Actor Kumail Nanjiani questioned Ricky Gervais on whether his controversial stand-up comedy style “normalised harmful ideas”.
The comedians were joined by Ramy Youssef, Kenan Thompson and Dan Levy for The Hollywood Reporter’s comedy actor roundtable, during which After Life actor Gervais discussed the difference between himself and his on-stage persona.
“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.
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“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 pretend to be right wing, left wing, no wing, if it makes the joke funnier.”
In response, Nanjiani asked Gervais about how he feels when people watch his stand-up and assume the words he says on stage are his actual thoughts.
Describing it as an “occupational hazard”, Gervais replied: “The fact is if I play to 15,000 people, there are going to be rapists, paedophiles, murderers… 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.”
However, The Big Sick actor challenged Gervais, telling him: “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 marginalised, I do think that can normalise ideas that would otherwise societally be considered harmful.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Gervais suggested that young comedians should “try to get fired” while working on Saturday Night Live, with Nanjiani jokingly replying: “Ricky, that’s terrible advice.
“You can do that if you’re Ricky Gervais, but somebody else gets their first job, they take your advice and try to get fired and guess what?” he asked, with SNL actor Thompson adding: “They get f***in’ fired.”