Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington
(and Joan Rivers and David Mitchell and Jon Stewart)
Dear Ricky Gervais:
Your response to my first "open letter" to you was recently published
in the UK media, and I was glad to see you take
the time to respond to me. I know you are a good man, and I know you
value your career in show business, and you are good
at it, too. But in your letter to me, titled "Why it's kosher to joke
about Anne Frank," I feel you miss the point and that there
is still a disconnect going on in your mind. Maybe the disconnect is
with me? It's possible. But let's wait and see, since
the jury is still out on this one. Maybe all this can be a learning
experience for everyone involved, on both sides of
Ricky, let's be honest. You wrote: "I have had that [Anne Frank joke]
routine for nearly 10 years now. It is about the misunderstanding and
ignorance of what is clearly a tragic and horrific situation. My comic
persona is that of a man who speaks with great arrogance and authority
but who along the way reveals his immense stupidity."
But Ricky, you know and I know, and every comedian worth his salt
knows, as does every newspaper drama and TV critic, that
your Anne Frank schtick is a scripted, rehearsed, staged "joke" that
your stage persona tries to pass off as comedy, taking Karl
Pilkington in with you, too, as part of the game. You know as well as
I do, Ricky, that Karl is not stupid or dumb and he knows full
well the real history of the Holocaust and the real backstory of the
Anne Frank family. So the "they just wanted to avoid paying rent"
joke does not work sir. Unless your intent is to encourage
antisemitism and Jew-hatred, which I am sure is not your intent.
I am sure some of your best friends are Jews in Britain, and in the
USA, too. Jon Stewart, your good friend in New York, is Jewish.
So I am sure you have no animosity towards Jews and that your staged
and scripted Anne Frank jokes routine, which you
recently repeated on Jon's TV show in New York, much to his uneasiness
when you fobbed off the "rent" joke as part of your sidekick
Ricky, face facts, mate. Stop pretending. Grow up, sir.
Ricky, you are not stupid and you are not ignorant of history, and I
appreciate your response to me in the UK media.
"I can see if you took this routine at face value as my real opinion
on this profound and heroic tragedy, it could be deemed highly
offensive," you sincerely wrote -- or your savvy PR person wrote for
you. "However, this is obviously an absurd comic position with the
audience well in on the joke, fully aware that I am saying the exact
opposite of what every right-minded person thinks."
Ricky, you must be careful when you joke about the Holocaust. Go to
google and see how many people who still hate Jews and feel the
Holocaust didn't go far enough lap up your Anne Frank jokes as more
ammunition to use against Jewish people today! Wake up, mate!
Ricky, a friend of mine in New York, Rudy Shur, a veteran book publisher and
the son of Holocaust survivors, read your letter to me and said:
"Ricky misses the point. Perhaps he wouldn't think it's so funny if it were
his parents being pursued by the Nazis or having almost all of his
family shot and killed or dying in concentration camps -- such as my
own mother's family and my father's family. I was born in 1946 in an
American-run Displaced Person's Camp outside of Munich, Germany. I
grew up never quite seeing the humorous side of the Nazis. In terms of
comedy, I myself often get accused of finding comedy in places where
no comedy is to be found. And I feel you can make a joke about
anything. It just depends on what the joke is. Comedy comes from a
good or a bad place, and the problem is in its interpretation, with
some people confusing the subject of a joke with the joke's real
target. The target of these Ricky Gervais 'rent' jokes and
'typewriting in the attic' jokes about Anne Frank is Mr. Gervais'
Rudy goes on to say: "The fact is that stupidity in some cases is an
excuse for insensitive or lame jokes, however not in this case
of the Ann Frank jokes told me Gervais and Pilkington. Why not crack a
joke about African-Americans being hung from trees in the
American South or gay teenagers being murdered in Britain or America
or of children in India dying of AIDS.
Maybe Mr Gervais' stupidity knows no bounds? That's why they pay him
the big bucks,
right? Or maybe an apology might be in order to the millions of relatives
whose families wound up being slaughtered by the 'stupid' Nazis?
