Ricky Gervais says The Office would not get made today because online ‘outrage mobs’ taking jokes ‘out of context’ have left TV bosses afraid to take risks with comedy

  • The actor, who played David Brent, said broadcasters are too afraid to take risks
  • The Office sees Brent insult minorities as he grapples with political correctness
  • Yet the program, which aired from 2001 to 2002, won Baftas and Golden Globes
  • Gervais said he worries any sense of irony in the show is lost on today’s audience

Ricky Gervais has slammed ‘cancel culture’ and said his hit TV show The Office would struggle to air today due to online ‘outrage mobs’.

The comedian and actor, 59, who played David Brent in the BBC mockumentary, said broadcasters are now too afraid to take risks.

The programme, set at a paper firm in Slough, Berkshire, sees the character frequently insult minorities as he grapples with political correctness.

Yet The Office, which aired from 2001 to 2002, won numerous Baftas and Golden Globes and is widely seen as one of the best British comedies ever made.

Gervais said viewers see Brent as a joke and are not laughing with him, but he fears any sense of irony is lost on audiences today.

The comedian and actor, 59, who played David Brent (pictured) in the BBC mockumentary, said broadcasters are now too afraid to take risks

Gervais (pictured hosting the Golden Globes this year) said viewers see Brent as a joke and are not laughing with him, but he is worried any sense of irony is lost on audiences today

He told Times Radio: ‘Now [The Office] would suffer because people would take things literally. There are these outrage mobs who take things out of context.

‘This was a show about everything — it was about difference, it was about sex, race, all the things that people fear to even be discussed or talked about now, in case they say the wrong thing and they are cancelled.’

His comments came on the 19th anniversary of The Office, which was also turned into a Christmas special in 2003 and a 2016 film spin off David Brent: Life on the Road.

What does ‘cancel culture’ mean?

Cancel culture is a new phrase to describe a mob mentality to boycott certain products, people or programs.

It is most commonly associated with people who have caused offence through their actions or through something they have said.

But the concept has grown particularly prevalent over the past five years and is making it ‘difficult’ for comedians in particular – given certain comedic tropes have not aged well.

From the time #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty began trending on Twitter to JK Rowling being ‘cancelled’ for her divisive views on transgender people, the process involves refusing to celebrate or acknowledge a person or their work.

But Gervais does not think the BBC would make the show today.

He said: ‘The BBC have got more and more careful, people want to keep their jobs, so would worry about some of the subjects and jokes, even though they were clearly ironic and we were laughing at this buffoon being uncomfortable around difference.

‘I think if this was put out now, some people have lost their sense of irony and context.’

Gervais added he would not care too much if he was cancelled by Netflix as he has already earned a lot of money – at least £100million.

Earlier this week 150 celebrated authors, academics and journalists including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Noam Chomsky signed a letter slamming ‘cancel culture’ after JK Rowling was attacked for speaking out about trans women.

Rowling backed the movement, spearheaded by Pulitzer-prize winning writer Anne Applebaum who warned ‘Twitter mobs’ including Donald Trump were placing ‘very important restraints on freedom of speech’.

She told the BBC: ‘There are a lot of writers, artists and journalists who are afraid of approaching certain subjects, afraid of crossing lines or even lacking sufficient zeal for particular subjects because they’re afraid of their peers.’

Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, added her name despite publicly disagreeing with the Harry Potter author.

The letter is signed by household names from the left and right-wings of the political spectrum who have united around the cause.

The document, published in Harper’s, calls for: ‘The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted and demands that they want to uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter speech from all quarters.’ 

It adds: ‘It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.’

Rowling saw Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Bonnie Wright all publicly criticised her after she was accused of transphobia. 

Four writers resigned from The Blair Partnership, which has long represented Rowling.

The author faced criticism for defending a Scottish researcher who was fired for claiming ‘men cannot change into women’. 


JK Rowling’s signature is one of 150 on an open letter warning of the risk to open debate, while branding US President Donald Trump an ‘enemy to democracy’. The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood has also signed the letter. On Monday she voiced her support for the trans community by tweeting: ‘We’re all part of a flowing Bell curve’

JK Rowling in 2002 with Emma Watson and Bonnie Wright, who have decided to publicly criticise the author who helped make them famous

The authors, journalists and academics calling for an end to ‘cancel culture’ in letter also signed by JK Rowling

Rowling said online trolls had abused her with hideous language, calling her ‘transphobic, a c***, a b***’ and saying she ‘deserved punching and death’.

