Ricky Gervais defends joke to Down Syndrome group; but was it even necessary?

By | May 25, 2010 at 9:42 am | 14 comments | News, Opinion | Tags: , , ,

Ricky GervaisScottish newspaper Daily Record jumped on Ricky Gervais’ case on May 23 for using the term “mong” in a bit onstage he did during his a recent UK tour stop. He was referring to Britain’s Got Talent champion singer Susan Boyle.

For those of you who, like myself, had no idea what “mong” meant and are now therefore confused as what the hubbub is about, it seems the term is a decidedly offensive way of referring to someone with Down Syndrome—short for “mongoloid.” Or, at least, it was a word used in that context.

I write “was” because, apparently, this is no longer the case.

Gervais responded to the article quickly, explaining on his official blog that he sent a letter to the Down Syndrome Association, who, had contacted his camp for some sort of explanation.

“I clearly explain that words change and that at no point am I referring to anyone with Down’s syndrome. Not only am I not referring to people with Down’s Syndrome I also explain that I am not associating the word with its old derogatory meaning. I also do it as part of a routine about comedians taking responsibility for everything they say. I hope this is acceptable.” the comedian wrote.

Even the Record’s article recognizes that words and their meanings can change over time, calling the term “outdated.” And the highest rated definition of the term on Urban Dictionary describes the meaning as “Lacking in physical and cerebral ability. General retardation. Generally: a total spastic.”

According to this publicly run dictionary, the term has nothing to do with Down Syndrome anymore; instead, it’s simply another way of calling somebody an idiot.

But based on the report, it doesn’t seem like this was what Gervais was going for.

When you look at what he said – “Well, she’s a mong, isn’t she? She looks like a mong, doesn’t she? – it’s a bit challenging to believe his usage fits into the new definition of the term, since the updated meaning mentions nothing of appearance. The old definition, however, referred to a group of people born with certain mental and physical characteristics.

It seems like Gervais is back-pedaling a bit to save face. And honestly, it seems the Down Syndrome Association wasn’t all that committed to their argument, seeing as, according to the comedian, they responded to his explanation like this: “Fully explained and acceptable reply. Please extend our thanks to Ricky for the prompt reply.”

Regardless of what Gervais was trying to say onstage, his “meaning-of-derogatory-words-change” is a theme common to stand-up comedy— so much so that both Louis CK and Marc Maron have opened entire albums with the concept.

On his 2006 album Tickets Still Available, Maron says he wants the word “retarded” back; he wants to be able to say it again without the guilt. (Start listening at the 1:55 mark).

Two years later, on his album and DVD, Chewed Up, Louis CK talks about his usage and the history (as he sees it) of the word “faggot.”

After listening to the Maron, C.K. and reading about Gervais, what do you think? Is it ok for comedians to use words like these when they aren’t using them to attack certain groups of people? Are they attacking those groups, whether its their intention or not? Let us know!

About the Author

Dave Mindich

  • Lena

    Inteligent people laught at themself or do social comments,only idiots try to get a laught offending or degrading another person.Gervais need to look at himself in the mirror if we wants to talk about appearences. Sad to see that some comediants think that because they are on stage with a micro on their hands thay can say or do things that hurt others.
    Susan Boyle has a slight disability buy she is talented as a singer and beautiful as a person,may be Garvais that is “normal” but has no talent is recenting just that.His lines reflect on him and doesn’t say anything on Susan.I just feel sorry for him.

  • Travesty

    Lena, I find it funny how you easily use the word “idiot” when trying to show your angst towards Ricky Gervais, when that is a word that has also lost it’s true meaning, and is now commonly associated with someone who is just ‘thoughtless’. “Idiot” and “moron” were terms used for certain degrees of retardation, and turned into a everyday common phrase. So in a sense, by calling Ricky Gervais an “idiot”, you’re also insulting mentally challenged individuals(retards), if that is, you don’t understand the point to what Louis CK, Maron, and Mr. Gervais were trying to say. But if you do understand what they’re saying, then you shouldn’t be insulted in the slightest.

    Funny how we always fall into hypocrisy…..

  • Sue

    I don’t see any apology to Susan Boyle mentioned. Whatever bull he is trying to peddle about the meaning of “mong” it was clearly meant to be a derogatory and demeaning statement about Susan Bpoyle-which is just as bad as directing it at Down Syndrome, and clearly displays his attitude regardless what he says to the DSA.
    We all know what he meant, and this is certainly no apology from him.

  • Pingback: Ricky Gervais Says A Naughty Word....Sorta | The Laugh Button Comedy Blog

  • *

    This article states, “When you look at what he said, it’s a bit challenging to believe his usage fits into the new definition of the term, since the updated meaning mentions nothing of appearance.”

    So what author David Mindich is saying is that he (Mindich) thinks Susan Boyle looks like she has Down’s syndrome, so obviously that’s what Gervais meant when he said she looks like a mong? – See how your words can be twisted? Never did Ricky Gervais say that Susan looks like she has Down’s. He didn’t back-pedal and hardly ever feels the need to save face. If he said, “No, I meant she looks like she’s from Mongolia,” then you might say he’s trying to save face. He clearly explains himself and anyone with a ticket stub from his show can vouch for him.

