Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Ricky Gervais

I recently watched a dvd of Ricky Gervais's Politics stand up comedy show. I didn't really know what to make of it at the time - there was something I didn't like about it. Gervais is, of course, the guy who played David Brent in (and who also co-wrote) The Office. I really liked The Office and, like most people, found David Brent an extremely funny (and excruciatingly embarrassing) character. A lot of the comedy comes from Brent's social ineptness and his inability to conceal his rather nasty social prejudices - mostly because he tries far too hard to come across as a man with liberal views and ends up falling flat on his face. The Office includes jokes involving race and disability but the target of the comedy, the butt of the joke, is usually Brent himself - we laugh at Brent's barely concealed prejudices. We laugh at Brent's sexism, racism and the problem he has with disability.

There are outwardly similar kinds of jokes involving disabled people, for example, in Politics. It seems to me, however, that these jokes are a lot less benign. Gervais seems actually to be cracking jokes at the expense of disabled people (amongst other groups) in this stand up show. Gervais adopts a kind of David Brent persona on stage in order to make jokes on the borderline of acceptability (there's also a joke about the Holocaust as I remember), but the important thing is that he isn't really playing a character - he is appearing as Ricky Gervais - and the audience laughs not at some hapless, imbecilic, reactionary Brent character, but with Gervais. The person I watched the show with argued that Gervais is taking the piss out of reactionary views and that, as in The Office, the comedy is highly ironic. However, although I think that Gervais's style of delivery certainly comes across as ironic, I don't think that the comedic content of what he says really is fully tongue-in-cheek. I think it's clear that we are meant to find people in wheelchairs funny - not that we are meant to find people who make jokes about people in wheelchairs funny.

I found Gervais slimey and unpleasant. If Bernard Manning did Gervais's routine he'd be condemned, but Gervais can get away with it because he can fall back on our familiarity with the Brent persona. We can laugh at reactionary jokes but tell ourselves it's all right because its not really anything nasty - its all 'knowing irony'. But we're just fooling ourselves if we do that. It's clear that the jokes really are highly unpleasant.

Maybe I've over-reacted here. If anyone else has seen Gervais's stand up let me know what you think. Maybe I've got it all wrong.

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