Critics slammed the timing of the social media posts declaring their ‘love’ for trans women hours after the author spoke about escaping her ‘violent marriage’ to Portuguese TV journalist Jorge Arantes and also revealed she was seriously sexually assaulted as a young woman.

Applebaum told BBC Radio Four: ‘We’re worried about pressures that come at the moment from both the right and the left.

‘In the United States we have a President who denounces by names the owners of newspapers and seeks to restrain them and seeks to actually use tools of government to stop them.

‘At the same time we have the phenomenon of social media panics and Twitter mobs that seek to silence people who veer from one orthodoxy or another.

‘These are both very important restraints on freedoms of speech and also on people’s sense of risk aversion’. 

The journalist said the letter’s purpose was to ‘put some spine’ into universities and other institutions who ‘have become afraid of Twitter mobs’.

She added: ‘It wouldn’t hurt younger people to go back and listen to arguments that were made 20 and 30 years ago in order to understand some of the context and some of the discomfort that people feel now.’

Rowling, 54, first clashed with gender activists after appearing to ‘like’ a post on Twitter saying that trans women are ‘men in dresses’, which she said was an accident.

Then last year she faced the biggest backlash of her career after defending a female researcher who was fired for claiming that ‘men cannot change into women’.

This month, she made a jibe at an article titled ‘Creating a more equal post-Covid-19 world for people who menstruate’.

She tweeted: ‘I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’

Rowling suggested she might have become a man herself – ‘to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred’ – if she had been subjected to similar pressures when she was a girl.

In an extraordinary and brave 3,669-word essay posted on her personal website, the author wrote a detailed explanation about why she has become embroiled in the bitter row – played out mostly on Twitter – with campaigners who seek greater rights for men and women changing their gender.

Rowling railed against the harm she said was being done to society by activists from the ‘trans rights movement’.

She said: ‘Huge numbers of women are justifiably terrified by the trans activists.’

She cited five reasons for speaking out, including revealing that in her twenties she was the victim of a serious sexual assault. And she also spoke about her ‘violent marriage’ to Portuguese TV journalist Jorge Arantes.

Rowling, whose boy wizard books are the biggest-selling in history, said she had received countless death threats for talking about transgender issues, but vowed: ‘Endlessly unpleasant as [the] constant targeting of me has been, I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm.’

She did not identify the person responsible for a ‘serious sexual assault I suffered in my twenties’, but told her fans: ‘I too have known moments of blind fear when I realised that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker.’

Watson joined Harry Potter star Radcliffe in his criticism of Rowling.

Radcliffe apologised to those who ‘feel their experience of the [Harry Potter] books has been tarnished’ and said he was ‘deeply sorry for the pain’.

Eddie Redmayne is the latest actor to condemn Rowling’s views – saying he wants to make ‘absolutely clear’ he does not agree with her.

The actor, 38, who starred in the Harry Potter spin-off films Fantastic Beasts, said trans people should be allowed to ‘live their lives peacefully’.

Redmayne, who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of a trans woman in The Danish Girl, said in a statement: ‘Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process.

‘As someone who has worked with both JK Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with Jo’s comments.’

The father-of-two added: ‘Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse.’

On Sunday Rowling, who also goes by the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, said: ‘Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.’

Atwood voiced her support for the trans community on Monday, tweeting: ‘Biology doesn’t deal in sealed Either/Or compartments. We’re all part of a flowing Bell curve. Respect that! Rejoice in Nature’s infinite variety!’

Both authors, joined by the likes of Rushdie, who was accused of blasphemy by the some members of the Muslim faith when his book The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, have supported the open letter published in Harper’s Magazine.

The letter opens by praising a ‘moment of trial’ cultural institutions face trial’ in the midst of mass protests for racial and social justice, but warns open debate risks being weakened.

It reads: ‘As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy.’

It goes on to say: ‘The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.

‘While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. 

‘The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.

‘The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.

‘We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.’

Transgender model and activist Munroe Bergdorf has slammed JK Rowling as ‘dangerous’ and a ‘threat to LGBT people’ in a row over the author’s latest controversial tweets.

The Harry Potter creator likened hormone therapy and surgery for transgender young people to ‘a new kind of conversion therapy’.

Her statements were backed by Baroness Emma Nicholson – who is embroiled in her own row with Bergdorf over allegations that the Tory peer bullied her – who dubbed Rowling ‘the very bravest of women’. She was also supported by Walt Heyer, who transitioned to a woman and then back to male who called her ‘my hero’. 

