DEFAULT
Ricky don't cause that umbrage
20 Oct 2011
BY PADRAIG REIDY

There’s been a hell of a lot of discussion this week about Ricky Gervais and his use of the word “mong” on Twitter (mong being a shortened version of “mongoloid”, an archaic term for Down’s Syndrome).

I wont explain the whole thing, James Ward does it all here.

Gervais’s defence of his use of the word is that meanings change. Of course, this is true. But this is something that happens over time. Gervais can’t really force it. You can’t simply decide, by yourself, that a word that many people find offensive is not offensive and then get defensive when people point out you’ve been offensive. Which is what Gervais has done, variously blaming people who are jealous of his success (what, in the old days, we used to call “playa haters”) and the “humourless PC brigade” (I’ve always maintained that invoking the PC brigade is on a level with saying “I’m entitled to an opinion” as a tacit admission that one has lost the argument).

A problem with Gervais’s use of the word is he clearly does believe it is transgressive, and therefore funny. So his defence — that the usage doesn’t have transgressive aspects, as the meaning has changed, doesn’t add up.

And worst of all, it’s just not funny. Gervais has confused offensive (rarely in itself funny) with transgressive (a vital element of pretty much all humour).

None of this is to say that Gervais cannot use whatever the hell words he likes.

Here, as a lesson in transgressive, is Joan Rivers making Anne Frank jokes (fast forward to three minutes):

Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.
Padraig Reidy

10 responses to “Ricky don't cause that umbrage”

  1. dan bloom says:

    Steve Schneider, critic, ORLANDO WEEKLY in Florida: …….”If you’re going to take it upon yourself to act apart, you’d damn well better act it. Fred Willard is the king of this sort of thing: In just about everything he does, he’s pitch-perfect at signaling that the character he’s playing knows nothing about life on any substantive level, yet is absolutely certain that he does … and is impressing everyone in the room by showing it………That’s where, in my humble opinion, Gervais could use some work: Not because I think he really holds any unsavory thoughts about Anne Frank, but because his tendency toward ……giggly self-amusement …….sometimes undermines the bit. When he launched into a miniature version of the routine on The Daily Show, …..Gervais’ delight in his own …..naughtiness …..was…… tragically palpable. . You can’tsell the concept of toxic stupidity if you show the slightest hint of introspection; people who think and say offensively ignorant things don’t have a clue those things could ever be construed as absurd.”

  2. dan bloom says:

    Steve Schneider, critic, ORLANDO WEEKLY in Florida: …….”If you’re going to take it upon yourself to act apart, you’d damn well better act it. Fred Willard is the king of this sort of thing: In just about everything he does, he’s pitch-perfect at signaling that the character he’s playing knows nothing about life on any substantive level, yet is absolutely certain that he does … and is impressing everyone in the room by showing it………That’s where, in my humble opinion, Gervais could use some work: Not because I think he really holds any unsavory thoughts about Anne Frank, but because his tendency toward ……giggly self-amusement …….sometimes undermines the bit. When he launched into a miniature version of the routine on The Daily Show, …..Gervais’ delight in his own …..naughtiness …..was…… tragically palpable. . You can’tsell the concept of toxic stupidity if you show the slightest hint of introspection; people who think and say offensively ignorant things don’t have a clue those things could ever be construed as absurd.”

  3. danny bloom says:

    Anne Frank would have say, ”PLEASE I’M IN THE ATTIC!” WTF? Joan Rivers is sick!

  4. danny bloom says:

    Anne Frank would have say, ”PLEASE I’M IN THE ATTIC!” WTF? Joan Rivers is sick!

  5. danny bloom says:

    An Open Letter to British Comedians Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington: Please Stop the Tasteless Anne Frank Jokes and Here’s Why…

    Dear Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington,

    Can you guys maybe start to leave Anne Frank out of your comedy routines? Okay, some of your fans
    are laughing, but I’m not: why did the Holocaust diarist become a subject for mirth?

