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Controversy Over Ricky Gervais's Anne Frank Joke

By April 24, 2012

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Ricky GervaisEarlier this month comedian Ricky Gervais appeared on "The Daily Show" and made a comment about Anne Frank that has been creating controversy ever since.

During the April 11th appearance Gervais told host Jon Stewart about the time he had to educate his friend and colleague, Karl Pilkington, about the story of Anne Frank. Karl appears on Gervais's show "An Idiot Abroad" and according to the comedian, believed that Anne Frank was a "squatter" hiding in the attic to avoid paying rent to her landlord. Gervais claimed to have educated Pilkington about the truth of the Holocaust, yet simultaneously marveled that the Nazi's hadn't found Frank sooner and joked that she'd even had time to write a book while in hiding. You can view the entire clip of the interview here.

Not surprisingly, Gervais's comments offended people. First a blogger named Dan Bloom began a petition calling for "a worldwide boycott of any TV shows" affiliated with Gervais. Then other bloggers, including the Forward, picked up the story. Eventually Gervais decided to respond in an open letter, which was published yesterday in the Jewish Chronicle and read in part:

"I often get accused of finding comedy in places where no comedy is to be found. I feel you can make a joke about anything. It just depends on what the joke is. Comedy comes from a good or a bad place and the problem is in its interpretation, with some people confusing the subject of a joke with the joke's real target. The target of this joke is the comedian's ignorance."

Bloom didn't buy Gervais's explanation and responded in an open letter to the comedian saying as much. What do you think? Were Gervais's comments on "The Daily Show" offensive?

Image credit: Getty Images/Jason Merritt

Comments
April 24, 2012 at 11:08 pm
(1) Dan Bloom says:

Good post. I am that Dan Bloom, but I am not a Boston blogger, I am in Taiwan, far away, and have been based in Asia as a reporter and editor since 1991. But I keep tabs on what is happening in the USA and the UK by internet. The jury is still out on this one, in terms of your question: were Gervais’ Anne Frank jokes tasteless and offensive, especially since he told them on the Jon Stewart TV show, and Jon is Jewish and looked uneasy during the taping, and it showed but Jon said nothing. Why? But to be honest, if you look at the many blogs and comments, many people seem to think these kind of victim jokes are funny. Gervais apparently does. Me? I think there is something wrong with Western civilization if it makes jokes about Anne Frank not wanting to pay rent and laughs at such vulgarity. Even the Jewish comedienne Joan Rivers tells ugly tasteless Anne Frank jokes in her act online too. Something is very wrong here. What?

April 25, 2012 at 2:18 am
(2) Enrique Yvker says:

It can be said , but it is obviously false and sad that uou can make a joke on anything. We call them sick jokes.Maybe the guy is not antisemitic but he is, in any case brainless.

April 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm
(3) Emelia says:

I don’t think Gervais is anti-Semitic. I think he is just ignorant and was trying to make a joke at the expense of his friend Karl, whose lack of understanding about the Holocaust is staggering if Gervais is to be believed. I saw this segment on The Daily Show when it aired and though I was offended that Gervais would even attempt a joke about the Holocaust, in the grand scheme of things he just revealed himself to be an uneducated comedian who doesn’t know what is and isn’t funny.

April 25, 2012 at 10:45 pm
(4) Bubbie Zadie says:

Wow, Ariela, you censored and deleted the other comments by dan bloom, why? please explain. You are guilty of the same kind of antisemitism that Gervais shows when you delete and block perfecty polite comments by a fellow Jew. You should be ashamed. whose side are you on? OUCH, says this bubbie and zadie

April 26, 2012 at 8:19 am
(5) judaism says:

Dan (“Bubbie Zadie”), you are welcome to comment on About.com posts and on both About Judaism Facebook pages, but as a policy comments that do not contribute to the conversation or re-post content from other sites are deleted.

For instance, you posted identical comments on the About.com website and both About Judaism Facebook pages. The first comment contributed to the conversation and was left online in all three locations. However, comments 2-3 seemed to be re-posting content from your website, which had already been linked to in the main About.com post. And comment 4 seemed to be complaining about another NYT writer. Since comments 2-4 did not contribute to the conversation and could even be classified as spam, they were deleted.

Since then you also left a 5th comment (to which I am responding right now), which was not deleted and a 6th comment that talked about me personally. That comment was deleted for the reasons specified above.

If you would like to contribute additional comments to this post or either About Judaism Facebook page please do so. But please understand that all comments are moderated and can be deleted if they do not meet the guidelines mentioned above.