But Bergdorf was quick to slam the author’s statement and wrote: ‘Mark my words. JK Rowling is dangerous and poses threat to LGBT people. Trans healthcare is not conversion therapy. This is INSANE.’

In a separate Tweet she added: ‘JK Rowling is not a scientist. She is not a doctor. She is not an expert on gender. She is not a supporter of our community.

‘She is a billionaire, cisgender, heterosexual, white woman who has decided that she knows what is best for us and our bodies. This is not her fight.’

She also called the author an ‘enemy of progress’ and branded her comments ‘evil’.

But there was support for the writer from Heyer, 80, who transitioned to a woman and then back again to male.

The American, who had 12 years of hormone therapy, backed the Harry Potter creator.

He told MailOnline: ‘JK is quite correct to equate hormone therapy and surgery to ‘conversion therapy’ very accurately put.

How JK Rowling’s trans row has sparked new ‘cancel culture’ in literature

Cancel culture is a new phrase to describe a mob mentality to boycott certain products, people or programs.

It is most commonly associated with people who have caused offence through their actions or through something they have said. 

Even the editor of the world’s biggest Harry Potter fan site has urged supporters to stop buying JK Rowling’s books and films over the author’s ‘transphobia’ row. 

Melissa Anelli, who runs The Leaky Couldron site, has encouraged people not to buy her products, as she pointed her 28,000 followers to another post from a Harry Potter podcast, which offered ‘a guide to cancelling’ the author.

Last weekend a bestselling children’s author has been sacked after expressing support for fellow writer J. K. Rowling in the bitter row over transgender rights.

In the latest example of ‘cancel culture’, novelist Gillian Philip was last week jettisoned from her role writing titles for a major publishing company. 

It came after the writer, who has penned a popular series of books for eight-to-12-year-olds, added the hashtag #IStandWithJKRowling to her Twitter handle.

 Her move sparked a torrent of online abuse and emails to her employer Working Partners, a ‘fiction packaging’ firm which devises series for publishing houses and commissions authors to write them.

Within 24 hours, James Noble, managing editor of Working Partners, replied to the barrage of complaints saying: ‘The worlds created by Erin Hunter are meant to be inclusive for all readers and we want to let you know that Gillian Philip will no longer be writing any Erin Hunter novels.’ 

‘The people are having a ‘row with her’ because she is absolutely telling it like it is and frankly JK has become my hero for her willingness to stand up to the nonsense.

‘JK is just getting on with the truth, bravo to her not many have such pluckiness.’

Rowling had written: ‘Many health professionals are concerned that young people struggling with their mental health are being shunted towards hormones and surgery when this may not be in their best interests.

‘Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.

She went on to cite articles discussing the long-term effects of both antidepressants and hormone therapies.

She added: ‘None of that may trouble you or disturb your belief in your own righteousness. But if so, I can’t pretend I care much about your bad opinion of me.’

Rowling said online trolls had abused her with hideous language, calling her ‘transphobic, a c***, a b***’ and saying she ‘deserved punching and death’.

She added one had even cited the villain in her Harry Potter series: ‘You are Voldemort, said one person, clearly feeling this was the only language I’d understand.’

The author said she was not revealing her own suffering to garner sympathy, but to make a point and stand up for freedom of speech.

She said she wanted all transgender women to be safe from abuse and harm from men, but ‘at the same time, I do not want to make natal [born] girls and women less safe’.

‘When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman, then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth,’ she wrote.

Rowling added: ‘I’m concerned about the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition, and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be ‘detransitioning’ (returning to their original sex), because they regret taking steps that have, in some cases, altered their bodies irrevocably, and taken away their fertility.’

She expressed concern about the ‘insular echo chamber’ of online services popular with teenagers such as YouTube in which youngsters can talk about transgender identification.

Rowling said: ‘I’m an ex-teacher and the founder of a children’s charity, which gives me an interest in both education and safeguarding. Like many others, I have deep concerns about the effect the trans rights movement is having on both.’

She claimed: ‘The UK has experienced a 4,400 per cent increase in girls being referred for transitioning treatment. Autistic girls are hugely overrepresented in their numbers.’

The Harry Potter creator likened hormone therapy and surgery for transgender young people to ‘a new kind of conversion therapy’ 

How JK Rowling’s words on ‘people who menstruate’ caused a storm that saw Harry Potter stars criticise her

Saturday, June 6 – Rowling’s speaks out against use of ‘people who menstruate’ phrase

Rowling retweets an opinion article published on website Devex which bore the headline, ‘Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate’.

