Ricky Gervais Defends Transphobic Tweets Ahead of Golden Globes

"It's an occupational hazard of being outspoken."

Before returning to host the Golden Globe Awards for the fifth time, Ricky Gervais addressed the backlash to his recent spate of seemingly transphobic tweets.

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling made headlines last month when she publicly defended Maya Forstater, a cisgender woman who claimed she lost her job over her anti-trans tweets calling “biological sex” an immutable fact. Gervais appeared to side with the author in a series of incendiary tweets, many of which read as transphobic; however, some felt the 58-year-old comedian’s particular British brand of sarcasm may have muddled his intentions.

“Speaking as a trans woman, the thought that I will no longer be welcome in a fictional school for wizards has destroyed me,” wrote Twitter user Jarvis Dupont, a satirical troll account.

“Those awful biological women can never understand what it must be like for you becoming a lovely lady so late in life,” Gervais tweeted in response. “They take their girly privileges for granted. Winning at female sports and having their own toilets. Well, enough is enough.”

“We need to protect the rights of women,” Gervais later tweeted. “Not erode them because some men have found a new cunning way to dominate and demonise an entire sex.”

“I think trans women are women,” he clarified in another response. “No, I’m not telling you I don’t believe people can be trans. Or that trans people shouldn’t be respected etc.”

Satirical or not, his unclear comments succeeded in spreading anti-trans rhetoric that enabled a torrent of indisputably transphobic comments.

“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 tells The Hollywood Reporter. “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,” Gervais says. “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.”

How does Gervais respond to those who imply he’s transphobic? “I just say I’m not. And there’s nothing else you can say, you know? Yeah, I’m not. I can justify the jokes, but I get it. Some people, when you deal with contentious issues or taboo subjects, the very mention of them is the sacrilege. That’s why they stay taboo. People straight away, particularly with a comedian, if you’re joking about a subject, they think you’re anti it as opposed to pro it.”

“I’ve tried to explain this in Humanity,” Gervais says, referring to his 2018 Netflix special that includes jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. “It’s an occupational hazard of being outspoken. I think offense is the collateral damage of free speech, and it’s no reason not to have free speech. That’s what I’d say—it’s the lesser of two evils. Having free speech and some people getting upset by it is the lesser of two evils because not having free speech is horrendous.”

“People like the idea of freedom of speech until they hear something they don’t like. So there’s still a pressure, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to water it down or back down and not say what I want,” Gervais continues. “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.”

“You shouldn’t laugh at something they can’t help,” he explains, discussing which celebrity targets are fair game for ridicule. “Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good rule. 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.”

Gervais also references the Kevin Hart Oscars controversy when talking about how he crafts wisecracks for the Globes. “I write jokes and they’re considered and I make sure they’re bulletproof. Nowadays, you’ve got to make sure they’re bulletproof in 10 years’ time, with people going through saying, ’He said this once, 10 years [ago].’ Kevin Hart [lost] his job [as Oscars host] for 10-year-old tweets that he said he was sorry about and deleted at the time. So there’s more pressure on making [the jokes bulletproof]. It’s the world [watching]. This isn’t me in a comedy club.”

Gervais has a history of arguably transphobic humor. Hosting the Globes in 2016, he famously deadnamed Caitlyn Jenner before making trans jokes about Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.

The Golden Globes air tonight, January 5, on NBC.

Celebrity interviewer. Foodie and Broadway buff in Manhattan. Hates writing bios.
@brandonvoss