A natural bias of conservatism is that the old is valued over the new, so an old liberal is preferable to the alternative.
Ricky Gervais is an example of such, an old liberal who is gaining a strong following among conservatives due to his outspoken defense of the basic civilizational values of freedom of speech, debate, and opposition to political correctness.
I’ve been a Gervais fan since his 1990s 11 O’Clock show days, when he was even more given to edgy comedy than he is today, and unwelcome on the trans-Atlantic luvvie circuit he is now the fundament of. While there since have been peaks (The Office) and troughs (any Hollywood film he’s been in), the sheer breadth of his output makes him not only the greatest comedic mind of his generation, but also one of Britain’s most influential social commentators.
He reserves his most politically significant show not to bash Trump and Brexit, but political correctness and the “I’m offended” culture.
You can argue well that Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character is the superior comic character to David Brent, or that Stewart Lee is the better standup, but no one has shown the energy or daring to try a large range of characters and formats to appeal to the huge and diverse audience that Gervais can boast.
His latest partnership with Netflix is the perfect vehicle for his growing international audience, and he has, as usual, been immediately prolific.
His defense of free speech and offense in his “Humanity” standup is second only to Doug Stanhope’s. He reserves his most politically significant show not to bash Trump and Brexit, but political correctness and the “I’m offended” culture.
The comics of the 60s and 70s are deemed, at least by today’s mainstream media standards, to be “right wing”. For some reason it was decided somewhere in the media corridors of power that thereafter all comedians should be left-wing, forever.
The BBC now has a diversity and gender balance rule for their comedy output, which means the requirement to be a BBC comedian is to be able to stagger out and announce that “Trump is an idiot” whilst not being a straight white male. It has rendered panel shows like Have I Got News for You unwatchable to anyone discerning.
I think will see the new breed of edgy comics be, if not on the right, challengers to the modern constrictive liberal orthodoxy.
As Stanhope says in his latest standup, “there are two kinds of comedians today, those that are politically correct and those that are funny.”
Gervais’s latest show After Life‘s first 5 episodes are so delightfully dark, they break the bounds of the sitcom genre. A man who has given up on life after the loss of his wife, tears himself, everyone, and everything around him apart in anger and despair, culminating in his facilitation of the suicide of a similarly lost colleague.
Everything Gervais does will be compared to The Office, and it will never be bettered, but After Life is brilliant, and strangely both comforting and disturbing.
Like David Lynch’s films, all of Gervais’s comedy is underpinned by a seething darkness that lurks beneath the mundane ordinariness of modern life, and is always finished with a late and resolving redemption.
The great thing about comedy is that it is binary: no matter how many diversity targets are met, something is either funny or it isn’t, a win or a loss.
Gervais’s public identity rests heavily on his evangelical atheism. But the balance of good and evil is always present in his work, which, in the case of After Life and Derek (another of his Netflix-available shows), is a rare weakness that makes the story a little too neat.
I was rooting for the lead character to hold firm to his despair, which at the very least would allow for a second series, but it seems Gervais has begun and finished another challenging and entertaining character in a brief UK standard 6 episodes.
The great thing about comedy (as sport) is that it is binary: no matter how many diversity targets are met, something is either funny or it isn’t, a win or a loss.
One day Gervais may get tired of winning, but he shows no signs of tiring, and until someone on the right manages or is allowed to be funny again, Gervais’s common sense heroes in clown world are as good as it gets.
Cllr Ben Harris-Quinney is Chairman of Britain’s oldest conservative think-tank, the Bow Group.
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