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Will The Real Ricky Gervais Please Stand Up?

Sav D’Souza argues for the right of comedians to be – wait for it – funny

Published on October 31st 2011.

Will The Real Ricky Gervais Please Stand Up?

SO Ricky Gervais was pulled up by the media for using the word ‘mong’. Debrorah Orr, of the Guardian, was one of the most vitriolic saying he “is no more than a verbal thug”. Orr added “what a moron Gervais is, if I can use a term that once described a person of scientifically small mental capacity and now just means anyone who is being foolish.” Mathew Norman, in the Telegraph, also waded-in, “Gervais is disingenuous in tweeting that ‘mong’ is merely a synonym for ‘idiot’”, adding is he a ‘witless bore’.

It’s one thing to criticise somebody for something they said or their work but quite another to then turn that onto their character. To think that we know someone from a mediated perception has become common currency in our mass media society.

You have got to have some sympathy for Gervias as he was using the term in a way that many would recognise as another word for idiot.  I personally, and a lot of my friends and acquaintances, have used the word ‘retard’. Only last week a friend of mine joked about her ex-boyfriend being a retard. I’m pretty sure she and many others who use the term know that it could also refer to someone who is mentallyhandicapped, so that does makes us all morons or morally reprehensible as a result? I think context and intention is an important consideration. I would say that most people who use the terms mong or retard direct it at themselves or others to joke about being an idiot or silly and would not dare use it to refer to someone who may appear to be not very bright or genuinely slow. That obviously would be bad form.

PointPoint made

It may not be a valid argument saying that you thought it was not offensive when using a word is not a defense, but the last time I checked we were living in an open society, where a modicum of humour and common sense still prevails.

Gervais’ comments were then used as evidence of how much he really is like his David Brent creation. Both Norman and Orr argued that Gervais was David Brent in disguise. Maybe there are elements of David Brent which he possesses. If we are honest, most of us would admit to Brent-like attributes. The need to be liked, to be thought of as funny, to get our guitar out publicly (if only, could have been a contender), big ourselves up a bit or think we are good at our job when we actually suck. OK, Brent is a bit of a tool but he’s essentially harmless and so probably is Gervais from his public appearances, who really knows? Wherever you stand on the mong debate or Gervais as a comedian it should not have a bearing on him personally. It’s one thing to criticise somebody for something they said or their work but quite another to then turn that onto their character. To think that we know someone from a mediated perception has become common currency in our mass media society.

A lot of the Gervais Twitter controversy was that his comments were wrong as many Down Syndrome sufferers are victims of abuse of which ‘mong’ is a word that is used. Nicola Clark, who has two autistic daughters, voiced her concerns to Gervais on Twitter. Gervais stood his ground initially but later made a full apology. Although I can understand his point of view he should have been savvier and apoligised for any offence caused right away, just like Obama did when he made a joke about the Special Olympics. Gervias was naïve. Many have argued that with his large Twitter following that he has a responsibility but he’s a comedian who made a goofy remark with no agenda. Attempts at challenging those actually guilty of abuse towards people with Downs Syndrome might be a better way forward.

Gervais was not the first and won’t be last to be a victim of posting on Twitter. He discovered that there is always someone ready to take offense. Far from enlightening interactions it has become the virtual playground where so and so said and so called so a so. Online debates and interactions in particular can quickly become very judgmental, personal and downright nasty. Millions watch talent shows and laugh at the delusional, enjoy gossip magazines and mock reality shows as its part of our society. As a country we like to take the piss out of ourselves and others and comedians do it all the time, it’s kind of their job.

At the end of the day Gervais is a comedian and comedians quite often push the boundaries of notions of what is acceptable or good taste in the name of being funny. What some find hilarious others will find vulgar or offensive. It’s down to personal tastes and you always have the option of watching them or following them on Twitter. 


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