Ricky Gervais defends 'dead babies' joke at show in Belfast

Bethany Minelle, News Reporter

Ricky Gervais has defended a joke about "dead babies" on his latest tour, after bereaved parents walked out of a gig in Belfast.

Ryan and Suzi Gourley, whose son Eli was stillborn last July, were at the show at the city's Waterfront Hall for their first night out since their loss.

However, they left partway through after hearing the joke.

The couple went on to complain, but Gervais has defended his material, saying on Twitter that he sees "offence as the collateral damage of free speech".

Mrs Gourley told Belfast Live it was a joke she "wouldn't have expected in a million years from anybody", adding: "I just think, 'Why? What is the need?' This is our life - we have no choice but to live with this.

"I know people take things differently and I know our emotions are raw, but why joke about a baby being dead? It's just wrong."

After the show in Belfast, Gervais tweeted: "Still buzzing from last night's amazingly warm and unshockable Belfast crowd. Can't wait to do it all again tonight."

But the comedian later defended his controversial joke in a series of posts on Twitter, writing: "'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?'

"Offence often occurs when people mistake the subject of a joke with the actual target. They're not always the same.

"Jokes about 'bad things' don't have to necessarily be pro those bad things. Surely, a joke that's anti bad things is a good thing, no?

"Basically, offence is about feelings, and feelings are personal. People simply don't like being reminded of bad things."

He also posted a photo of himself alongside a statement saying he saw "offence as the collateral damage of free speech".

The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support Northern Ireland Network (Sands NI) posted a warning to bereaved parents on its Facebook page, cautioning followers about "a joke in the show about dead babies".

"Going out after a loss can be a difficult thing to do," the post said. "There are feelings of doubt, thoughts that you shouldn't be enjoying yourself as it is somehow disrespectful to your child's memory.

"If you are going to the Waterfront Hall tonight please be aware of this part of the show as it may be upsetting."

A spokesperson for Waterfront Hall said: "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."

Gervais, who is no stranger to causing controversy, later quipped: "I wish I had a pound for every time I offended someone. Wait, I do."

He also posted a warning, listing the material in his Humanity tour that could cause offence: "Warning: My stand up mentions AIDS, cancer, Paedophilia, famine, race, terrorism, rape, murder, drugs, death and even food allergies."

In 2011 the comedian was forced to apologise after using the term "mong" in online messages , upsetting disability groups around the world.

He had insisted the word was no longer derogatory, but later admitted his use of the term had been "naive".

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