Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais: 'You can tell a joke about race without being racist'

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Ricky Gervais talks hosting the Golden Globes for the fifth time in The Hollywood Reporter. (Photo: The Hollywood Reporter)

Ricky Gervais is set to host the Golden Globes for a record fifth time on Sunday, but that’s not the only reason why people have been talking about him.

The British comedian and co-creator of The Office drew criticism in late December after he fired off what some people read as transphobic tweets.

He addressed both subjects in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

The current controversy involves a Twitter dispute between Gervais and a parody account known as “Jarvis Dupont” from Dec. 19. In it, Dupont responded to new concerns about J.K. Rowling’s stance on transgender issues by calling the author a slur and writing: “The thought that I will no longer be welcome in a fictional school for wizards has destroyed me.” Gervais, known for his boldness, replied: “Those awful biological women can never understand what it must be like for you becoming a lovely lady so late in life. They take their girly privileges for granted. Winning at female sports and having their own toilets. Well, enough is enough.”

When members of the trans community began pushing back, Gervais launched an argument, attempting to clarify what he meant.

Ricky Gervais talks hosting the Golden Globes for the fifth time in The Hollywood Reporter. (Photo: The Hollywood Reporter)

He gave his defense a second try with THR.

“Jarvis Dupont is a spoof Twitter account, and the joke is that he’s so woke that he’s actually gone full circle and does terrible things,” Gervais told the magazine. “And his latest [bit] is, ‘I’m trans now.’ And he gets all that wrong. And I responded by playing along with him, saying, ‘Oh, you’re so much better than biological women because they’ve had a lifetime to get used to it.’ Now, people saw my tweet and they thought he’s a real trans person, but I’m taking the piss out of Jarvis Dupont, who is actually a woman in real life. And this is the problem. You can say, ‘Listen, I was joking. It’s a joke.’ But that’s not always enough for people. They go, ‘Well, why were you joking?’ Also, add to that the nature of Twitter — it’s so curt, there’s no nuance, it’s there forever out of context.”

Gervais said he continues using social media, though, because it’s an excellent way to market himself and a way to be able to communicate directly with fans. And he keeps telling jokes that upset people from time to time because… it’s what he does.

But to be clear, Gervais said he’s not transphobic. He insisted that other jokes people pointed to as proof he is — the past ones about Caitlyn Jenner’s 2015 car crash, for example — were “misunderstood.” He pointed out that he made sure his punchline was specifically about Jenner being a bad driver. He doesn’t want to make fun of something people can’t help, like the color of their skin.

“Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good rule,” Gervais said. “Again, it’s not a rule of comedy. It’s my personal rule. Deep down, I want people to know I’m not a racist or a homophobe or a sexist.”

He lamented that audiences have become more sensitive, though.

“I think those things start off with very good intention and then they’re mugged,” he said. “It’s a good thing to not be racist and sexist and homophobic. But it’s not a good thing to not be allowed to make jokes about those things, because you can tell a joke about race without being racist. I’m happy to play by the rules. It’s just that the 200 million people watching have different rules. That’s the plight. When people say, ‘He crossed the line,’ I say, ‘I didn’t draw a line, you did.’ It’s relative. It’s subjective.”

Gervais did express regret for one of his jokes: an introduction of presenters Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, in which he described Hanks as someone who has won five Oscars and pulled in $5 billion at the box office, and Allen as “Tim Allen.” It was a line that would have worked with almost anyone standing next to Hanks.

“And I have nothing against Tim Allen. He’s a good actor. He’s probably a nice bloke,” Gervais said. “So even though there’s no malice and I can justify it comedically and everyone laughed, I didn’t want Tim Allen to think, ‘Oh, that was written for me. Why me?’ Well, because you were standing next to Tom Hanks.”

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