In the run-up to this year’s Golden Globes, which Ricky Gervais will be hosting again, and also the American premiere of his new show, Life’s Too Short, which looks very so-so but clearly has its moments, the New York Times has done an extensive profile of Gervais, which will appear in this week’s Sunday magazine. In summation: this guy is such an asshole! I’m not even sure if that’s an insult. I mean, based on the profile and also everything else Ricky Gervais does these days, it seems like that’s kind of his whole thing now, right? (And actually, as a SIDENOTE, if this profile proves anything it is that no one should ever allow themselves to be profiled.) But, like, right off the bat you get things like this:
It is important to Gervais that he should get to do what he wants in all aspects of his life, and he recognizes this.
Gross. You know to whom else it is important that they get what they want in all aspects of their lives? Spoiled little children. And Kim Jong Il. I’m not actually comparing Ricky Gervais to Kim Jong Il, because that sounds too much like a joke that Ricky himself would tell at the Golden Globes, but seriously, gross. Here is an example of what this means:
At the start of our meal, the cafe was empty and quiet, but as it filled up with a robust lunchtime crowd, he complained that the noise was making it difficult for him to concentrate and asked if we could suspend our interview. After about 15 minutes of off-the-record chitchat, he became comfortable again, apologized for what he realized was a diva moment — “my neurosis, my need for control,” he explained — and said the interview could resume.
Oh lord. He had to stop an interview because PEOPLE WERE TALKING IN A RESTAURANT? This guy seems fun. Let’s all hang out with this guy. Also, the profile is just getting started. Buckle your butt-belts because we’re going to Jerkface Town!
Gervais spoke at greatest length about his comedy, occasionally adopting the whispery, professorial tone of someone who is certain he is saying very profound things.
Yuck. YUCK. No comment. Other than MEGA YUCK. Next blockquote:
Hardy is one of Gervais’s heroes, which says a lot about both Gervais’s sensibilities and his knowledge of comedy history. Growing up in Whitley, a homogeneous array of suburban row houses in Reading, a city about 40 miles west of London, Gervais steeped himself in comedy arcana. His list of personal icons began with Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers and over the years grew to include Christopher Guest, the “This Is Spinal Tap” star and writer-director of “Best in Show,” “Waiting For Guffman” and “A Mighty Wind,” as well as dyspeptic stand-up comics like Garry Shandling and Larry David.
Haha. Wow. So, Ricky Gervais is a comedic scholar because he is aware of five of the most successful and well-known comedic acts of the past 100 years? Incredible. I wonder how he has been able to duck out of being an OXFORD PROFESSOR. (Again, this probably says way more about the dangers of submitting to a celebrity profile than anything else. I’d like to believe that Ricky Gervais didn’t try and pretend like this baseline understanding of comedy history was somehow IMPRESSIVE. But also he very well might have. Let’s call this one a push.)
On Gervais’s stand up comedy:
Gervais achieved prominence as a stand-up only after his sitcoms were successful. This colors and reinforces his tendency to see himself as an uncompromising outsider, even as he is invited to host the Golden Globes.
This is in reference to how he never really did stand up until he was already famous. That’s fine. Do what you want. Jim Carrey is a painter now. But one might argue that you never did stand up before you were famous because it is scary. Or because you wouldn’t have had an audience. Or because (DING DING DING) you are terrible at it. Whichever one of these is the answer, it certainly ISN’T because Ricky Gervais is an uncompromising outsider.
Here is his writing/producing partner, Stephen Merchant, who is pretty universally understood to be great, defending his friend/colleague:
“If you come in with the agenda of ‘I don’t like this guy and I’m going to try and stitch him up,’ then Ricky’s stand-up, his interviews, everything he does — you’ll find a way of interpreting it that supports your view,” Merchant said. “He’s acerbic, he’s direct. And if you’re a fan of his, you can see it in a different way.”
Right. No, this is true. But this is also called HOW ALL HUMAN BEINGS ATTEMPT TO GAUGE AND CLASSIFY EACH OTHER IN OUR WORLD OF SOCIAL RULES AND COMPLEX EMOTIONAL INTERACTIONS. This can happen with the cashier at my bodega. It has absolutely nothing to do with Ricky Gervais, comedy, or anything. People always judge each other based mostly on how they are already predisposed to feel. But Stephen Merchant is a very funny writer and performer, not a social psychologist. Moving on.
Finally we get to the heart of the problem:
“I don’t care about winning them over,” he said, meaning the “View” hosts as well as detractors at large, “as long as I get a chance to explain what I mean. I don’t care about them not liking the joke, but they’ve got to understand it before they criticize it. They’ve got to know what my intention was.”
Aha! Here we finally encounter the explanation for how Ricky Gervais has gone so wildly off the rails in recent years. It is clearly because he doesn’t know how comedy works! Poor guy. You don’t have to care about winning them over, but you also don’t get a chance to explain what you mean. That’s not how jokes work. Once you say them, they are up to other people to interpret however they want, and that’s why you should do a good job of writing them instead of a bad job. And while I totally agree that there are varying degrees of intentionality, and that words are empty signifiers that have no inherent meaning and/or emotional impact (although historically, there are certainly a few epithets that are pretty TRIED AND TRUE at this point), that doesn’t really have anything to do with whether or not what you say is FUNNY. You can try to explain your jokes after the fact if you want, and if anyone will bother listening to you, but the intention behind your comedy will never be as important or as interesting to people as the comedy itself (not to mention FUNNY, which again seems to be the rub, does this guy even care about LAFFS no more?). Ricky Gervais seems to be operating under some weird belief that the purpose of comedy is just to get people frustrated on Twitter. Oof. How dull!
I would like to give a special shout out to the writer of the profile, Dave Itzkoff, who is quickly becoming the World’s Best Secret Hatchet Man. His profiles are almost always bright and complimentary, as a celebrity profile “has to be” in order for a publication to maintain its relationships with the people it wants to profile, but he’s so good at slipping in little pokes. Like this one:
He offered to tell me a Mel Gibson joke he was working on for the show, but I said I wanted to be surprised.
Hahah. Uh huh. That is a very clever way of getting out of having to hear a terrible joke. (See also previously: “someone who is certain he is saying very profound things.”) This guy knows what Dave Itzkoff is talking about:
Anyway, congratulations to Ricky Gervais on taking full advantage of the license his success has bought him to be a completely self-satisfied, delusional, mean-spirited, unfunny, power-mad jerk full of long-winded explanations that no one wants to hear for why he’s not an asshole even though he’s totally being an asshole. I’m sure his friends and family know what is in his heart, and that is all that matters, right?