I have a complicated relationship with Ricky Gervais.
As does everyone who’s ever encountered him, I would imagine.
I love The Office, even more so as I get older and move further into the workplace, witnessing first hand the waves of mortified eyebrow raises that sweep an office after a boss orders a pizza for everyone and then stalks the room, screeching at people to “Get this on social media!”
I didn’t mind Extras either, but I have pretty much hated everything that Ricky Gervais has done, said or been involved in since then.
I sure did hate it when he gleefully announced that he’d written his most ‘offensive stand up routine ever’ earlier this week. It seems a weird thing to announce to millions of people; akin, to me, to announcing that you’d just run over a cat.
Once again, Gervais caused me to have complicated feelings that I hadn’t signed on for. On one hand, was the routine going to be that offensive? Surely a healthy dollop of shock is needed to cause the kind of offence that Gervais is gunning for and I think we can all safely assume that he won’t be straying too far from the checklist of jokes that feature on The Official Ricky Gervais Comedy Bingo Card; there is no god / I have the body of an adonis / there is no god / gay animals / there is no god. Full house.
But on the other hand, why would you ever deliberately bill something that you had created as offensive?
I know that a lot of people prescribe to the notion that ‘offence can only be taken, not given’, but I think that that ridiculous, get-out-of-jail-free phrase can only begin to make sense if someone is calling something that another person has done offensive; if you’re describing your own work as offensive, surely that’s straight up intent to offend? You are swerving to make sure you get that cat.
Apparently sarcasm is the lowest form of wit; for me, it’s offence dressed up as humour. Followed closely by imitating people using stupid voices, something that Gervais is also a dab hand at.
The point that Gervais seems to be missing, and the point that makes his pride in offending even more irritating, is that being offensive is incredibly easy; it takes no effort, thought, creativity or talent.
It’s so easy that even marketers are giving it a good go.
Over the last few years smart marketing teams have climbed off the fence, albeit gingerly, realising that being opinionated can often win them more customers and more fans than trying to keep everyone happy. Dumb, lazy marketers, however, have confused being opinionated with being offensive.
Being offensive won’t necessarily get you more customers or more fans – it will only get you attention. I cannot tell you the amount of times that I have discussed an insulting or offensive campaign with a colleague, usually a middle-aged man, and before I’ve gotten to ‘-sive’ they’ve bleated the marketing equivalent of snap at me – “it’ll get people talking!”
So what? Do you know how much of my time is spent talking about things that I don’t like and have no intention of ever being involved with in any way? Well, because I am a cynical misery guts, it’s probably about 62%. Talk really doesn’t get you much; it doesn’t always lead to action and definitely doesn’t lead to cash.
In fact, the only business I have seen make deliberately offensive marketing work to their advantage is Paddy Power, and that’s only because their target market, the Lad, made offence their official currency a long time ago.
Anyone who isn’t aiming to get the Lad pound is setting themselves up for a hit and miss; the most recent example of this being GBK and their swing at vegetarians.
Even I found the ‘They eat grass so that you don’t have to’ ad more than a little ‘off’, and I’m a person of relatively little principle in the sense that I don’t enjoy the thought of animals being violently butchered but I do regularly enjoy a huge cheeseburger; I’m GBK’s dream customer! However, I talked about the campaign and I wrote about the campaign, but I didn’t act on the campaign.
Annoyingly, I think Ricky Gervais will see better results than GBK. He hasn’t done a stand up tour for years and if the upcoming David Brent film is as good as The Office then we will all be lulled into a false sense of security that his Most Offensive Routine Ever will be something more than a collection of jokes that your unpleasant uncle has said at weddings, only repeated in a high-pitched voice.
I know that comedy is a grey area, that lines get blurred and that we sometimes laugh at things that we shouldn’t, but there’s a difference between thinking “Hmm, I’m pretty bloody close to the bone here” and thinking “Yes, I see the bone. I’m going to go all Misery and hit it with a sledgehammer.” It’s the difference between being clever and thought-through, and being too lazy to get people talking about how good something is, whether that’s in comedy or in marketing. It’s certainly a difference that’s lost on Ricky Gervais as he does a smug round of chat shows, sipping on tonic water and talking over the other guests, unable to let anyone have the last joke.
I don’t want to take offense at anything Gervais does, but as he seems so intent on giving it, so I will ask on everyone’s behalf – Ricky, do you have the gift receipt? I would like to return this.
I have a complicated relationship with Ricky Gervais.