Ricky Gervais has responded after grieving parents walked out of his comedy show over an alleged “dead baby joke.”
Suzi Gourley and her husband, Ryan, were on their first night out as a couple since their son, Eli, was stillborn last July. “We went and hoped to have a bit of a laugh,” Gourley explained. “It was our first night out together — I’d heard of this comedian but I’d never seen him.”
A “dead baby joke” told by Gervais, 55, at his one-man show at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, struck such a nerve that Gourley and her husband left the comedy act. “Some people might read this and think we’re over sensitive and maybe we are – but it’s just not funny,” she said.
The bereaved mom believes the bit should be removed from Gervais’s set, telling Belfast Live she “wouldn’t have expected” the joke “in a million years.” Gourley says a joke about a dead baby is “wrong” and believes other audience members would be upset as well. “Bereaved parents are one in four. There’s no way I was the only one sitting there last night that that didn’t strike a nerve with.”
Gervais offered a series of retorts on Twitter. “Offence often occurs when people mistake the subject of a joke with the actual target,” he wrote. “They’re not always the same.”
The comedian also defended the importance of freely expressing ideas in comedy. “‘Is there any subject you shouldn’t joke about?’ is no less ridiculous a question than ‘Is there any subject you shouldn’t talk about?'”
Stillbirth And Neonatal Death Support Northern Island reportedly posted a warning to its Facebook page after it said a couple had walked out of the venue over the joke. “They have asked us to make any bereaved parents attending the show tonight (29th March) that there is a ‘joke’ about dead babies which upset this couple so much that they had to leave the show,” the post warned.
A spokesperson for venue Waterfront Hall, where Gervais performed on Wednesday night, said in a statement: “Unfortunately we have no control at all over the material artists choose to use on stage, but we do of course appreciate this particular theme will have caused distress.”
The “David Brent: Life on the Road” star’s tweets have divided users on social media, with some supporting the idea of not limiting comedy and others insisting some subjects should stay off limits.
Amid all the controversy, Gervais maintained his trademark humour. “I wish I had a pound for every time I offended someone,” he quipped. “Wait, I do.”