April 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm
(6) dan bloom says:

Dear Ari,
NOW that i see the reason behind the deletions, i have egg on my face, egg cream soda even, Avenue J, Brooklyn, my dad, may he rest in peace, and say sincerely sorry for this meshagus. I thought i was being censored but now i see the light, Thanks for good explain and from now on i will follow the rules. and thanks for setting me right on this. again, apolo and sorry. Cheers, dan in Taiwan. go figure!

April 26, 2012 at 11:09 pm
(7) judaism says:

Thank you for your follow-up comment Dan. I appreciate your taking the time and am glad we were able to sort things out.

April 27, 2012 at 6:39 pm
(8) Melanie Rice says:

What about the badchan in Jewish tradition, and in general, the concept of radical humour, which is a respected tradition in Jewish culture? Consider everyone from Lenny Bruce to Don Rickles to Joan Rivers to Sarah Silverman, etc.

April 28, 2012 at 2:25 am
(9) Dan Bloom says:

Melanie Rice, good comment and thanks. Yes, maybe the Anne Frank jokes fall in the badchan tradition. But on the other hand, there’s badchan and then there’s realy bad badchan. Were does one draw the line and does Anne Frank jokes about NOT wanting to pay rent fall into this? I dunno. but your comment very valuabke tio this discussion,

Today a Jewish newspaper editor in NJ attacks me in a very unbecoming way and it’s strange. You and Ari too need to read it and maybe this calls for a new post by Ari re the pros and cons here. I have no agenda, just an honest discussion, pro and con.

Google “What we joke about when we joke about Anne Frank”
at njjewishnews in a blog post by someone calling himself ”Andrew Silow-Carroll” and he takes Gervais side here and criticiozes me for wanting to MAKE HAY with this campaign of mine. What?

”In a bit he recently repeated on The Daily Show, British comedian Ricky Gervais jokes that the Nazis must have been incompetent if it took them two years to find Anne Frank’s hiding place. Dan Bloom, who calls himself the …”

Read it and see the 25 comments below. This was a very unbecoming blog post and from a fellow Jew no less! oi

April 28, 2012 at 2:38 am
(10) Dan Bloom says:

A badchen or badkhn (a Hebrew word meaning jester that has been Yiddishized as badchen) is a Jewish comedian with scholarly overtones who entertained guests at weddings among the Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe. Today they are found in all countries with Chassidic populations, including the United States, performing their shtick at weddings.

The badchen was considered a standard part of the wedding party, as de rigueur as the officiating rabbi. An elaborate traditional wedding might also involve a letz (lit. a clown, here a jongleur or musician) and a marshalik (a master of ceremonies).[1]

The badchen has to be able both to provide the energy for a party before and after the ceremony itself and also to make the transition to a more serious tone immediately before the ceremony.[1] To this end his comedy was not of a slapstick variety but rather verbal with many intricate Talmudic references and in-jokes.

Following the Council of Vilna on July 3, 1661, a decree was issued banning merry-making, including the setting of limitations on wedding celebrations, public drinking, fire dances, masquerades, and Jewish comic entertainers. The badchen was exempted from the decree.[2]

Some famous badchonim include Chaim Menachem (Mendel) Mermelstien (born March 2, 1920 in Munkacz, died November 7, 1985 in New York), considered the father of modern day badchonus,[citation needed] and the present-day performers Yankel Miller and Yoel Lebowits.

The 19th-century Broder singers began as badchonim, but soon started to perform outside of the context of weddings. They, in turn, are usually seen as the forerunners of Yiddish theater.

On the Jewish holiday of Purim many young men undertake to be badchonim during Purim spiels.

April 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm
(11) Chaim Paddaman says:

Ricky Gervais insults and mocks Jesus Christ and then goes on to piss all over Anne Frank’s diary and memory. Anne Frank was a bastion of courage. Ricky Gervais is a sad reflection of the moral decline in the American film and television industry. Steven Spielberg’s epic film “Schindler list” was the Americanization of the nazi destruction of the European Jew. A profoundly shocking, unsparing and fact-based three hour epic. Bet your bottom dollar that Steven Spielberg and Ricky Gervais are having a laugh at the expense of Anne Frank. Steven Spielberg has the power and influence to deal with a lightweight schmuck like Gervais. Spielberg must put his money where his mouth is.
Ricky Gervais thanks God that he is an atheist, So do we.. Gervais and his atheist sidekicks argue that religion has done more harm to this world than any other form of philosophy or comedy, and is
responsible for all world wars. Many religious groups include sincere people who want to serve God. Sadly, though, some people and groups have abused religion for evil purposes that suit their own agendas. In the past, religious leaders have even tortured their opponents. Today, according to news reports, some religious leaders have encouraged terrorism or supported war, or they have been involved in child sexual abuse. However, there are two types of religion- true religion and false religion (fake) False religion is evil.
Ricky Gervais is a rancid soul, wrapped in rancid flesh.

