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Ricky Gervais is a fool — in all the right ways

Ricky Gervais at SiriusXM Studios in New York City. Credit: Getty

January 6, 2020 - 5:22pm

Ricky Gervais lived up to his promise to “go after actors” for their “pretension and hypocrisy” at yesterday’s Golden Globes.

On top of a catty comment about Judie Dench, he mocked Hollywood ties to paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Leonardo Di Caprio’s very-young girlfriends, and the gross hypocrisy of woke capital:

“You say you’re woke but the companies you work for — Apple, Amazon, Disney — if ISIS started a streaming service, you would call your agent, wouldn’t you?” he said, and laughed at Apple and their focus on morality, “which is rich coming from a company that runs sweat shops in Asia”. Apple’s Tim Cook didn’t look too pleased.

Gervais is a good example of the modern comedian as the court fool, an important social figure because he was allowed to express unpleasant truths in a way other people weren’t. Giles Fraser once made this exact comparison:

“From Lear’s Fool to Jonathan Swift to Ricky Gervais, piss-taking is an honourable and vital form of truth-telling. It should be a protected characteristic. Instead, we wave our outrage at each other, summoning Twitter likes with every showy and competitive display of mounting indignation. Yes, there are genuine victims of hurtful speech – but just because someone is taking-the-piss, that doesn’t make you one.”
- Giles Fraser

Comedy doesn’t have to be about “speaking truth to power”, but it so happens that the nature of humour makes it possible to make hard criticisms. Historically the most famous story about court fools telling truth to power comes from the jester of France’s Philip VI, who supposedly told him the news of the grim naval defeat at Sluys in 1340, that the English “don’t even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French”.

Not that medieval jesters spent their time telling hard-biting truths; the most well-known from medieval England, Henry II’s Roland the Farter, was given his own manor on account of his flatulary skills, and that was probably the norm historically.

Gervais’s stinging criticism of the Hollywood elite stands in contrast to what has been described as “anti-comedy”, which others have defined as trying to make the audience clap rather than laugh. If Ricky Gervais is like a court jester, anti-comedians are more like preachers, whipping the faithful up in a fit of anger at all the injustices committed by the infidels, heretics and apostates out there. What matters is not mocking conventional wisdom and authority, but affirming membership of the belief.

The reason that anti-comedy is especially associated with the Woke (to use a very overused word) is because wokeness is the ideology in power, the belief system you better conform to if you want to get ahead with your career, or avoid being ostracised, or in other way mingle with high-status people. If you’re in a position of cultural power, you’re going to be hostile to a medium that very easily undermines that power. As a preacher you’d rather people clapped than laughed at the faith.

The fool, on the other hand, doesn’t care much what people believe — he wants to make them laugh, and knows that the gap between belief and reality is one of the oldest and surest streams of comedy known to man. Watch the full video below…

Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable


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