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‘I would fight tooth and nail to allow people to be offensive’, Dawn French says amid Ricky Gervais ‘ableism’ backlash

14 December 2023, 18:37 | Updated: 14 December 2023, 21:48

Dawn French has defended a comedian's 'right to offend'.
Dawn French has defended a comedian's 'right to offend'. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Dawn French has told LBC she would 'fight for comedians’ right to offend' as Ricky Gervais faces accusations of ableism after a new comedy skit.

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Ricky Gervais, 62, has been hit by a wave of controversy after clips of his ‘Make-A-Wish’ skit from his upcoming Netflix show were shared online.

Armageddon, which is set to be released on Christmas day, shows Gervais perform a skit about terminally ill children.

In it, he discusses how during the pandemic he made videos with the Make-A-Wish foundation for these children.

He then ‘jokes’ that he would open each video by calling the child “r******” for not wishing to get better.

Asked about ‘offensive’ comedy in the wake of the Gervais backlash, actor and comedian Dawn French, 66, has told LBC that “the point” of comedy includes a comedian’s right to offend.

Speaking to LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr, Ms French said: “I would fight tooth and nail for people to be as offensive as they want.

“Hatred, no. I think we do know when something sneaks into completely unacceptable incitement to hatred, I think we all know when that’s the case. And it’s just not funny, that’s a fact”.

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Ricky Gervais has faced backlash over the new show.
Ricky Gervais has faced backlash over the new show. Picture: Alamy

Ms French added: “I would fight for his right to do that [offend]. I also have the right to switch off if I don't like it.

“That's the point and that's how you vote with your ticket, with your wallet, with your feet when it comes to a comedian that you don't like. That's all it is and Ricky's got millions of people who love what he does, and good on him.”

In anticipation of the fallout from his skit, Gervais defended his material, as he followed up his joke with: “I don't do that either, okay. These are all jokes, alright. I don't even use that word in real life. The R word.

“I used it in a joke, that's not real life is it. I'm playing a role”.

Netflix has faced calls to cut Gervais’ new show following accusations of ableism from those online and criticism from disability charities.

British disability charity Scope said: “Language like this has consequences and we're just not accepting the explanation that Gervais uses to try and justify this language”.

It’s not the first time the 62-year-old has faced controversy for his material either, as he was slated for another special he released with Netflix last year.

The special, SuperNature, was criticised by viewers for being transphobic in what has since become a continued debate about 'free speech' within comedy.

Gervais clapped back at his critics at the time, as he argued: “I think that's what comedy is for - getting us over taboo subjects so they're not scary anymore”.

Ms French also revealed that she's working on a brand-new sitcom set to be released between late 2024 and early 2025.

She said: “There are plans afoot. I can't tell you too much about it at the moment. But at the end of next year or beginning of the following year there will be a sitcom and I will be in it.”

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