Notes on News: Was Ricky Gervais’ joke about Caitlyn Jenner really that offensive?


Let me just start off by clarifying that I advocate equality for all and would not condone any form of bullying towards a minority group in society for no reason. However, in the case of Ricky Gervais, I don’t think that’s the case at all.

For those of you who missed it, Ricky Gervais presented the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday (10th January) for the fourth time. In his role as quasi-obnoxious presenter, he was more or less obliged to mock and poke fun at the stars that made headlines in the past year, with the intent of generating a good laugh from the audience. Which is exactly what Gervais did. In a reference to Caitlyn Jenner’s involvement in a fatal car-crash last February, Gervais pointed out that “she didn’t do a lot for women drivers.”

Naturally, the candidly humourous element of the joke was quickly overshadowed by the fact that it was aimed at a transgender person, and so automatically, became transphobic. US LGBT Group GLAAD even went so far as to tweet Gervais, telling him that “Jokes at the expense of trans people are so tired.” Now, on a personal level, I think this has been something of an over-reaction. Would the same reaction have been made if it was said by say… Jeremy Clarkson, a man whose reputation thrives on controversy? No. Would the same reaction have been made if it was referring to a man? No. Is this reaction necessary or beneficial to anyone? No. We have a hat trick! What astounds me the most about this story is that people seem to ignore that overall Gervais was positive and praised Caitlyn Jenner, calling her “a role model for trans people” and showing “great bravery.” He even used Caitlyn’s preferred pronoun of ‘she’ when addressing the issue. If he had said something blatantly offensive about the trans community, or indeed about Jenner herself, I could have understood people taking umbrage with it. If anything, at worst he made a joke about women drivers which has been the subject of male comic ridicule for a long time – rightly or wrongly.

But the fact of the matter is that Gervais is a comedian and comedians thrive on controversial jokes. In particular, stand-up comedy is always likely to have a controversial edgy element to it, and all the more for it, in my opinion. Free speech and criticism is often best expressed in comedic form. By becoming overtly sensitive and taking offence at any single thing which may be attributed as being offensive to any one person, situation or time period, we are effectively mirroring the society that develops in Orwell’s popular dystopia 1984. Gervais himself seemed unimpressed at the negative reception he received from some people and posted to social media to rebuke these claims, stating: “Suggesting a joke about Caitlyn Jenner is automatically transphobic is like suggesting a joke about Bill Cosby is automatically racist.”

To reiterate, I am not saying I condone insulting, or bullying of any kind towards anyone. But what I am saying, however, is that some people take things way too seriously. A comedian made a joke. The joke could have been construed as offensive to a particular part of society. That doesn’t mean it was intended to be that way or that the comedian shouldn’t have said it. Sadly, the sensitivity level in society appears to be reaching a level where the immediate reaction to any comment or idea is “how and why can this offend me?” And at that point, humour dies.


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1 Comment

  1. Rehana Nurmahi on

    I agree with you on this. In fact, considering the fact that Gervais made the joke perfectly accepting of Jenner’s gender, it seems strange that people have read that as transphobic. The joke was sexist, sure, but I don’t think it should be read as a personal attack on trans people at all. Like you said, people need to learn to take a joke, and stop looking for reasons to complain!

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