Above the article, she slammed the use of the phrase, which was used to include transgender men who were born women and are still capable of menstruating. She wrote: ‘I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’

Her tweet immediately provoked a barrage of criticism from her LGBTQ followers. 

The author then responded to the criticism by retweeting a gay fan’s comment which slammed ‘extremists’ for ‘insisting biological sex is an illusion’.

Ms Rowling added: ‘If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction.

‘If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. 

‘I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.’ 

Sunday, June 7 – Ms Rowling responds to critics

As the criticism continued, Ms Rowling spoke out again by adding to the same Twitter thread.

She wrote: ‘The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense.’

‘I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.’

Tuesday, June 9 – Daniel Radcliffe speaks out against Ms Rowling’s comments

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe penned an opinion piece for The Trevor Project which criticised Rowling.  

He wrote: ‘To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you’.   

He added that ‘transgender women are women’ and said people should not view his words as evidence of ‘infighting’ between himself and Ms Rowling. 

Wednesday, June 10 – Eddie Redmayne adds to the criticism

Fantastic Beast And Where To Find Them star, 38, Eddie Redmayne joined in the chorus of critics towards Rowling. In a statement released to Variety, Eddie responded: ‘As someone who has worked with both J.K. Rowling and members of the trans community… 

‘I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with Jo’s comments. Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid.’

Other stars, including Jameela Jamil and Jonathan Van Ness also rounded on the author. 

Wednesday, June  10 – Ms Rowling reveals she was sexually assaulted and details her ‘violent’ first marriage 

Sunday July 5 – JK Rowling speaks out again about gender reassignment surgery and her concerns that some are ‘being set on a lifelong path of medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.’  

The author urged politicians to be more robust, saying: ‘Speaking as a biological woman, a lot of people in positions of power really need to grow a pair (which is doubtless literally possible).’

Rowling said: ‘I haven’t written this essay in the hope that anybody will get out a violin for me… all I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.’

Rowling, who also writes crime novels under the pen name Robert Galbraith, also referred to the backlash she received in December last year after supporting researcher Maya Forstater, who was sacked for tweeting that transgender people cannot change their biological sex.

She wrote: ‘I knew perfectly well what was going to happen when I supported Maya.

‘I must have been on my fourth or fifth cancellation by then.

‘I expected the threats of violence, to be told I was literally killing trans people with my hate, to be called c**t and b***h and, of course, for my books to be burned, although one particularly abusive man told me he’d composted them.’

The author’s post comes after her incendiary comments on Twitter last week.  After writing her initial controversial tweet, the author continued with another thread speaking about the concept of biological sex.

‘If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction,’ she tweeted. ‘If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.’ 

Rowling’s tweets caused a firestorm of responses from the LGBTQ community and others who were upset with her words.

A Harry Potter fan group tweeted its disapproval of Rowling’s post and encouraged followers to donate to a group that supports transgender women.

LGBT rights group GLAAD issued a response on Twitter, calling Ms Rowling’s tweets ‘inaccurate and cruel’.

The group then asked those upset by the author’s comments to support organisations that help transgender people.

‘JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans,’ GLAAD tweeted. ‘In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people.’

In the 11 years since she completed the Harry Potter books, which have netted her £795million, she wrote four books for grown-ups; The Casual Vacancy was a look at small-town politics, while her three crime fiction novels under the pen name Robert Galbraith have all been best sellers.

She has also spearheaded Lumos, her charity campaigning for orphaned children, and brought up her own family; a single mother to Jessica, now 24, when she started writing Harry Potter, she also has son David, 15, and daughter Mackenzie, 13, with her GP husband Neil Murray.

But she has never been able to let go of Harry Potter entirely.

Even back in 2007 she admitted she had written detailed notes about what happened next to her protagonists — for her own amusement. ‘I couldn’t stop, I had to know what happened next,’ she said of her enduring fascination with her fictional creations.

In 2011, she launched website Pottermore, which continued with small stories about Harry’s world, adding more and more layers to an already complicated tapestry.

This year, all pretence about saying goodbye to Harry and his world has disappeared. Not only have we seen the opening of box-office smash play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child — ‘the eighth Harry Potter story’ about Harry and Ginny Weasley’s son Albus and his difficult relationship with his father — but next month sees the release of a new film returning to the wizarding world.

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is based on a textbook Harry and his friends read at their wizarding school Hogwarts. A series of five films.

Speaking out: The wordsmith seemingly denied claims of transphobia, before retweeting a fan’s comment which slammed ‘extremists’ for ‘insisting biological sex is an illusion’

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