Natalie Haynes: Gervais <i>cannot</i> be forgiven for what he said

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The Independent Online

Ricky Gervais has never blanched when it comes to walking the tightrope between amusing his audience and offending them. His argument is that "mong" is a word which has simply shifted so far from its original meaning that it is no longer offensive. I don't find this very convincing.

Was the word "Paki" less offensive when it broadened out to mean "anyone Asian"? Of course not. And the word "flid" – a popular term of offence when I was at school – had long since ceased to refer to thalidomide even then. That still didn't make it a nice word.

Stand-ups have a need to say the unsayable – I did it myself for many years. And although I don't regret any of the poisonous things I said on stage, I probably wouldn't say them now. "Retard", for example, used to seem much funnier to me than it does these days – now it just sounds unkind.

The argument for why comedians should think before they use offensive language, even if they go on to use it anyway, is made forcefully by the gay comic Rick Crom in the US sitcom Louie: 'You might wanna know that every gay man in America has probably had that word [faggot] shouted at them while they're being beaten up, sometimes many times, sometimes by a lot of people all at once. So, when you say it, it kind of brings that all back up. By all means use it, get your laughs, but now you know what it means."

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