Danielle Berrin, writing on this topic in a newspaper in Los Angeles
the other day,
commented also on how uncomfortable Jon Stewart was with your Anne
"What I think Stewart detected in Gervais’s comedy was
blatant dispassion towards the Holocaust, a cool, impassive
detachment," Berrin wrote. "This does not, by any means, mean Gervais
would have been
a Nazi, but it does make you wonder if he might have been a bystander.
"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those, who in times of
moral crisis, do nothing,” the Italian poet Dante Alighieri once
wrote, Berrin reminds us. "Ignorance leads
to indifference which permits moral atrocity to go on unchallenged."
So Ricky, mate, I feel you still don't get it. One more time, sir,
please think about this, off in a corner, without
your public relations crew around to keep you calm and collected.
Ponder all this one more time, and read
what my friend Rudy said above.
You don't owe me an apology at all, since we hardly know each other.
You might, however, offer an apology to
Anne Frank and her family. And at the same time, Ricky, you might also
offer an apology to Jon Stewart
in New York, not just in writing but maybe face to face, mano a mano,
on his Daily Show stage in Manhattan
for all the world to see. How about it?
Then we can call it a day.
By the way, Ricky, if you are still reading. A friend of mine in Beijing, China, a British newspaper
reporter and editor there, he tells me today re this tempest in a Gervaisian teapot: ''Dear Danny, you know, it's people like you who give Gervais (a very funny man, btw) the oxygen of publicity, and every time someone like you gets on a moral high horse and gives him a bigger profile, he then thinks he must be doing something right and looks for the next hot button issue. Just friendly advice. If you don't like his schtick, don't encourage it. The worst thing you could say, from Ricky's point of view, would be nothing. ''
And another observer of all this meshagus tells me: "Danny, the real acid test should be: Are these jokes that a Jewish person would tell to another Jewish person? I think clearly these Anne Frank jokes are not. Real Jewish jokes are not based on assumed ethnic stereotypes like "not wanting to pay the rent" or jokes about the Holcaust. Ergo: Ricky's jokes about Anne Frank are not appropriate jokes: Ricky and Karl and Joan Rivers, too, wit her tasteless Anne Frank jokes are laughing at us, not laughing wish us."
And Simone Schweber, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in the United States, offers her take on this brouhaha: "Anne Frank jokes are made possible, in part, by a political culture that trivializes the Holocaust writ large. When the Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, in March of 2011 referred to peaceful protesters gathering at the state capitol as creating a "Holocaust and a horror story," you know that people no longer really know what the Holocaust entailed and that its icons have become petty currency in a struggle to get media attention. But Danny, to object to the use of the Holocaust as humor, though, is as likely to be effective as tilting at windmills."
So Ricky and Karl and Joan and David and Jon, am I tilting at windmills here, and have we all learned something here today?
A friend of mine who is a newspaper columnist in Chicago told me that he wrote his own Anne Frank "joke" a few years ago, and this man is Jewish, Ricky. Here goes:
"The death this week [in 2010] at 100 years of age of Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who helped
shield Anne Frank and her family, emboldens me to print this . . .
well, it's not quite a joke, more like a wry line or, if you prefer,
an incredibly tasteless and unfunny line. But I've used it a lot, and
I find it humorous, in a dark sort of way. I don't know if this will
translate into print. Maybe you have to deliver it like I do, the
first part of the sentence said with an air of earnest, hopeful
intensity, the second with a what-can-you-do shrug: "Like Anne Frank, I consider people to be good at heart . . . of
course, look what happened to her.''
FINAL PARTING WORDS: In fact, Ricky, this wry line by a newspaper reporter in America might be good for YOU to use one day, too,
rather than the tasteless and rather vulgar jokes you like to tell about poor Anne Frank. Her birthday falls every year on June 12 and you are also a June baby, June 25. So how about it, Ricky, try a new schtick. You'll feel better, and your fans will love you for it. There's always room for improvement. Do it!