom of expression.”
Many of the criticisms levelled at Gervais have inevitably taken the form of straw men. One critic described Gervais’s “core demographic” as being the “sizeable brigade who believe ‘you can’t say anything anymore’”, even though finding anyone who sincerely makes this claim is a near-impossible task. Others have claimed that Gervais’s fans are opposed to free speech because they are responding to those who have taken issue with his special. But criticism is not the same as censorship; just as Gervais’s detractors are free to express their misgivings, so too are those who disagree. As Gervais puts it, “You can joke about whatever the fuck you like. And some people won’t like it and they will tell you they don’t like it. And then it’s up to you whether you give a fuck or not. And so on. It’s a good system.”
It’s true that a comedy show which does not stimulate laughter feels more like a lecture, and so it might be natural for those who watch Gervais without breaking a smile to reclassify it according to their tastes: a form of “hate speech”. But it takes quite a degree of narcissism to assume that one’s own view of what is and isn’t amusing should be the benchmark for all of humanity. To say “I don’t find that funny” is irrefutable and fair, given that humour is inherently subjective. To say “That’s not funny” is the most useless of criticisms because it is objectively false; anything can be funny to somebody.
More persuasive is the accusation that humour can be used as a form of bullying. Anyone who was ever bullied at school will be aware that the standard get-out clause is “it was only a joke!” I have seen a number of unscrupulous people libel others online, only to backtrack with the claim that they “were only joking”. Similarly, we are all aware of jokes that operate on the grim assumption that minority groups are inferior or ought to be treated with derision. Such jokes were popular many decades ago, but you would be hard-pushed to find a professional comedian who peddles such material today.
Yet activists are determined to interpret certain forms of comedy as manifestations of this outdated fashion for “punching down”. Largely, this originates in a lack of familiarity with the contemporary comedy circuit. We know this because whenever commentators claim that “Right-wing comedy” is racist, homophobic or sexist, they invariably cite examples of long-dead comics such as Bernard Manning. But “Right-wing comedy” is a delicate shapeshifter; as a classification it beyond useless because it so often is applied indiscriminately; I was branded a “Right-wing comedian” in an article for Byline Times this week, even though my political views are largely more in accordance with the traditional Left.
Cenk Uygur, for example, claimed that Gervais was only making his jokes about gender identity to “get Right-wing love” and a “lucrative special”, as though Netflix’s commission was in any way dependent on the topics he chose to lampoon. But Gervais is not Right-wing, and it is laughable to suggest that he is attempting to woo a specific political demographic. Moreover, the most determined push-back against the pseudo-religion of gender identity has come from the Left; most notably feminists and gay activists who are rightly concerned about an ideology that is so explicitly hostile towards them.
Uygur’s attempt at mind-reading is par for the course. Much of the criticism levelled at Gervais, and subversive comedians more generally, tends to take the form of cod-psychological analysis. Musician Steve Albini launched into an extended variation on the genre, in which he explained that Gervais has morphed into his “boorish, selfish, unaware” comedy persona because “indulging the pretence eventually becomes so comfortable that it fuses with the person underneath”. What is actually happening is that Albini is making wild speculations about a total stranger’s artistic choices on the basis of his own misinterpretations. In all such cases, the sheer certainty of these amateur psychoanalysts and mind-readers is striking.
Gervais is the latest in a long tradition of comedians successfully puncturing the pretensions of the powerful; he fulfils a similar role to the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s story, innocently observing that the emperor is naked when everyone else is too cowardly to do so. We have seen recently how many of our elected representatives are willing to nod along with the lie that the word “woman” cannot be satisfactorily defined. At times like these, we need the jester more than ever, for the jangling bells of his coxcomb to break the earnest silence of the court.
I’m still waiting for “science” (because I trust The Science TM) to prove the existence of a gendered soul. When this happens, I’ll change my view that gender identity is a fantasy, created to explain a form of mental illness and to give narcissists a cause to rally around.
Until then, long live Andrew Doyle, Ricky Gervaise and of course, Titania McGrath.
Mental illness? Yes, yes, yes! That is the root of gender dysphoria, however much the activists try to hide it. Do we usually collude with a mental illness? Do we usually urge an anorexic to eat less or a self-harmer to carry on regardless? I think not.
I can’t believe this hasn’t been overdubbed – either that or Monty Python are far more prescient than I thought
it’s genius isn’t it.. .and no, no overdubbing, written like that in 1979, 43 years ago. The crazed fundamentals of this ridiculous ideology have been around for a long time. it’s only in the last 8 – 10 years that it’s taken root and spread outward from some very awry and eccentric activist academic departments. I blame Steve Jobs.
