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Irony - A Comic's Bible and a Bigot's Weapon

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

Fewer things better encapsulate the absurdity of life than irony. Often partnered with a performed caricature mocking in nature, it seeks to ridicule a certain ideology to the end of destroying it.

Ricky Gervais is one commonly associated with the use of irony. In the clip above, he pretends that he cannot think of any funny women, later admitting that he is using irony to demonstrate, not that women aren't funny, but that those whom subscribe to such beliefs are ignorant. He later undercuts himself, ironically repeating the joke, saying 'in reality, I know there are lots of funny women, like: [pause].'

The importance Gervais places here is not on words, but on intention. One could say the most heinous thing imaginable, but it is not to the end of supporting such a heinous thing, but to criticise one who supports it. In this sense, by employing irony, Gervais no longer becomes the relatable Ricky we all [or some] know and love, but rather he becomes a character - a chauvinistic and misogynistic tragedy of comedy whom the audience revels in admonishing. This sort of comedy is not uncommon in Gervais' portfolio; Extras (2005-6) frequently used real celebrities such as Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet, Sir Patrick Stewart or Samuel L. Jackson, all of whom would play exaggerated caricatures of themselves in order to mock celebrity culture.

Yet in the modern liberal movement there has been a counter-argument raised to the use of irony. Indeed, it seems to have been weaponised by a younger demographic of genuinely pernicious right-wingers - the type to frequent 4Chan and Reddit, hiding behind irony as a guise for their racist tirades. There is an argument to suggest that irony is not just a 'get out of jail free-card' for making offensive comments, as it is not always ostensibly a critique of such views.

Equally, even ignoring those more extreme examples, one might pose to irony the same argument that counters any usage of the 'N-Word' in any context by a white person, including one of reference: that is to say that the very topic itself, even when said in good spirit, can be a reminder of when such things were employed to hurt or bully, and therefore even in jest or reference, they can still cause pain. If the purpose of comedy, then, is to make one laugh (among other things), then why would a comedian seek to trouble an audience whom might be subject to triggering/offence?

The most rational response to this is simply the most boring, though also unpopular; it is impossible to suggest that on Planet Earth, nothing will offend. To say that comedy must never use irony because it's possible that a small minority may become offended is an irrational and disproportionate response to a problem which can be solved by simply walking away, turning off the TV or just saying 'this isn't for me'. Irony serves a key purpose in comedy, and a valuable one. It disarms dangerous and ignorant opinions by weaponising them against themselves: one is permitted to observe their own absurdity merely by speaking them aloud in context. Of course it's absurd for Ben Stiller to shout at a child who messes up a scene in his new film; obviously it's crazy to think there are no funny women. Those few who are so distressed that to hear such views articulated out loud are not able to be tailored for unanimously - yet it's almost certain that those comedians, whom seek not to offend (rather to provoke) would be the first to suggest simply watching someone else.

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1 Comment

Madeline Glinski
Madeline Glinski
Jul 05, 2022

Well said. Very eloquent.

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