Ricky Gervais lacks humanity

Ray Burmiston/Netflix

I don’t find Ricky Gervais funny. I thought the US remake of The Office was much better than the original, largely because he wasn’t in it: I couldn’t shift the feeling that his portrayal of a boorish, charmless arsehole wasn’t acting. I’ve been proved right many times since.

Writing in Vulture.com, Matt Zoller Seitz takes issue with his latest stand-up special, Humanity, mainly because like Gervais’s previous stand-up shows large swathes of it are tedious and unfunny. But he also takes issue with the topic that dominates the show: Gervais’ belief that he’s being persecuted.

Gervais devotes much of this special — which lasts about an hour and 20 minutes — to complaining that the world keeps telling him what he can and can’t say.

That’s a man worth £55 million, on stage in front of devoted fans, being filmed for a Netflix special that’ll be shown worldwide.

Nobody is denying a platform for Gervais, Chappelle, Chris Rock, or even Louis C.K. (who had a Netflix special last year, a few months before his career imploded). They’re free to say whatever they want during their routines, and Netflix is free to give them time and space in which to say it. What seems to infuriate these comedians, however, is that audiences can talk back more easily now and say, “I don’t like that,” or “I didn’t find that funny,” or “That seemed cruel to me.

We’re back to misunderstanding free speech. Free speech says the government can’t put you in jail for having an opinion. It doesn’t say you should be free from criticism.

What comedians like Gervais object to is being made to think about what they’ve said, and potentially feel regret or guilt over having made a poor choice of material or words. That their initial impulse is to feel anger and resentment at the person raising an objection is telling.

…What these comedians are demanding is that we respect their feelings while they exercise their constitutionally safeguarded prerogative to hurt other people’s feelings. That’s not a level playing field. It’s the power dynamic preferred by a playground bully, in which all the discomfort flows in one direction: away from them.

There’s something particularly risible about a multi-millionaire picking on marginalised groups and then claiming to be a victim.