Ricky Gervais Defends Make-A-Wish Joke: ‘What Do You Want Me to Change?’

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Ricky Gervais Defends Make-A-Wish Joke: ‘What Do You Want Me to Change?’

By this point, you’ve probably heard about the controversial joke Ricky Gervais chose to promote his new Netflix comedy special, Armageddon. The little ditty goes something like this: “Do you know the charity Make-A-Wish Foundation? They’re great and they give these dying kids their one wish. If it’s me, I always say yes. And I always start the video the same way. I go, ‘Why didn’t you wish to get better?’”

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It’s not a huge surprise that the bit — which also called terminally ill children “baldies” — offended some people enough to launch a petition asking Netflix to remove the joke. But Gervais isn’t particularly worried about the effort, he told BBC Radio 5 Live's Nihal Arthanayake: “Good luck. That's what I say to them. Good luck. I'll even retweet it.” (A quick check of Gervais’s Twitter account doesn’t turn up any petition retweets, although there are several plugs for his new business venture, Dutch Barn Vodka. Cheers.)

Part of the problem, according to Gervais, is that the haters have taken his joke out of context. “I'm literally saying in the joke that I don't do that. But people have a reaction. They don't analyze it. They feel something – that's what offense is. It's a feeling,” he explained. “'That's why ‘I'm offended’ is quite meaningless. What do you want me to change?”

The answer would likely be “jokes about kids with cancer.” But that change request would fall on deaf ears as Gervais believes people aren’t actually vexed by the jokes. “Ninety-nine percent of it is faux offense. They're not really offended,” he says. “They just want to be heard. I'll explain, 'No, you've mistaken the subject of the joke with the actual target.’"

Okay, I’ll play along. The subject of the joke is kids with cancer. But the target of “Why didn’t you wish to get better?” is… Misguided charity efforts? Inadequate health care? Gervais himself? He doesn’t elaborate on this point. 

None of that matters since most people are into the joke (according to Gervais). “Of all the millions of people that watched it and loved it, only a few don't like it. If I give them special attention and try and placate them, I've annoyed the other millions of people that got the joke. 'They go "no, you've ruined it for us!’ So, I've got a duty to the people that like it and get it,” he says. “I wouldn't sit down with a heckler, would I? If I'm playing to twenty thousand people, I wouldn't stop the show and explain to them. I ignore them.”

Ah! So people who are offended by that joke are essentially hecklers. It seems like a different phenomenon. On the one hand, you’ve got drunk club patrons shouting out “you suck!” or similarly witty bon mots. On the other, you have online commenters like @onemightywarrior, who wrote:

“This is extremely disheartening. How could you joke about dying children. One of those “baldies” was my baby. Suffered & died before the age of six. And some how you find it comical. You are what’s wrong with this world. Taking something so tragic & then try to make “light” of it & then have to justify how “it’s only an act”. You’re the joke of this whole thing. A true piece of work.” 

To those critics, of course, Gervais says, “Good luck” trying to do anything about it. And his ultimate message to @onemightywarrior and others? If you don’t like my kind of comedy, don’t watch it. 

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