Just look at how much Soros & co have pumped into scholarships the last 4 decades! It’s a CCP ‘capture’ strategy, finance the college’s, universities et al so along with lobbying the professors & educators of finance,law, education,politics etc are promoting a specific ideology, indoctrination is what we are experiencing.
At the time we laughed out loud! Little knowing this sh*te would one day take root!
The idea of a gendered soul also constitutes a belief in the immaterial, which is logically inconsistent with atheism and a nihilistic worldview, so I am with you on this. Until these activist zealots get a life and move on from their childish, unfounded, misinformed contradictions we just have to keep pushing back at their madness!
What’s so worrying about this, is not that publications like Pink News negatively critique Ricky Gervais, but how all left-wing publications march in lock-step with each other to condemn entertainment that they do not like. It’s almost like there’s a centralized leadership layer telling them all what to say. Surely, when this occurs, news is no longer news, but merely propaganda?
You sound like you are ready to take that red pill, Julian! As of March 2021, News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach dominated 90% of the UK national newspaper market (up from 71% in 2015)*. That is just the UK, so you can see how News UK (part of the Murdoch empire) is dominant worldwide too. James Bond movies don’t seem so outlandish anymore. *Source: https://www.mediareform.org.uk/media-ownership/who-owns-the-uk-media
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that our entire world these days has devolved into a negative feedback loop:
Fanatics in general are devoid of all sense of humor, especially regarding the field of their passionate beliefs. Protecting humor should be the objective of anyone that wishes to remain outside the herd. Bravo Ricky Gervais!
One element of comedy is the mocking of taboo subjects. The court jester could mock the king where his courtiers dared not. The left have elevated a whole raft of subjects to the level of serious things that should not be mocked so naturally provide an open goal for comedians who are unconstrained by the taboo. Long may they take advantage. Mocking Trump for example is not taboo so has no true comedic element.
It’s gotten to the point where the only groups they are allowed to mock are straight Christian men.
Remember when comedy was about laughing ? And not about message, topics, themes and demographics ?
It’s true that a comedy show which does not stimulate laughter feels more like a lecture
See: most comedy on BBC2, BBC3 or stand-up comedy on Radio 4; faddish new comics such as the risible Hannah Gadsby; or all comics who self-importantly pile-on to any other comic who says anything they do not feel appropriate.
PS and as a side point, for those who grew up knowing Steve Albini as an arch and snarky (frequently hilarious) commenter, not to mention outrageously talented and actually edgy musician and music recorder. It is a terrifically sad indictment of our times and the man himself to now see him as some kind of self-appointed naysayer of anything or anyone who does not strictly adhere to the mindless orthodoxy he would have spat at only a couple of years ago.
‘Risible’ is what I look for in a comedian.
Loved Ricky Gervais when he first appeared on the scene in the 11 O’clock Show with the excellent Daisy Donovan and Sacha Baron Cohen. Then he seemed to go through a few years where he was a bit up up himself. I suppose massive fame can do that to you. But now he has returned to that ‘who cares’ , dangerous form of comedy, at which he is so awesome at. I reckon he would make an awesome dinner guest. He seems like a really nice chap.
To me, he seems a snide little bu–er (just my personal opinion, of course)
Well the outrage is going to make Ricky Gervais and Netflix a fortune ! Not only are these woke fanatics humourless they are also mind numbingly stupid. They have just provided far better and far cheaper advertising for this new show than any amount of MSM advertising could achieve. I think it’s about time to drop this left-right assessment of politics and attitudes. I’m left, pretty much in alignment with Russell Brand and we all know he his ruffling many left/woke feathers right now. IMHO politics has shifted from a left-right paradigm to a centralised or not. The centralised wing have large corp thinking, big state, global solutions, NWO (!!), intellectual superiority complex etc. On the other side we have those speaking out about the centralisation, corruption and control of the current system and wish to promote local solutions, small business, self governing small communities etc. Is there a name for all of this. Ok folks behave yourself and don’t call one side “facism”…..although it’s pretty close. I think we are now in a centralism vs localism world and all the centralists are in switzerland right now!
It may have become the sole purpose of these “outrages.”
The person I love most in the world is transgender: my son, who is a trans man. And I absolutely ADORE Ricky Gervais. Why? One reason is that he ridicules one of the groups I most despise: trans activists. Why do I despise these people? Because they make my kind, funny, open-minded, self aware son look like a petty science denying lunatic. My son is far from humorless about his situation. He makes jokes like “You’ve got to be secure about your masculinity to walk around with a vagina.” Like Gervais, he adores animals and wants to be a veterinarian one day. He is a science nerd and has zero problem acknowledging that he is genetically female. As he’s said before “How can a trans man not be genetically female? It isn’t possible.” He would like to foster-adopt a child or children one day, but the trans activists don’t care about practical matters like helping trans people to adopt if they want to. Nope. Trans activists want to shove Lady Peens down everyone’s throat and make us mindlessly recite whatever new pronouns they come up with. Trans activism is the WORST thing that could have happened to trans people, most of whom just want to live their lives discreetly without flipping all of society on its head. Thank You for defending the brilliant Mr. Gervais.
