Tuesday, January 14, 2020

"Just jokes"?

Stewart Lee hasn't shied away from having a pop at Ricky Gervais before - a man who has previously sung his praises - but in his latest Guardian column the gloves really are off. Lee begins by attacking Jeremy Clarkson for the latest politically correct opinion he's expressed for money, but soon tires of effectively shooting fish in a barrel (and the danger of repeating himself) and moves to train his sights on Gervais.

Lee is generous enough to refer to his fellow comic's "pitch-perfect contribution to the groundbreaking Office sitcom two decades ago", but otherwise concentrates on drawing parallels between Gervais' now infamous Golden Globes speech and the way in which both Clarkson and Boris Johnson have made literal capital out of "exploiting the notion that they are lone voices of sanity against a politically correct snowflake cabal intent on silencing normal blokes like them". The trio, he argues, are "narcissistic populists, all clever enough to know better, who continue to court the attention of angry impotent people and take no personal responsibility for the consequences of their words, other mortals merely collateral damage, rabbits churned up in the combine harvester blades of their ongoing ambitions".

As with neo-Nazis backing Trump and Britain First urging its members to join the Tory party, Lee observes that what was most telling about Gervais' comments was the friends they earned him: hardened right-wingers all too eager to pile on political correctness, most notably Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, who (in the article's most memorable turn of phrase) "ripped the lid off the rotting kitchen food waste bin of her mind to retch forth some choice owl pellets of praise for Gervais' performative outrage", hailing him as the "Wokefinder General".

Lee's reaction is scathing and merciless: "In the Wokefinder General's mawkish sitcom After Life, the Wokefinder General's character considers suicide because his wife dies of a terminal illness. But in real life, the Wokefinder General has been praised by Sarah Vine, which is worse than losing a loved one prematurely."

Lee once wrote a whole routine with the deliberate intention of crafting a joke that Joe Pasquale couldn't steal (the resulting creation ended with the sentence "I vomited into the gaping anus of Christ"). His message to Gervais, clearly, is to stop performing material that people like Vine can lap up.

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