A screenshot of a video of Ricky Gervais doing standup with an emoji with a captain's hat, glasses and a beard giving thumbs d0wn

On virtue signalling and Ricky Gervais

Someone once said the limit of humor is what’s funny, and Ricky Gervais stopped being funny a while ago.

I was recently sent a link to a short video of a standup by Ricky Gervais in which he decries virtue signaling (one of his longstanding gripes). I won’t link to it here since I don’t think it warrants more views than it already has. But I’ll post the transcription here so everyone knows what I’m talking about:

But these people are virtue signaling. They’re bringing people down to raise their own status, and they say: “it’s because no, we’re protecting minorities” It’s like they’re basically saying minorities haven’t got a sense of humour, which is so patronizing. And I get that as well, that’s what it’s like to be outnumbered. In this country we’re still only 5% black, 5% Asian, 5% LGTBQ, you know? Tiny numbers. Now I’m a white heterosexual, multimillionaire, right? There’s less then 1% of us. Do I whine? No! I don’t mind. I just get on with it. “Come on Rick. Come on Rick!” “Just keep fighting” I’m like Rosa Parks, do you know what I mean? I’m like… Except I fought for the right never have to take a seat on a bus.

Ricky Gervais thinking he’s funny

So first of all, just the word virtue signaling or what it stands for: it assumes that the only reason someone could have to call out any injustice is because they want to present themselves as virtuous to others. So it either means the person doing the supposed virtue signaling could not possibly really care about racism, trans-phobia, misogyny, or other forms of injustice. Or it means you somehow can read their mind and see what their intentions are.

So where does this term come from? The term ‘virtue signalling’ is an expression used to call out someone suggesting they are only backing an idea to look good in the eyes of others. It implies that they don’t truly believe in the cause they publicly support. They are acting out of bad faith, because they have an ulterior motive. (ref.)

The way in which it is used by some people, including Ricky Gervais, is to defend themselves when they are called out for doing, saying, sharing something that is racist, sexist, transphobic, etc. They are telling you that you are wrong because your intentions can’t possibly be sincere, that you must obviously be trying to make yourself look good by pointing out something they did wrong.

I’m not saying virtue signaling does not exist at all. When Donald Trump issued a posthumous pardon for Susan B. Anthony, a suffragette convicted of voting illegally as a woman in 1872, it does reek of virtual signaling. Why? Because Trump is a blatant misogynist, so him all of a sudden caring about women’s rights seems very much out of character. The ulterior motive would be that he wants to be re-elected (this was back in 2020) and wants to look better to women voters then “the pussy grabbing guy”.

To get back to Ricky Gervais: he’s has been complaining about “celebs virtue signaling” for a while. I thought this interview with the New York Times from 2019 is quite telling in that he assumes people “get the joke” but sets the bar pretty low:

During his “Humanity” special, Gervais made a joke that begins with a celebrity killing a person with a car and ends in wanting to self-identify as a chimp named Bobo. Still, Gervais maintains that his audience is logical enough to get it. “I become the idiot who believes that being transgender is the same as changing into a chimp,” he told Marchese (from the New York Times interviewing him). “But I have to do the joke like I mean it for it to work.” He continued, “Most people haven’t got the time to analyze the jokes, and I go in and out of the parody too fast for some. But as long as I know the target and some people get it and agree with me, I think the jokes are justified.”

Ricky Gervais Interview: Six Things We Learned

This sets the bar pretty low: as long as someone gets that “it’s a joke” it’s justified. And he assumes he “knows the target” so this won’t be viewed by transphobes or anyone who would take it as literally comparing transgender people with someone identifying as a monkey. Which is by the way the “one joke” that anti trans “comedians” keep making and wasn’t funny to begin with. Steve Albini says it better then I could, in relation to Ricky Gervais’ 2022 comedy special SuperNature :

I already know the joke. They only have the one joke. Anti-woke trans-bash comedians are cultivating an audience I want very much not to be a part of.

Steve Albini hits out at Ricky Gervais’ “fucked up” Netflix special

So yeah, Ricky is saying that anyone who doesn’t get his transphobic joke doesn’t have a sense of humour. And he thinks that is patronizing because you know, even when GLAAD calls him out for his “graphic, dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes” they are virtue signalling as they could not possibly care about the LGBTQ+ community. In case you didn’t know GLAAD is US-based LGBT media monitoring group, so it’s not like they could really care about LGTBQ+ community or that is their whole goal as an organization, they must have an alterior motive.

Now onto the second part of Ricky’s rant: about him being a “minority” as a white heterosexual, multimillionaire. That part I could concede to being vaguely funny because it is so obvious that he is not being oppressed. But again, it’s all in assuming that you “know your audience” and unfortunately some (white, heterosexual, male) people are afraid they are becoming a minority and as such automatically feel they are oppressed.

I have had to explain in the past that just being a minority doesn’t make you oppressed. Look at apartheid era South Africa where the white minority was very good at oppressing everyone who was not them. So it clearly is not about being a minority, it is about having power. Which is why that part of Ricky’s joke kinda works. But only for those who understand that it is a joke and just by looking who is sharing the video to Ricky’s rant I know at least some of them don’t get it and just hear: “I’m oppressed for being a white heterosexual male”.





2 responses to “On virtue signalling and Ricky Gervais”

  1. AlisonG Avatar

    Thought provoking. Thank you, Dimi.

    1. Dimi Avatar

      Thanks for reading it and sharing your thoughts! ❤️

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