Are Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle Really Doing Anything That 4chan Didn’t Cover in 2014?

Stand-up fans debate whether culture-war comedy is a full decade behind the internet
Are Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle Really Doing Anything That 4chan Didn’t Cover in 2014?

Internet edgelords love to claim that today’s hypersensitive media consumers wouldn’t last ten minutes in a Call of Duty lobby back in 2012, as if the current era of Ricky Gervais doesn’t give audiences the same experience.

In 2024, by far the most lucrative style of standup comedy is that of the cancel culture complainer/anti-PC culture warrior. Right now, two of the top five streaming titles on all of Netflix are Ricky Gervais’ special Armageddonan hour he promoted by purposefully inciting backlash to his burn on terminally ill children, and Dave Chappelle’s The Dreamer, which opens with a three-minute story for which the payoff was a lazy punchline comparing the trans community to method actors. Branding oneself as an anti-woke, boundary pushing shock humorist is the most profitable career move available to stars in the contemporary comedy scene — but, as anyone who ever found themselves on 4chan during their adolescence can attest, that style of humor is hardly a modern invention.

Over in the standup comedy subreddit, user Laughing_Scoundrel launched a thread titled, “Culture war comedy is a decade behind 4chan and it sucks,” in which they compared Gervais, Chappelle, Bill MaherRoseanne Barr, “The Rogan dickriders” and other “controversial” comedians unfavorably to the demented shock posting of the early 2010s message boards. “It's almost like a race to the creative bottom for a lot of them,” the user wrote, as if that wasn’t the exact pitch for Real Time.

“I keep noticing that all of their jokes about pronouns, trans people, BLM, etc are all rehashed shit that was being tweeted and posted by 4chan/8chan users pretty much throughout Gamergate,” Laughing_Scoundrel wrote, “Aside from the jokes not even really being funny in a standup setting, it's sort of a let down to see many otherwise brilliant and accomplished comedians basically leaning into nearly decade's old premises and sometimes outright bits and jokes that were written by unfunny internet lifers. Am I alone in seeing this?”

They weren’t alone, as many users agreed with the assessment of mainstream comedy as a watered-down derivative of edgy internet humor that’s been floating around since Chappelle wrote jokes with the intention of getting laughs instead of headlines. “It seems that more people are realising how stale this kind of material (is) with each new special that comes out,” one user agreed, though another posited, “Dirt bag edge lord jokes are always funny to the losers that find it funny. So it's an audience to go after. You can just stop trying hard.”

“It's a lot more difficult to come up with fresh creative material. When it comes to political comedy, there are a certain population of ‘clap if you agree’ audience members who can easily be catered to,” one commenter asserted, writing, “The bottom of the barrel people will fill the seats just because they want to support any comedian who's claiming to ‘stand up to the woke mob.’ It doesn't matter if it's funny, original, or creative.”

Whether or not today's comedians are cribbing jokes from late-Obama era internet edgelords, it's at least encouraging that they're only copying 8chan users' online humor and not their offline behavior — someone will have to call it in if Gervais' special is titled Manifesto.

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