April 28, 2012 at 10:05 pm
(12) daniel halevi bloom says:

Peter Kubicke, an 80 year old Holocaust survivor in New York, was in 6 camps as a teen born in Czechsovakia, friend of mine, he tells me re this meshagus:

“Dear Danny,
You will never get further with this exhausted and exhaustive topic.
The Holocaust is constantly being trivialized, in many ways: thoughtless
remarks, jokes in poor taste, lost of fiction that simply ignores historical
facts and creates its own. You are a good fighter for the truth and you
should take comfort in the fact that many people see you in that light. For
those who do not, you will never be able to illuminate the path.”
– Peter

April 28, 2012 at 10:08 pm
(13) daniel halevi bloom says:

and Peter Kubicek, my friend in NYC who is a Holocaust survivor, was in 6 camps as a teen and wrote his own book on this, self pubished, he adds:

”Dear Danny,
It is you who rightly said it’s like tilting at windmills — I believe
quixotic is the word.

Joe Berger at the New York Times will no doubt understand what this is all about since you sent him a news tip. He, too, is very
concerned about truth about the Holocaust, but I doubt he will be willing to
get into a fight about it. You you may remember that he rebuffed me when I
asked him to help in the fight to expose Herman because he thought it was
immoral for a Holocaust survivor to attack another. Once Gabriel Sherman had written
his expose in The New Republic, Berger e-mailed me, “Watch the front page of
the NYT next Monday.” And that’s where a detailed article appeared, written
by him, but he had washed his hands during the fight, when it may have
counted.”

Peter

April 28, 2012 at 10:10 pm
(14) daniel halevi bloom says:

And Danielle Berrin at the Jewish Chronicle in Los Angeles, who earlier in this month wrote a very good column arguing that these Anne Frank jokes ARE tasteless and vulgar, now she does not want to hear any more about this. She writes to me: “”Dear Dan, please stop sending me these emails. I’m through with this topic.
Thank you.”

So she is THROUGH with this topic? How nice!

April 28, 2012 at 10:12 pm
(15) Aaron Spinack says:

Difficult question in the wake of today’s political correctness banning all things I think are funny from ethnic jokes to slapstick. You know I’m a minority as Jiewsh man too. So in short.. Jokes about “stupid Nazzis” I guess that’s ok. Jokes about rent dodging.. NO WAY!!!!! THAT IS OBSCENE.
Jokes about ANNE FRANK Whining… Common. If Joan Rivers, I think, had to endure even half the things that ANNE has to endure. Heck even half the things we working class foreigners have to endure she’d whine much worse. (This is only an opinion… Perhaps Joan Rivers was once poor the my statement would be wrong)
By the way… It seems political correctness only protects certain groups but not all..

April 29, 2012 at 11:04 pm
(16) dan bloom says:

A major player in this issue, editor at a major Jewish newspaper on the East Coast, who does not agree with me and wrote a scathing attack on me in his newspaper in New Jersey, tells me today: “Dear Dan, The difference between ‘The Medium’ [Hitler satire at Rutgers] and the gervais joke is that the Gervais joke is actually a joke — not a great joke, but I understand what he is getting at. The joke is on HIM, not Anne Frank. Gervais has created a persona of an arogant know it all — the idea that the Nazis are too lazy or incompenent is a joke on the Nazis — and a joke on idiots who know nothing about the Holcoaust. I think you are barking up the wrong tree in trying to tar him and Stewart. [ASC did not mention the RENT joke in his letter to me or in his blog post, which is the KEY here.]

Good luck in your campaign, and sorry I don’t agree with it.”

April 29, 2012 at 11:06 pm
(17) dan bloom says:

A non-Jewish Catholic blogger in the DC area tells me and says pelase post his words here too:

”Dear Dan
Just so you know, you’re doing a really good job of exposing this, and it deserves it. I’ve been buried, and have been meaning to mention it for some time.

Oh, and Anne Frank jokes just aren’t funny, period.”

