Ricky Gervais: My Golden Globes mission
Several of my jokes at last year’s Golden Globes were deemed offensive by some. That’s fine. Everyone has the right to be offended. And I have the right to offend. The simple fact is, offense is taken, not given. It’s up to you if you’re offended or not. And remember, just because you’re offended, it doesn’t mean you’re right. Some people are offended by equality, mixed marriage, and homosexuality, for example. Who cares?
In comedy, particularly satire, the problem comes when people mistake the subject of a joke with the actual target. This happens to me all the time, as I tend to explore contentious and taboo subjects. Everyone has their own particular taboo, of course, and there is no real consensus on what is acceptable. Personally, I think no harm can come from exploring taboos, and fear of them is their very propagation. I often deal with these subjects because I like to take the audience to places it hasn’t gone before. Comedy is about surprise, and I think the job of a comedian is not just to make people laugh but also to make them think.
Comedy is an intellectual pursuit — and there is the problem. Offense is about feelings. And feelings aren’t right or wrong, they are personal. Press descriptions of my act ranged from ”ruffled a few feathers” to ”nasty.” The first one may be true, but then some feathers need to be ruffled now and again. But ”nasty”? Really? Not everyone will like my jokes, but if they are to get offended, they at least have to understand them. I shouldn’t have to explain myself, but it might be fun — and EW has a lot of space to fill. Let’s go through some of the most controversial gags from last year’s Golden Globes. (We don’t need to worry about many of them. No one worried about me suggesting that Bruce Willis was Ashton Kutcher’s dad, or that Charlie Sheen likes to party, or that Sly Stallone has a penchant for playing boxers and rogue Green Berets.)
Let’s start with this one about the movie I Love You Phillip Morris: ”Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor — two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay. So, the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists, then…probably.”
Some were worried about the religious angle. Some thought I was outing closet homosexuals. Many newspapers named actors who they thought I meant. Shame on them. I didn’t, and never would. It’s not about being gay or not. It’s clearly a joke about organizations that may or may not stifle a lifestyle due to their own prejudices and the belief that one sexuality is deemed more appropriate for public and professional life than another. Also, at the risk of sounding ingenuous, I even said ”some” famous Scientologists and ”probably.” I couldn’t have been more vague and more statistically correct. And who says we can’t challenge or joke about religion? You have the right to believe what you want; I have the right to believe it’s ridiculous. I would also like to say that this was not me targeting any particular belief system. I am an atheist. Unlike all religions, I treat all religions equally. No religion is more ridiculous than any other to me. I don’t care what religion you believe in as long as you are kind. There are good and bad people who believe, and good and bad people who don’t.
Next up: ”Congratulations to Hugh Hefner, who’s getting married at the age of 84 to 24-year-old beauty Crystal Harris. When she was asked why she was marrying him she said, ‘Because he lied about his age. He told me he was 94.’ ”
Ageist? I don’t think so. I was suggesting that maybe the romance was based on something other than love, and that possibly the marriage was a sham. I think history has dealt with this question.
<pAnother gag that was mistaken for ageism was this one: ”Nothing for Sex and the City 2. I was sure the Golden Globe for special effects would go to the team that airbrushed that poster. Great job. Girls, we know how old you are. I saw one of you in an episode of Bonanza.”
Kim Cattrall believed this to be ageist. But she’s wrong. It’s the opposite. Why airbrush a poster of middle-aged women to make them look 25? Why pander to the Hollywood stereotypical ideal that a woman loses her sensuality at 50? The joke is about bowing to societal pressure to appeal to shallow audiences.
I introduced Robert Downey Jr. by listing some of his films, then adding: ”He has done all those films, but many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as the Betty Ford clinic and Los Angeles County jail…”
No contesting the truth or the comedic-construct merits of the gag, I hope. No, the contention here was it is outlawed in polite society ever to mention someone’s addiction. Why? Because it’s not their fault. This is actually a good rule of thumb in comedy. You can make fun of what someone does, but not of what someone is. Things they can’t help about themselves, basically — their sex, sexuality, race, height, etc. (Some would have me put obesity in this category, but I’m not buying that one. You get fat because you take in more calories than you burn off. Simple science. You can help that. Sure, people make all sorts of excuses. ”It’s glandular.” It’s not glandular — it’s greed. A glandular condition contributes to about 2 percent of obesity cases. ”It’s big bones.” Yeah, big bones covered in meat and gravy.)
But addiction is a disease. (Except sex addiction. That just means you got caught and if you go to rehab all is forgiven.) So why is it okay for me to remind people of when Robert Downey Jr. used to get wasted? Because it’s a f—ing joke. The joke isn’t laughing at the fact that he used to drink and do drugs; the joke is the elephant in the room. One of the biggest stars in the world — who publicly worked through life-threatening illness with determination, courage, and the love and help of others, rose to the top of his profession to be loved by all and honored at one of the most prestigious events in the social calendar in front of a world TV audience of over 200 million — is introduced by a sweaty British oik swigging beer and saying, ”Remember when you got so pissed up you went to jail, mate?” What’s the worst that could happen? He gets so annoyed that he gets drunk, jacks up on stage, and steals a car? No. The worst that happens is he gets a bit of audience sympathy and his PR gives me a dirty look. I wasn’t trying to upset the man. I honestly thought he’d laugh. I have a lot of respect for Robert and have nothing against him, but we have humor for a very good reason. It gets us through s—. If you can laugh about your own screwups and weaknesses you’re suddenly bulletproof.
Lord Horatio Nelson said, ”I could not tread these perilous paths in safety, if I did not keep a saving sense of humor.” And he had one working eye and one arm and was stuck on a boat with a load of drunks that looked like the ancestors of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
He also said, ”England expects that every man will do his duty.” I did. And I will again. (The 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards will air Sunday, Jan. 15, at 8 p.m. on NBC.)