    Yes, that Anne Frank, the teenage girl who became a symbol of the Holocaust. The claustrophobic years in hiding. The terrible mystery of betrayal, the horrific last weeks, dying of typhoid in a concentration camp. The poignant way in which her diary was found, its restoration to her father, all that was left of a sensitive, intelligent talented child, all that remained of his entire family.

    Good subject for a joke, eh, Ricky and Karl?

    As you might know, and if you don’t, let me remind you and your agents: In 2009, the BBC received complaints about a quip by the comedian David Mitchell. “What was the last entry in Anne Frank’s diary?” he asked on a Radio Four game show. “It’s my birthday and dad bought me a drum kit.”

    Funny? You guys probably thought so.

    Ricky, you got your own Anne Frank gag now, too; anyone can view it on YouTube. The Nazis were rubbish, you says, not to think of looking upstairs. They mistook Anne’s typewriter for rats. “She had time to write a novel, mind you, it ends a bit abruptly. No sequel. Lazy.”

    Why Anne? What makes comedians like you guys in Britain feel she is an acceptable subject? Why does a BBC producer decide to broadcast Mr Mitchell’s witticism when presumably they would censor a more obvious genocide gag?

    According to British writer Keren David, it’s ”because Anne Frank’s story has become the accessible face of the Holocaust. Her diary lacks its true ending. Had she written about the reality of the camps, the starvation, cruelty and disease, she would have a different place in the culture, and most probably her book would not have been so successful. ”

    Mrs David, a fellow Brit I might add, adds: ”When people think of Anne Frank, they think of attics, and hiding. They remember her as a teenager who hid away and wrote a book. Quite a funny book, with farts and toilets and kisses. They don’t always remember her wretched death. When they compose a quick tweet about attics and hiding, she’s the girl who comes to mind. The context falls away, because the associations — the attic, the diary — are stronger.”

    She notes,a nd she wrote this in 2009, mind you, [and in 2012, you guys are still doing your sick sick schtick]: “And then there’s the comedian’s instinct which draws him to Anne. A safe way to tell jokes about the piles of corpses. Why would they want to do that? ‘

    Keren says: “Maybe because telling jokes is a way of mastering the things which scare us. Watch Ricky Gervais’s body language on YouTube. His flippant voice tells one story, his hunched shoulders and cringing demeanour tells another. He’s not laughing at Anne. He’s laughing at prats who think they can tell jokes about the Holocaust.”

    ”Laughter defuses the horror, but it also brings us closer. The cleverest jokes make us very uneasy as we laugh. It’s an extremely subtle paradox — very easy to get wrong….”
    The fine line between funny and offensive is one that TV comedy show producers should be able to judge. It seems though that they sometimes put as much thought into matters of taste and context as a Twittering teenager.

    So Ricky and Karl, enough already. It’s time to grow up and throw your genteel British antisemitic snark away. In the gutter. Where it belongs.

    Okay?

    Sincerely,

    Danny Bloom
    Humorist without Portfolio

    http://www.jewishboston.com/danbloom/blogs/3437-antisemitic-jokes-by-british-hate-mongers-ricky-gervais-and-karl-pilkington-about-anne-frank-family-fuel-tv-boycott-campaign

  6. danny bloom says:

    An Open Letter to British Comedians Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington: Please Stop the Tasteless Anne Frank Jokes and Here’s Why…

    Dear Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington,

    Can you guys maybe start to leave Anne Frank out of your comedy routines? Okay, some of your fans
    are laughing, but I’m not: why did the Holocaust diarist become a subject for mirth?

    Yes, that Anne Frank, the teenage girl who became a symbol of the Holocaust. The claustrophobic years in hiding. The terrible mystery of betrayal, the horrific last weeks, dying of typhoid in a concentration camp. The poignant way in which her diary was found, its restoration to her father, all that was left of a sensitive, intelligent talented child, all that remained of his entire family.

