Gervais performing in SuperNature special

What Is the Meaning of Comedy Today?

Ricky Gervais’ most recent Netflix special has received a lot of backlash.
July 27, 2022
4 mins read

The word “comedy” seems to have lost its innocence over the years. A joke is just a joke, right? That’s what most people would like to believe, and human beings tell jokes to make other people laugh. Comedy is a form of storytelling and entertainment. If a work is categorized as a comedy, it’s supposed to be lighthearted and funny. But it seems as though individuals have been upset with comedy’s trajectory.

Ricky Gervais is the British king of comedy. He’s known for creating the original version of “The Office” and currently, has his own show on Netflix called “After Life.” Gervais is known for his dark humor and “SuperNature” certainly incorporates dark humor. However, one of the reasons why “SuperNature” has received such negative reviews is due to his jokes about trans people. Gervais explicitly states in his comedy special that he supports all human rights, and that includes trans rights. But still, there has been backlash over his controversial stand-up comedy bits.

The negative feedback makes sense. Whenever a group is marginalized, that group feels pain. In this case, it’s the trans community, and anyone who’s part of the trans community probably doesn’t appreciate a joke made about their experience. People in general don’t really like to be made fun of. There was a cultural shift in the 2010s, and Americans became more sensitive to certain topics and obsessed with identity politics.

This hypersensitivity isn’t just applicable to comedy: It’s also in academia. For example, in college classrooms, it seems like taking offense to something is on every college students’ radar. If people are offended by every little thing, we can no longer be honest with each other anymore. Having candid conversations is a part of life and strengthens our relationships with others. Candor is also a part of comedy.

Comedy as a form of storytelling and entertainment is important in society because it’s art. Art is necessary in life because it gives human beings something to respond to. But considering the direction that comedy is heading toward, I wonder if stand-up comedy will become a different genre or if the genre itself will eventually disappear. Being a good comedian requires honesty, good storytelling skills, humanity and awareness of current cultural discourse.

Although I’m not part of the trans community, I understand why a member of the trans community would be offended by the jokes that were told in “SuperNature.” However, most people believe that comedy is supposed to be provocative and is supposed to make people think. If the comedian literally says that he, she or they supports all human rights after making fun of a certain group of people, others have to understand that the comedian doesn’t actually believe what they are saying. The comedian’s making a joke to make others laugh, which is the whole purpose of comedy.

Furthermore, something that all comedians have in common is that they are thinkers. There’s a certain psychology to comedy. An article from The Atlantic titled “The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian” explores the specific mindset these people have, how comedy evolved over time and the trajectory of comedy around the world. The author mentions psychologist Daniela S. Hugelshofer. Hugelshofer “suggested that humor acts as a buffer against depression and hopelessness.” This makes sense since so many comedians have shared their personal experiences and struggles with anxiety and depression. Maybe one way to fight depression is by using humor and honesty more in our lives.

If we want more comedy that gets to the core of the human experience, people will have to learn to be okay with feeling uncomfortable. Comedians exist to make us laugh as well as make us think. Being provocative sometimes requires people to be edgy and maybe even offensive toward others. However, if making a funny observation comes from a place of wanting to improve the human experience, it’s worth enduring a state of discomfort as an audience member. Ricky Gervais and his stand-up special “SuperNature” are no exception: People should learn how to tolerate being in a state of discomfort.

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