I have both read and watched the latest THR roundtable with a group of comedians (Ricky Gervais, Ramy Youssef, Kenan Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani and Dan Levy), and in both formats, it’s hard to tell exactly if the other four — and Nanjiani and Youssef, in particular — are joking with Ricky Gervais or if, at various points, he is the butt of the joke. Maybe I’m reading my own biases into the interview, and I don’t want to take anything out of context — you can watch for yourself — but at times it feels like the rest of the group treats Gervais like their a racist grandpa who fought in the war, as in, “Thanks for all you’ve done, Gramps. We’ll take it from here.”
To wit, there’s this exchange, where Kenan says that, after a couple of seasons on SNL, he stopped being afraid of being fired and just focused on the work.
GERVAIS: No, you’ve got to try to get fired, that’s my advice.
NANJIANI: Ricky, that’s terrible advice. You can do that if you’re Ricky Gervais, but somebody else gets their first job, they take your advice and try to get fired and guess what?
THOMPSON: They get fuckin’ fired.
See what I mean? They’re joking with Gervais but in a way that also seems to say: F*ck your edgelord bullsh*t. Likewise, when asked if now, during a pandemic, is a good time to be making comedy, Youssef — star of the fabulous Hulu series, Ramy — basically says, “Maybe not,” while Gervais thinks it’s the best time:
RAMY YOUSSEF Yeah, you could, but I think there is value in there not being a ton of distractions right now as we’re going to figure out what’s going on in our country. And look at the positives that are coming out of it. So you could, but it’s not really what’s on my mind right now.
GERVAIS: [It’s] the best time. When everyone’s on edge and sensitive, that’s the best time to be insensitive. My show was packed with jokes about AIDS, cancer, famine, the Holocaust. So, this is just going to top it off.
YOUSSEF: I’m glad this helps Ricky’s brand. (Laughter.)
In the end, when the participants are asked what their favorite comedic performance is, Youssef jokes that it was Gervais’ performance in this Zoom interview in a way that suggests he’s joking with Gervais, but also, Gervais is kind of a jackass:
YOUSSEF: I’m going to go with Ricky Gervais on this Zoom chat. There were times where he was serious and he really brought it into the heart, but then there were times where he’s just funny, he’s just riffing and he’s loose and just to switch from [one to the other]. And then the lighting was changing [Gervais was in London, where the sun was setting]. And it was just, like, his level of nuance … (Laughter.)
But genuinely the best part of the interview is here, where Nanjiani very politely suggests to Gervais that his style of comedy can be toxic and harmful and maybe he should sit in a corner and think about that before he makes another dumb Cosby joke.
GERVAIS: Yeah, I think we all aspire to being like Bill Cosby. (Laughs.) But that’s a very good point that it doesn’t really change anything. What really annoys me is that people think that a joke is the window to the comedian’s true soul. And it’s just not true. A big part of my comedy is saying things I do not mean. I say the wrong thing because I know the audience knows the right thing and that’s why they laugh. I’ll change the joke halfway through, I’ll pretend to be right wing, left wing, no wing, if it makes the joke funnier. People who think I’m going to change the world with a gag are really delusional.
NANJIANI: Ricky, can I ask you something? You said sometimes you say jokes that obviously are not what you mean. How do you feel about audiences that might watch and think, “Oh that is how Ricky feels”?
GERVAIS: It’s an occupational hazard, because there’s only so much you can wink and let the audience know that you don’t mean it [before] you ruin the satire and the irony. That’s what satire and irony is. And to a certain extent, you’ve got to aim at people who get it. The fact is if I play to 15,000 people, there are going to be rapists, pedophiles, murderers …
NANJIANI: Who is coming to see your show, Ricky? What is your demo? (Laughter.)
GERVAIS: There comes a point where you go, “Listen, the joke is there, the joke is gettable, most people get it, if there is one person that doesn’t get it, I can live with that.” That someone might take you at face value doing an ironic joke or a satirical joke, well, yeah, some people try to inject themselves with bleach. There are stupid people in the world.
NANJIANI: But if you’re making some sort of joke where obviously you don’t believe it, but the point of view of the joke is that it’s good that these people are marginalized, I do think that can normalize ideas that would otherwise societally be considered harmful.
Insert Meryl Streep clapping GIF here.
Header Image Source: THR