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Ricky Gervais Had to Explain Comedy to Kumail Nanjiani and Kenan Thompson

I don’t know how much you can actually learn about comedy from listening to comedians talk to each other, but The Hollywood Reporter is wagering that it’s something by publishing a round-table discussion with Ricky Gervais, Kumail Nanjiani, Ramy Youssef, Kenan Thompson, and Dan Levy.

The lesson I learned is that a lot of outlets really have it in for Gervais, a comic known for pushing the envelope of good taste to the dismay of some real killjoys with headlines like “Kenan Thompson And Kumail Nanjiani Quickly Shut Down Ricky Gervais’ ‘Terrible Advice’ For ‘SNL’ Hopefuls” or “Kumail Nanjiani, Ramy Youssef Push Back on Ricky Gervais’ Bullsh*t.

Let’s look at what Gervais said and what the reply was before I explain to you why Ricky was right.

GERVAIS No, you’ve got to try to get fired, that’s my advice.

NANJIANI Ricky, that’s terrible advice. You can do that if you’re Ricky Gervais, but somebody else gets their first job, they take your advice and try to get fired and guess what?

THOMPSON They get fuckin’ fired.

GERVAIS They’ll thank me later. (Laughter.)

This is in reference to being on Saturday Night Live. Remember that Medium post from the guy who was forced into a mental hospital because he wanted his bosses at Cards Against Humanity to be less racist? Here’s what he said about SNL.

How can a show like SNL, for example, be a satire when they can’t even criticize their boss. Every few episodes they bring their boss, Lorne Michaels, on to do some wooden bit in a North Korean expression of dick-sucking. It’s embarrassing. Lorne sucks, is a republican, and these so-called “cool” and “edgy” comedians like head writer of SNL Michael Che who write these bits for him are embarrassing too. How is it edgy and cool to be a rich “writer” who says nothing of critical relevance to the society? How do you justify what seems to me to be the utter decadence and egotism of standups for instance thinking their carefully memorized thoughts on airplanes and pot somehow make them “cool”. And then they work for Republicans.

That sounds like the kind of show you want to get fired from. Saturday Night Live hasn’t had a funny joke or cast member in a decade. Michael Che and Collin Jost are so bad on Weekend Update that I’d rather have present-day Dennis Miller hosting it than listen to their toothless bullshit and the only people who like it are your clingy aunts who post their “YASSSS KWEEN” clips of the show’s “Orange man bad” jokes.

If I say “fired from SNL,” you’re likely to think of two names: Charles Rocket and Norm Macdonald. Charles Rocket managed to have a decent career as a character actor despite his lack of talent, so getting fired didn’t really hurt him; you probably wouldn’t know his name if he hadn’t said “f**k” on network TV. But SNL was also doing terrible at the time and the only people who didn’t get fired with him were Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy.

Then there’s Norm, and this is where Gervais’s advice looks really good. Norm Macdonald is a respected comic who has been very successful. He got fired from SNL for making jokes about O.J. Simpson because an NBC exec was friends with O.J. even though Norm created SNL’s all-time best recurring sketch, Celebrity Jeopardy. That is what Gervais meant, one of the reasons SNL is so terrible is everyone is afraid to take risks. The original cast was a constant thorn in the side of network standards and practices and the show became an institution because of it.

If comedy is done right, it’s generally going to piss a lot of people off. You have to be a next-level genius to be funny doing comedy that doesn’t offend anyone, a Mitch Hedberg, or a Brian Regan. Maybe if a few SNL cast members pushed the envelope once in a while and risked getting fired the show might be funny.

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