Tom

April 30, 2012 at 11:11 am
(18) Chaim Paddaman says:

Dan bloom is a mensch, but is missing the point. Ricky Gervais is a coward who only hits on safe and soft targets. He has aspirations to follow in the footsteps of American shock jock Howard Stern.
He is enabled and encouraged by the self hating Jews who control the American film and television industry. Gervais is well protected by the Hollywood propaganda machine and its cronies. Ricky Gervais is untouchable, and can say whatever he wants, there will be no consequences. I wish you luck, but it is going to be tough. God, bless you……….

April 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm
(19) dan bloom says:

Thank you, Chaim, for your comment above. Everyone tells me I am tilting at windmills. I agree. I know how hard a row this is to hoe. Still, mensch that I am, this is my goal: not to stop Gervais in his tracks, or to limit his freedom of expression or freedom of speech. But merely to use my powers of persuasion, gently, softly, determinedly, to ask him and others, including our own dear Joan Rivers, whose Anne Frank jokes are even MORE repulsive than Gervias’ routine, which of course is all part of an “act”, a stage routine, scripted and rehearsed for maximum impact, and it seems to work for UK and USA audiences, but Chaim here is my goal: to ask Ricky to THINK about all this, deeply, and not to censor him, but to ask him to maybe stop using the AF jokes in his act in the future! That’s all. Voluntarily, on his part, to take the AF jokes out of his routine, out of sensitivity to the issue, even though he still thinks the AF jokes are funny. He has lots of materail to make jokes from, and there’s no NEED to use the AF jokes if they offend SOME people, Now that he knows this, I got through to him at least, maybe, he will voluntarily complty with DAN BLOOM’S LAW….smile. it’s up to him, As for Joan Rivers, same same. i hope she will see the light on this too. You agree, Chaim? Even Joan Rivers does this, in her act, on stage, and gets applause, calling ANne a ”Whiner, always whining” and saying AF “”fantasizes about having wild sex with the handsome blonde nazi soliders downstairs”…and that is NOT funny. Joan must also voluntaruly stop this nonsense. what’s next Joanie: Elie Wiesel jokes?

May 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm
(20) Chaim Paddaman says:

The Frum Jewish communities and the Jewish community as a whole, must give support to Dan Bloom in his endeavour to persuade Ricky Gervais and Joan Rivers to omit offensive and repulsive Anne Frank jokes from their comedy routines.

May 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm
(21) Alan Friedman says:

It’s a fact that we all have to joke about ourselves. Jewish people have been laughing about themselves forever–it has helped get us through the horrible times over the millenia. We even laugh at others who joke about us, which is normally about a stereotype of some sort. But this adn this particular subject matter can NEVER be joked about. There is nothing about the Holocaust that lends itself to joking, and how dare anyone try to tell us what should and should not offend us! This “joke” is inexcusable!

May 2, 2012 at 10:56 pm
(22) danny bloom says:

”No joke” is the headline today in the New Jersey Jewish News newspaper in NJ. Text:
In a bit he recently repeated on The Daily Show, British comedian Ricky Gervais jokes that the Nazis must have been incompetent if it took them two years to find Anne Frank’s hiding place.It’s not a very good joke, but it’s not exactly an assault on the memory of the Holocaust. Nevertheless a [Taiwan-based blogger] named Dan Bloom would like to see Gervais or Jon Stewart acknowledge that the joke was inappropriate. Writing in [The Wrap], Bloom asks Gervais to “leave Anne Frank out of your comedy routines.”….Some writers and comedians have successfully mined the Nazi era for humor, especially when their targets have been the perpetrators of the Holocaust or their sympathizers. …..Dan Bloom’s advice seems appropriate: Just leave it out.read full text at the njjn website

July 17, 2012 at 11:10 pm
(23) dan bloom says:

Now in the middle of the summer, Mr Gervais lets loose again in a recent Twitter message to his many “fans,” whoever
they might be, tweeting: “If I had a time machine, I’d go back and sneak Anne Frank a DVD of ‘Home Alone’. It could give her the edge.”

The 51-year-old British comic tweeted that to over 2.5 million ”followers,” and of course he landed in hot water again with Jewish readers in Europe and North America.
He quickly deleted the offensive tweet after being slammed by fans, according to London press reports, but in response the outspoken comedian and star of “The Office” tweeted this: “We have to stop this recent culture of people telling us they’re offended and expecting us to give a [damn].”

Ricky Gervais is a terribly tasteless, serial offender of the memory of Anne Frank and her family and he just won’t stop. What makes this man tick? Do Britons really lap this stuff up?

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