You could make a case that all the cliches in quotes are thought-terminating cliches. “so-called comedian” “anti-gay rhetoric” “punching down” “hate speech” “Right-wing comedy” Assertions intended to end consideration or further debate. Ask someone using such a cliche ‘How bad was that hate speech on a scale of 1 to 10?’ – they will probably be stuck on’10’ no matter what. Thought-terminating cliches are also common in cults where individual thoughts are discouraged.
Andrew, love it! I find it hilarious when you point out Gervais’s detractors are labelling him a “so-called comedian”. One only has to do a quick search to find that poor Ricky only has a net worth of about $140 million. Clearly not much of a comedian, so he must have gotten his money from selling the Big Issue! Keep up the good work of lampooning the histrionics brigade!
Thank God for the likes of Gervais and Co. Who else will speak up, when the leading politicians of the land are incapable of explaining to their electorate what a woman is? If that’s a measure of their intellectual gifts, and moral courage, how are they to solve the real problems hurtling towards us?
I thought Super Nature was great. I didn’t laugh at everything, but it made me laugh more than most things on TV these days. I don’t think he can ever top his story in “Humanity” of transitioning to be a chimp though.
Cenk Uyghur, Steve Albini, never bloody heard of them !
Aren’t the Uyghurs being persecuted by the Chinese? Or is that the other side of the family?
I’d never read the word “moiling” before, and as usual, it’s perfect in its aptness. Such words deserve to be kept in parlance, thanks Andrew!
Thank f*** for Ricky Gervais.
If you cannot laugh at people what will you do? Laugh at hyenas or baboons? “Hey did you hear about the Praying Manits, the Ant and slug that went in to the bar”? Humans and human behavior is funny. No, men cannot have babies, or abortions or breast feed. To feed in to this mental illness is certainly wrong on a science level, on an emotional lever it is a societal level it is suicide. Transgenders do not have a high suicide rate because of how society treats them. It is the gender dysphoria they live with. I believe they believe they are living in a body they do not belong in. It must be horrible. On the other hand you are born with XX or XY and generally that is your sex. It is one thing to want to live as another sex and if you are willing to do so feel free….but do not expect me to believe that if are XY Chromosome you can have a baby
“But it takes quite a degree of narcissism…” Narcissism. That is the most striking feature of radical trans activism. A tiny minority of the human population demands that the rest of humanity turn itself inside out to accomodate them. We must twist our language into knots, our basic understanding of sex and biology, allow unfair sports competition, teach our children ascientific nonsense as part of sex education, etc., all so they can feel better about themselves. It would be akin to me traveling to central Botswana and becoming enraged that nobody speaks perfect American English, then calling all Botswanans hateful bigots for failing to do so.
For a ‘so called comedian’ young Ricky has done rather well for himself. And who on earth is this Steve Albini? (presumably an Albino with a split personality—–pronouns they/them?)
It says in the article “Gervais has been explicit in his support for equal rights for trans people.” But I’m a little hazy about what that actually means. Isn’t it set in law that everyone in this country (UK) has equal rights so the statement doesn’t really have to be said. The usual way of putting it is more like this – “I stand up for trans rights” which is not quite the same thing because it seems to imply that trans people should have special rights separate from the rights everyone has. Or am I misunderstanding?
All censorship is murder of the mind. If you find anything written or spoken offensive, it is simply because there is something in your life you are not looking at and don’t want to know about yourself. In other words you are defending a lie you are telling yourself about yourself. These lot are paranoid bullies, trying to hide the truth by projecting their fear of being found out as pretentious idiots, on other people. This is a defensive stance, not an open, innocent one of self-expression. In the words of a song I once wrote, now lost in the mists of time ‘Conform, conform! Do what I say. Conform, conform! Do things my way.’
I fully agree with your first sentence, and completely disagree with your second. Mature adults can make that distinction and behave accordingly. Voltaire had a little something to say on the subject.
