Ricky Gervais and the strange death of humour

I recently read a sentence in one of the mass of things I read every day that pointed out how a lot of the edgy comics aren’t really complaining about freeze peach, but in fact being held up because they are demanding that we like their jokes and will laugh at them. So it’s about power and privilege not speech.

I’ve personally always found Gervais’ humour makes me smile a bit, sometimes, but I’ve never laughed so hard I fell of the seat watching it. I find Greg Davies’ brand of self-deprecating humanity far warmer and funnier.

Gervais recently tweeted:

I’m an old fashioned liberal lefty, champagne socialist type of guy. A pro-equality, opportunity-for-all, welfare state snowflake. But, if I ever defend freedom of speech on here, I’m suddenly an alt right nazi. How did that happen?

I think it’s because he isn’t defending freedom of speech. People perhaps can’t see what he is defending, but when he doubles down making cheap, lazy shots about Caitlyn Jenner (and by inference the whole vulnerable group she’s a part of), it makes them really uncomfortable. Freeze peach doesn’t protect you from being called out for acting like an arsehole, Ricky, sorry. Indeed, why should it?

Similarly his defense of the Count Dickula buffoon didn’t make him a lot of friends either. If Dickula had apologised and said he was sorry for making such a poor taste joke, it would have ended there. Instead he’s also doubled down and has now had his income streams from Google and Patreon cut off, and complains he can’t get a job. Well, maybe you shouldn’t have been a racist dick in public and then pretended everyone had to listen to your feeble attempts at humour? The same goes for the overbearing chud Carlgon of Arsechad. Again, it’s about using platforms to abuse, you can say what you like in your own home or between what few friends you have, but others are neither obliged nor willing to give you a platform if you’re gonna be a racist dick. Seems fair to me.

Gervais himself seems to be laughing while making increasingly dystopian shows that look like good stuff to slit your wrists to. I read the description of his latest offering on Netflix:

My wife’s dead. I can’t wait to join her. My dad has dementia. His nurse hates me. I work for a local, free newspaper, and deal with morons all day. I’m going to get drunk and take out my anger on every shitty person I meet before I kill myself. #AfterLife on Netflix.

Seriously, why the fuck would you watch this unless you wanted to mock someone in extreme pain and despair? This isn’t funny, again it’s lazily taking something to an extreme and milking it. He started his career portraying a narcicist fool who blunders through life hurting everybody and leaving himself with nothing. Now he writes about people who have a smidgin of empathy but life has beaten it out of them and they want to get drunk and lash out.

I can’t for the life of me see where it goes after this. But it’s also of a piece with the death of liberal capitalism and the systems we all need to survive breaking around us. We can all see this, and most of us feel powerless. So maybe Gervais’ humour has become a way of laughing with the despair.

Personally, I’d rather not. I’d rather try and do whatever I can to make things better and hold others to account. One of the Youtube commentators, who goes by the handle Thought Slime, recently said that even if you can’t believe it’s possible to get a better future now because it’s been left so late do it for spite. Spite those deluded apologists for a system that kills people for fun and profit and make what change you can happen. Otherwise, as I’d advise the character in Afterlife, just jump and stop making everybody else so fucking miserable.

A walk in the park

About 2 months ago I went paddling in my kayak. It’s a tight fit, designed so you can cartwheel. It also has a flat bottom which means it surfs really well but isn’t very fast.

I’m overweight and often find it a little hard to get in and out of the yak, but it’s not that much of a problem. Thing is, I spent a good chunk of January fighting with that cold that lasted for weeks that everyone had. It meant I’d done no physical exercise since December, if not longer ago.

I put all my kit on, the waterproof trousers, the new dry cagoule and so on. I found that the several Kg heavier I was meant that I was being constantly pressed on the diaphragam and couldn’t breathe properly.

I went out with my son onto the water and did the things I always did. I lasted about half an hour and things got worse if anything.

Frankly, I was terrified, I became afraid that I was doing things (or rather not doing things) that meant I was gonna die sooner rather than later.

A friend suggested that I go for a long walk every morning. So I started getting up an hour earlier and doing just that for about three weeks now. Also been listening to useful stuff from Audible while I wander, which helps me think and focus.

I’ve lost about 10Kg and I have energy during the day.

I’m also having a dry month because I was getting to the end of the 9-5 and saying fuck this, let’s have a gin and then not getting anything done.

Been good so far.

Reading and writing

I’ve recently been reading Ursula K Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft.

The format is she discusses a point about writing and then gets you, the reader, to attempt writing something that illustrates the theme she’s addressed in that chapter or section.

The chapter on sentences really made me think about some things that have always bothered me.

She gave an example various forms of sentence with examples taken from various classic works. I personally (as you may gather here) tend towards writing short ones. I often play with words though, so you don’t always get a straight meaning.

She quoted from Dickens, and other writers I’ve always had trouble with. One of the quotes began by naming something, and then spending a lot of time talking about how it affected all the different people in the story and their surroundings. In essence a very long sentence, or group of related sentences. She also says things like Jane Austen writes beautiful sentences that pay being read aloud.

I realised that the reason I have so much trouble with literary fiction and works is that I read for the plot and want to know what happens next.

My years of reading and writing corporate style documents, short sentences, bullet points, constructing easy to grasp breakdowns of complex ideas, has left me wanting to be able to get to the guts of the thing I’m reading rapidly. (See what I did there?)

So I skim. I’ve trained myself to read the first few words of a long paragraph and then dip in and out.

Badly written, repetitive corporate doublespeak is easy to read if you do this. Usually the signal to noise ratio is such that you can get the gist of most things pretty quickly. Literary, proper, writing does not repay this reading style. In fact it’s hard to make out what’s going on at all, which is what makes it so unrewarding for me.

So, I’ve set myself some homework. I’m going to vary my reading style depending on what I’m trying to read. I’m going to make myself work at what I read.

By the way – if you are writing a corporate document or how to guide or something of that style. Assume a reading age of about 12. Use pictures of before and after states rather than words. More than four sentences in a paragraph is putting cognitive load on your readers.

But now I will work harder, and enjoy reading more.

Have fun, people.