Kumail Nanjiani Warns Ricky Gervais of ‘Normalizing Harmful Ideas’ Through Satire

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Gervais: I say the wrong thing because I know the audience knows the right thing

July 4th, 2020 – Kumail Nanjiani and Ricky Gervais made headlines this week following a discussion about “normalizing harmful ideas” through satirical comedy. The two comedians were a part of The Hollywood Reporter‘s latest virtual roundtable discussion on humor in the age of a global pandemic and civil unrest.

Joined by Saturday Night Live‘s Kenan Thompson, Schitt’s Creek‘s Dan Levy, and Ramy‘s Ramy Youssef, Gervais kicked off the talk by acknowledging that it’s still very possible to be funny right now. And this time, in particular, calls for artists to put out their material unapologetically.

Through a good bit of sarcasm, Gervais revealed he wasn’t laying off any topics he would have pushed prior to our 2020 shift.

GERVAIS: That’s the best time. When everyone’s on edge and sensitive, that’s the best time to be insensitive. My show was packed with jokes about AIDS, cancer, famine, the Holocaust. So, this is just going to top it off.

YOUSSEF: I’m glad this helps Ricky’s brand. (Laughter.)

THOMPSON: Exactly. This is Ricky’s prime time right now.

Gervais, whose latest work After Life deals with comedy amid the backdrop of grief from losing a loved one, put out the idea that the fiction he creates for television isn’t always that far off from what he presents as a standup comedian.

“What really annoys me is that people think that a joke is the window to the comedian’s true soul. And it’s just not true,” Gervais told the group. “A big part of my comedy is saying things I do not mean. I say the wrong thing because I know the audience knows the right thing and that’s why they laugh…I’ll change the joke halfway through. I’ll pretend to be right wing, left wing, no wing, if it makes the joke funnier.”

Nanjiani, who joked about getting “ripped for Pakistan” for his upcoming superhero role in Marvel’s The Eternals, pushed back on Gervais’ approach in a more thoughtful tone.

“Ricky, can I ask you something? You said sometimes you say jokes that obviously are not what you mean. How do you feel about audiences that might watch and think, ‘Oh that is how Ricky feels’?”

Gervais classified the risk as an “occupational hazard” where he’s come to terms with the math that out of a 15,000+ crowd you’re going to have some people who don’t understand the satire and irony.

“There comes a point where you go, ‘Listen, the joke is there, the joke is gettable, most people get it, if there is one person that doesn’t get it, I can live with that,'” he responded. “That someone might take you at face value doing an ironic joke or a satirical joke, well, yeah, some people try to inject themselves with bleach. There are stupid people in the world.”

Nanjiani didn’t argue with bleach injections because well, again, 2020, but he did go back to the balancing act of intent versus impact.

“But if you’re making some sort of joke where obviously you don’t believe it, but the point of view of the joke is that it’s good that these people are marginalized, I do think that can normalize ideas that would otherwise societally be considered harmful,” he said.

Watch the discussion below or read a transcript of the roundtable here, and let us know your thoughts!

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