Ricky Gervais is still under fire from the transgender community and our allies for his remarks as the Golden Globes emcee. In the tradition of the insult comedy of Don Rickles and Joan Rivers, Gervais's barbs often come at the expense of celebrities and artists who are expected to be good sports about it. According to him, anyone who criticizes his humor is a "whiner."
Insult comedy is an acquired taste. Gervais ridiculed three people who have subverted gender in their lives and acting roles, and to many of us, this is more than just distasteful. His jokes weren't funny. Gervais is as funny as Donald Trump in his expression of hateful, misogynistic speech. Let's give the Golden Globes audience credit: Their few uncomfortable laughs came amid overall silence.
We in the transgender community don't expect Gervais to "get it." He sees being offensive as his job as a bad boy saying naughty things. His juvenile jokes are usually quickly forgotten.
What got our attention at the Golden Globes was his intellectual cowardice. Gervais doesn't aspire to provoking real thought about the human condition in the vein of Moms Mabley, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Roseanne Barr, or Sarah Silverman.
Comedians have a unique challenge to respond and stay relevant to an ever-shifting landscape of audiences; new identities emerge, new communities gain visibility and momentum. Comedians step up to be a part of the conversation in popular culture.
The best comedians I know are trans people, who unfortunately may never know what it’s like to host the Golden Globes, let alone get onstage at an awards show in the Beverly Hilton. I’m still hopeful that this may change sooner than we think.
As a community, laughter has been a large part of our survival strategy. The words of actress Mya Taylor last week at a screening of Tangerine seem especially poignant: “I’ve had a very sad life. The way that I get through it is to make fun of it.”
The trans community at large has an amazing sense of humor, especially considering the enormous obstacles we face. We are not protected as full citizens under the law in most states, and our trans sisters of color, who deal with the intersections of race, class, and gender, are being murdered in the streets. The best comedians know how to mine the depths of pain and struggle.
Gervais’s brand of comedy is not challenging; it is the laziest kind of comedy. And underneath the cheap laugh is a more austere policing of masculinity and degradation of women. Gervais’s subsequent denial of responsibility for intentionally perpetuating derogatory remarks about folks advocating for a community still in peril, still on the margins, is shameful. Trans people have emerged, become visible, and created platforms for speaking our truth. We are not going anywhere. There are trans people out there laughing, we’re just not laughing with Ricky Gervais.