When I first read Titania I laughed out loud. But with apologies to Bob Monkhouse: I’m not laughing now. On a recent reread it sounds more like a hitch hikers guide to standard 21st century orthodoxy.
who gives a damn about all this woke nonsense anyway? well done RG
We should probably be ready for the ‘identity’ mathematics push!?, Only 2-9 can be used, one & zero triggers the ‘non-binary’, & all computers will be burnt on a pyre for reinforcement of binary is dominant for effective processes!? 😉
I often encounter disavowels of conservative sympathies when reading pieces which criticize current leftist aberrations. In fact it’s become a sort of game with me to find the predictable disclaimer. Here it is in this piece:”…I was branded a “Right-wing comedian” in an article for Byline Times this week, even though my political views are largely more in accordance with the traditional Left.” Other commenters here in the U.S. such as Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Bill Maher routinely proclaim their liberal bona fides while eviserating leftwing lunacy. Why is it necessary to do this? Will they be canceled in their trendy social circles or somehow black balled in their professions? They all have attained a state of clarity but still insisist upon maintaining membership in a political group they find fault in. What gives?
Not sure why you see a problem. Reflection & criticism of self, own country, tribe etc is a sign of maturity. Keep your own house in order, let those without sin…., those in glass houses etc. Further, Maher & others are very clear on why they do so – they think the current GOP is contemptible, beyond saving; all that can be done is strengthen the centre.
There have been humorless finger wagging zealots who can’t take a joke in every era. They used to thump Bibles or Korans, but now they thump critical race theory textbooks and LGBTQ+ pamphlets. Their failure to appreciate humor and their zealotry spring from the same source, namely their inability to consider any point of view beyond their own. Humor requires a certain amount of flexibility in thinking. It requires looking at familiar things in a new way, changing your perspective. The zealot cannot do this, and so his only recourse is to ridicule, complain, censor, and cancel that which does not reaffirm his fixed, immovable view of the world.
For those asking (I can’t seem to post a reply) Steve Albini is a fairly notable musician and producer in the realm of US hardcore punk. Some of it is pretty good. Not averse to controversy himself with one early band having the delightful name of R @ p£man. Named after a Japanese comic character, apparently. There you go.
Ricky Gervais goes up in my estimation lately but, with $140m in the bank, he can afford to upset people. In the left right horns of the horseshoe, right and left are nigh on meeting and neither have a sense of humour. If the gender folk think whatever they are doing makes them happpy and the rest unhappy, scornful or indifferent then they are obviously misguided. Respect is earned not demanded as if by a spoilt child. We should all know what goes round comes round.
So what did he actually say? I’m curious, but I can’t find it in the article.
Salient. Why did the author not link to at least one offending clip?
Because it’s all about selling the show.
I’m waiting for Titania to comment but I don’t think she would read Unherd.
Comedians’ role was always to play the “holy fool”, to turn things onto their heads and look askance at social “truths” as an emergency responder, a front-line worker whose job is to get out of line. But you’ve got to be wise to play the fool, especially around pandemics within a society already in the throes of indigi-queer de-centering anti-ablist anti-colonialist antagonisms … and such. As a first responder you’re looking for the funny side of things, but you keep finding hidden sides of miserable things. Life is funny that way. … SatiricalScene: The Comic in Tragic Times
Vanity Fair has a very, very patronising article full of inverted commas on just this subject, too.
I think the idea that we all have gender identity are wrong but close to a truth. Because I believe we are essentially kinda immortal ‘spirits’ that inhabit human bodies. Hence really we are sexless and genderless. Your physical sex being a function of the genes in your body – and some few bodies have unusual mixes and bodies can be male and female at once. And your gender being a psychological attribute intimately involved with your perception of bodies and your nurture to believe them to be ‘you’. So I’d go along with ‘I am not my body’ but I won’t go along with ‘I am female in a male body’ or any permutation of that. And my contention is that we simply for convenience sort people according to physical body type and we should be able to do that without any fuss and commotion, it generally serves us very well. And the claiming of actually being of a different ‘gender’ is maybe a psychological aberration, maybe even an effect of a physical chemical aberration, maybe a memory of a past life – who knows? But not relevant to the sorting of human bodies according to their sex. The only thing that needs ‘allowance’ is to cater for those caught in a body with these genealogical mixups. It should be recognised it can happen. Is it well recognised in the field of pornography but it seems almost entirely unknown to the population at large despite their supposed fixation on porn. It must be quite a strain for such people in some circumstances and we should grow up and provide for them. We should grow up. Now there’s pissing into the wind for you…
We started watching this on Netflix but turned it off after Gervais said ‘c**t’ for no reason at all and the audience laughed. This was right at the beginning, and it seemed like the start of a very dull session.
I for one find it troubling that a court jester as active as Gervais cannot yet tackle the even bigger, more totalitarian social reality, which is basically that of the UK’s reinvention of ‘Satan’ as ‘Savile’, and the thousands of imaginary ‘nonces’ who are fed to this ceaselessly fattened image every day…
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