Seinfeld Clarifies His Thoughts on PC Culture in Conversation with Ricky Gervais and Ron Bennington

Three of the great minds in comedy got together to talk about the state of comedy today on Rick Gervais’ SiriusXM show, “Ricky Gervais is Deadly Sirius” at SiriusXM’s New York studios.

The full 90 minute episode isn’t available yet, that comes out on December 4th exclusively on SiriusXM, but the Satellite Radio company released a few clips from the episode. In the video clips, stand up comedy and tv star Jerry Seinfeld, and stand up comedian and SiriusXM radio host Ron Bennington talk with Gervais about media’s errant coverage of comedy in recent years, Ricky’s response to reviews of his stand up special, and Jerry clarifies his comments about PC Culture on college campuses.

In the first clip, Seinfeld and Gervais are at odds over whether comedians need to justify comedy. Seinfeld said no. “If something is funny, it’s funny,” he said. “Comedy is like gold,” he said likening joke writing to mining for gold. “When you find it, it’s gold. Nobody cares what rock it was in, or how it was found, it’s just gold.”

Gervais disagreed, feeling that he does need to justify his comedy, expressing frustration about the need for comedians to worry all the time about how a joke will be perceived.

“We’ve always done that,” Jerry countered saying that comics always had to be careful about what they said going all the way back to the time of the court jester. Bennington agreed that in medieval times the jester had to choose carefully how much he could make fun of the king.  He also gave a more modern example, saying that even a kid making jokes in a schoolyard would have to choose carefully what jokes he could get away with.”You learn on the streets when you’re a kid. You can tease the bigger kid,” he said. “He would laugh at some jokes…but you couldn’t laugh at his weaknesses.”

What it comes down to, Seinfeld said, is mental agility. “The mental agility that is required to execute this job, is an essential part of this,” arguing that comedians should stop being upset about people who are offended. “Comedians need to stop complaining that they can’t do certain jokes because it might offend people. That’s right. You can’t,” he said. “So do another joke. Find another way around it. Use a different word. It’s like slalom skiing. You have to make the gates.”

Back in 2015, Seinfeld set off a national discourse about comedy and PC culture, particularly on college campuses. He was quoted as saying campuses are “too-PC” for comedy. When Gervais reminded Seinfeld of his prior stance, Jerry said he was misquoted. “I never said it,” he tells Gervais and Bennington. “Here’s what I said: A comedian told me he doesn’t want to play colleges anymore. That’s what I said, and they ran with it.”

In a second clip, the three comedy stars discussed the media’s role in the evolution of comedy. Gervais blames the writers for missing the point when the media calls him phobic or shocking, calling his stand-up bits bulletproof. “100,000 people have laughed at that joke. They get it, they were there, it’s in context,” he said. “It’s not phobic, and this is why,” he said.  “[The journalist] missed the point of the joke, you didn’t understand the joke. You can still not like the joke you can hate it, you can not laugh,” he explained, but that doesn’t make the joke faulty.

Bennington added that it’s rarely the comedian’s actual audience who is offended or unhappy with a comedy bit that comes under attack. “In radio when someone gets fired, and it happens all the time now, it isn’t because their audience is upset with them. It’s someone who doesn’t listen. They hear it or read it and start to attack the corporations, and people get fired.” He brought up the example of thousands of people who signed a petition to try to get Tom Segura’s special removed from Netflix because Tom used a word that is now referred to as the r-word. “Ah, the retard joke,” Seinfeld said, acknowledging that he’d heard of the controversy and saying that he thought the point of the bit was to discuss whether its right or wrong to use certain words.

Gervais called those types of reactions “bullying” and referred to the complaints as coming from a mob. He discredited those reactions, arguing that he should be able to joke about any topic. And if a journalist can talk about that topic, there should be no room to complain about a comedian making a joke about that same topic. “Well, you’re talking about it. I talked about it in the form of a joke. It was just faster, and quicker, and it made people laugh,” he said. When a journalist asks him whether there is any subject that he wouldn’t joke about, he turns the tables. “I go, well is there anything you wouldn’t write about? No.”

The full 90-minute episode of the SiriusXM show will air Tuesday, December 4 at 11:00 a.m. ET on Comedy Greats channel 94.

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