Opinion: Ricky Gervais and Truth In Comedy

Ricky Gervais or David Brent?

If we have learnt one thing this week it is that it doesn’t matter what you do, if you put something on your computer the chances are people will see it even if you delete it. Ricky Gervais has been in trouble for tweeting about famous people’s nude pictures being leaked, writing “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” 

Gervais deleted his tweet, but not before it had been retweeted over a thousand times and been screengrabbed for perpetuity. That’s the downside of having nearly six million followers. Though maybe it hasn’t done him that much harm in the Twitter popularity stakes. He has now topped the six million followers mark. 

What interested me is that in the aftermath of his original Tweet Gervais explained himself by tweeting that “Jokes don't portray your true serious feelings on a subject.” Is it that simple? The difficulty here is that on Twitter Ricky Gervais is surely being himself. Most of his tweets convey his genuine views don't they? When not plugging his various projects he is often going on about animal welfare and cute puppies and I’ve always assumed that he loves ickle cute kittens. I guess the other time he got into a pickle like this was with "mong-gate".

So having thought that Ricky Gervais was expressing his own thoughts on Twitter we now discover that sometimes he is just having a joke (another thought to pursue at a later date – didn’t Freud write something on the lines of a joke never being just a joke?). I don’t follow him slavishly so maybe he has done this sort of thing before, but I don’t think it has ever caused so much fuss, even though he obviously doesn’t condone what has happened to his fellow celebs.

The issue for me is about truth in comedy and drawing a clear dividing line. When Gervais is playing David Brent of course we don’t think his unreconstructed views are the views of Gervais or Stephen Merchant. Any more than we would think that Al Murray is as xenophobic as the Pub Landlord. Bridget Christie says that her husband is sexist and racist in her current show, but we all know that her husband is Stewart Lee and he’s not sexist and racist at all. It’s clearly a joke.

The trouble with Twitter in this case is that to me the humour was unclear. There is a blur here between what you really think and just saying something because it’ll get a laugh. Of course Gervais supports various charities, of course he doesn’t want little poodles to be abandoned. So how can we tell when he is just having a joke? “Offence is the collateral damage of free speech,” he later tweeted. Fair enough. But maybe he could make life easier all round and exercise that free speech better by having two Twitter accounts. One marked ‘Serious’ and one marked ‘Comedy’. And maybe a third called "This might be funny but it might offend you".

 

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