    Good subject for a joke, eh, Ricky and Karl?

    As you might know, and if you don’t, let me remind you and your agents: In 2009, the BBC received complaints about a quip by the comedian David Mitchell. “What was the last entry in Anne Frank’s diary?” he asked on a Radio Four game show. “It’s my birthday and dad bought me a drum kit.”

    Funny? You guys probably thought so.

    Ricky, you got your own Anne Frank gag now, too; anyone can view it on YouTube. The Nazis were rubbish, you says, not to think of looking upstairs. They mistook Anne’s typewriter for rats. “She had time to write a novel, mind you, it ends a bit abruptly. No sequel. Lazy.”

    Why Anne? What makes comedians like you guys in Britain feel she is an acceptable subject? Why does a BBC producer decide to broadcast Mr Mitchell’s witticism when presumably they would censor a more obvious genocide gag?

    According to British writer Keren David, it’s ”because Anne Frank’s story has become the accessible face of the Holocaust. Her diary lacks its true ending. Had she written about the reality of the camps, the starvation, cruelty and disease, she would have a different place in the culture, and most probably her book would not have been so successful. ”

    Mrs David, a fellow Brit I might add, adds: ”When people think of Anne Frank, they think of attics, and hiding. They remember her as a teenager who hid away and wrote a book. Quite a funny book, with farts and toilets and kisses. They don’t always remember her wretched death. When they compose a quick tweet about attics and hiding, she’s the girl who comes to mind. The context falls away, because the associations — the attic, the diary — are stronger.”

    She notes,a nd she wrote this in 2009, mind you, [and in 2012, you guys are still doing your sick sick schtick]: “And then there’s the comedian’s instinct which draws him to Anne. A safe way to tell jokes about the piles of corpses. Why would they want to do that? ‘

    Keren says: “Maybe because telling jokes is a way of mastering the things which scare us. Watch Ricky Gervais’s body language on YouTube. His flippant voice tells one story, his hunched shoulders and cringing demeanour tells another. He’s not laughing at Anne. He’s laughing at prats who think they can tell jokes about the Holocaust.”

    ”Laughter defuses the horror, but it also brings us closer. The cleverest jokes make us very uneasy as we laugh. It’s an extremely subtle paradox — very easy to get wrong….”
    The fine line between funny and offensive is one that TV comedy show producers should be able to judge. It seems though that they sometimes put as much thought into matters of taste and context as a Twittering teenager.

    So Ricky and Karl, enough already. It’s time to grow up and throw your genteel British antisemitic snark away. In the gutter. Where it belongs.

    Okay?

    Sincerely,

    Danny Bloom
    Humorist without Portfolio

    http://www.jewishboston.com/danbloom/blogs/3437-antisemitic-jokes-by-british-hate-mongers-ricky-gervais-and-karl-pilkington-about-anne-frank-family-fuel-tv-boycott-campaign

  7. jake says:

    what you say is true.
    It would remain true even if he was ever actually funny.

    It won’t cause his career to go down the toilet…..it’s a sign he’s been found out and he knows it and it was heading rapidly in that direction anyway.

  8. jake says:

    what you say is true.
    It would remain true even if he was ever actually funny.

    It won’t cause his career to go down the toilet…..it’s a sign he’s been found out and he knows it and it was heading rapidly in that direction anyway.

  9. Will says:

    Finally found someone who gets to the heart of the matter, brilliant piece.

    Gervais’ defence amounts to little more than saying “not touching” while waving your hand inches from an annoyed victim’s face. It’s remarkably easy for him to sound like he’s making sense in justifying this, glad people like yourself see through it.

  10. Will says:

    Finally found someone who gets to the heart of the matter, brilliant piece.

    Gervais’ defence amounts to little more than saying “not touching” while waving your hand inches from an annoyed victim’s face. It’s remarkably easy for him to sound like he’s making sense in justifying this, glad people like yourself see through it.