Unlike Kevin Hart, Gervais is currently and actively campaigning against trans and nonbinary people.
Ricky Gervais has been widely criticized for his outrageous mockery of transgender and nonbinary folks made before guffawing audiences of white, straight cis folks during his stand-up routines. In his Netflix comedy special “Humanity” he makes fun of trans identities by claiming to identify “As a chimp.” Along the way he rambles on about AIDS and, once again, invokes easy target Caitlyn Jenner for some cheap laughs at the trans woman’s expense.
While hosting The Golden Globes in 2016, Gervais targeted Jenner, deadnaming and misgendering her from the podium saying; “I’ve changed,” he began, “Not as much as Bruce Jenner, obviously. Now Caitlyn Jenner, of course. What a year she’s had. She became a role model for trans people everywhere, showing great bravery in breaking down barriers and destroying stereotypes…” as he then pretended to drive a car, gesturing to a tragic accident involving Jenner which killed another driver.
Despite the backlash, which has often seen the British comedian and actor take to twitter in his own defense in the aftermath, Gervais has continued his reckless remarks aimed squarely at the trans community. Prior to the chimpanzee joke, he used a twitter exchange in 2018 to identify himself as black in response to a critic who pointed out his appalling display of privilege.
2018 was also the year that saw another comedian, Kevin Hart, fired from hosting the Academy Awards after 10 year old tweets resurfaced wherein he used anti-gay slurs and extremely homophobic language.
The distinction between the Hart incident and that of Ricky Gervais is that Gervais is not couching his anti-trans rhetoric in comedy anymore, but in declared support for anti-trans sentiments. This month, in response to controversial Youtube personality Blaire White, a transgender, conservative Trump supporter who has developed a career of chiding and invalidating those with nonbinary identities, Gervais tweeted out his support for her:
Most comedians, like Dave Chappelle, regularly leverage the LGBTQ+community in the comedy routines to generate a laugh but typically leave it for the stage. Chappelle, for example, had maintained a close friendship with trans comedian Daphne Dorman and, according to him, tested out his trans-related jokes with her prior to delivering them from behind the microphone. He also hired her to open for him during a performance in one of America’s most conservative states, Texas, and gave her a special credit in his Netflix special.
Insult comedian and Drag Queen Bianca Del Rio who shot to stardom after appearing on Rupaul’s Drag Race makes fun of everyone in her routines, including Asians, gay people, transgender people, black people and disabled people. Del Rio, however, is a gay Latino man who just as frequently pokes fun at himself, but more importantly, doesn’t allow the “jokes” to cross over into real world commentary or some nefarious political activism against the groups he uses in his material. He doesn’t tweet his support to high profile alt-right figures promoting hateful or discriminatory agendas.
In defense of Comedy, while some believe it has become far too insensitive and politically correct, I maintain the rather unpopular opinion that comedy is a welcome relief from hostile climate we find our everyday lives entrenched in. I understand the nuance of comedy. Intent is everything in comedy, and it shouldn’t have to tiptoe around hypersensitive subjects but allow us a moment of reprieve from taking it all so seriously. It’s typically well received when delivered from a comedian who we understand doesn’t harbor nefarious political ideologies or divisive world views. In most contexts, as a trans person, I understand I am not the butt of the joke being made by a talented comedian, but in on the joke instead. The material isn’t usually uncomfortably situating a target on my back, making a disproportionate amount of the content about one group of people- when it stops being funny and becomes a glaringly negative opinion; A fixation.
Gervais has developed a reputation for being consistent in his transphobia- whether on stage or not, situated in a joke or not, on stage or on his social media. He has made it evident by co-signing the venomous, misinformed opinions and five minute hot-takes by hostile agitators that he simply doesn’t like trans people. That makes his jokes no longer jokes, but a sermon of his personal beliefs. It’s not funny anymore, just uncomfortable to witness.
This is why it came as a surprise when the Golden Globes announced Gervais would be returning as host this year leaving most of us to wonder why such a combative figure, unapologetic in his resign to such remarks, would be honored once more with such an esteemed platform. Certainly no one responsible for the positioning of Gervais can feign ignorance to his publicly stated bigotry, nor can they expect that the trans community might be spared his condemnation from their stage that he has used previously to disparage a trans person pretending it’s “just comedy.”
As hate crimes across the US and UK spike in regards to violence against the transgender community, it would have been prudent, if not simply responsible, to consider a host that doesn’t have to rely on the misfortune of a marginalized and politically imperiled minority for their routine as Gervais has demonstrated before the entire world time and time again. The platforming of Gervais in a time of such social unrest is reckless if not altogether cruel.
The messaging such a move sends is dangerous. Words matter. Validating bigotry by giving it a microphone amplifies that to every single trans person who loves films or participates in the industry who has to read the caustic headlines the next day.