    And if one thinks that Ricky has no place to call someone out on their looks, he could care less what you think. He’s had his glamourous days (search: Ricky Gervais pop group Seona Dancing) and even in the here-&-now, women around the world disagree with you.

    “Are they attacking those groups, whether its their intention or not?”

    If those words are used in the context in which Gervais, L.C.K, and Maron use them, no, they are not attacking anyone and those groups should not feel attacked. If they used the words without any explanation of how the meanings have changed, then the groups might have a valid reason to feel slightly offended.

    “Was it even necessary?”
    Gervais addressed it, defended it, & it was accepted. End. Of. Story. This article became pointless as soon as I read that the author had to look up the definition of mong. Ricky Gervais’ style of comedy is full of things he says without ill will. No routine is necessary, but it makes people laugh/think & that’s the point.
    *

  • JeffMc

    “Travesty” absolutely hits the nail on the head here – well done sir/madam.

    “Idiot”, “Moron”, and “Imbecile” were all once words to describe degrees of retardation and/or IQ. They’re no longer considered offensive because their overuse has diluted their original meaning until present day – when we no longer think of those terms as hateful. And I won’t even get into the fact that “mongoloid” has earlier usage than for Down’s Syndrome, and was used to describe Asian people (as did “Negroid” describe blacks).

    Anyways, while we’re on the subject, I’d like “midget” back. There is no hate in that word (Yes, I know I’m nearly quoting Bill Burr – I just agree with him 100%).

    I just wish George Carlin were still alive to comment on this nonsense. Changing these words don’t make the condition go away.

  • RinTinTinFoil

    Maybe people should just stop being polictally correct drones and stop worrying about things that don’t matter.

  • SirThomasLipton

    Gervais’ ‘explanation’ is not an ‘explanation’ nor is it an adequate apology to the DSA. And he has made no attempt to apologize to Boyle for the cruel remark or his fans for not being funny any more.

  • pk

    So JeffMc, let me see if I got this straight. The word “mong” has become generic for stupid, much the way fool and idiot have? So he was saying, “Well, [Boyle’s stupid], isn’t she? She looks [stupid], doesn’t she?”

    Is that right?

  • Travesty

    That’s about right, PK. Even this article is coming off a bit critical towards Ricky Garvais, when the author wrote, “it’s a bit challenging to believe his usage fits into the new definition of the term, since the updated meaning mentions nothing of appearance”, when the same can be said about “idiot” and “moron”. Nowhere in the dictionary does it say anything about appearance, but I know that I, and many others, have said things like, “oh wow, that person looks like an idiot/moron”. You can use these words as adjectives to describe the way people look, it’s just an urban dictionary isn’t as finite source, but more of a reference point to where words/phrases are changing into slang. It’s not Merrians-Webtser dictionary, for crying out loud, so I don’t know why Mr. Gervais is being ridiculed on this, when I find it more of a persons fault for not evolving your phrases/vocabulary.

    I mean, Ricky Gervais is the most groovy, hip cat around. Ya dig? And furthermore, I don’t think he was trying to “save face”, either. And anybody who disagrees, can “quit being a faggot, and suck that dick”!

  • Sarah Miles

    I think Gervais’s comments are very hurtful. However he’s right isn’t he? She looks like a right mong.

  • jill

    Here’s what Ricky said “Look at Susan Boyle – if you can. Well, she’s a mong, isn’t she? She looks like a mong, doesn’t she?”
    Why would he even say such a thing about Susan Boyle? Why doesn’t he give her moral support instead of making fun of her appearance? What has she ever done to him? I for one wish he had never uttered those words about her. It makes me angry and sad. I will support her. I have bought her first CD and will buy her next one coming out. She has a wonderful voice and is inspirational and I think it’s cute that she has a cat named Pebbles. I wish her all the best. I get sick of Ricky making fun of Karl Pilkington also. I’m sick of that.

  • Dave

    Firstly, given the use of the words ‘retarded’ and ‘spastic’ in the Urban Dictionary article, I think it’s fair to say the meaning hasn’t changed as much as we’d all like to think it has.

    Secondly, I think Susan Boyle looks like Ricky Gervais. If that’s considered an insult to her I guess we know who finds who ugly.

    Thirdly, screw you Maron, you don’t have developmental disabilities, you don’t get to reclaim the word. I’m so very sorry you feel ~guilty~.

    Fourthly, no, I don’t think comics should use offensive words. They’re comedians, it’s their job to play with words. Show some creativity, stop being so lazy.

  • Daniel

    I agree with the writer of the article.

    I’ve been a fan of Gervais for long time and remain one, but Gervais must realize his own explanation – given the fact he points out that Susan Boyle looks like a mong – doesn’t quite make sense if he wants to use the word with a new meaning. I’m a little disappointed to see him clearly being very annoyed about people even raising the question of whether it’s an OK word to use or not (as in his latest stand up show SCIENCE). I’d imagine some people might be quite hostile when putting forth their views, but I can’t see why Gervais shouldn’t be able to have a somewhat more reasonable discussion around it. After all, there are some people like me, who love his stuff, but who aren’t all that amazed about the mong thing.