Ricky Gervais has defended telling a joke about dead babies, saying “offence is the collateral damage of free speech” after bereaved parents walked out of his show.
Suzi and Ryan Gourley, whose son Eli was stillborn last year, left the gig and complained after the comedian made a joke at his Humanity tour show in Belfast on Tuesday.
Suzi told Belfast Live it was a gag 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 on Tuesday, Gervais tweeted: “Still buzzing from last night’s amazingly warm and unshockable Belfast crowd. Can’t wait to do it all again tonight. #Humanity”
He has since defended his material, 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?’
“I see offence as the collateral damage of free speech. I hate the thought of a person’s ideas being modified or even hushed because someone somewhere might not like to hear them.
“Outside actually breaking the law or causing someone physical harm, ‘hurting someone’s feelings’ is almost impossible to objectively quantify.
“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.”
The charity Stillbirth And Neonatal Death Support NI shared a warning about the show on Facebook, cautioning bereaved parents about what they might hear.
A screenshot of the message, which has been shared online, said: “We have just had a message from a bereaved couple who were at the Ricky Gervais show in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast last night.
“They have asked us to make any bereaved parents attending the show tonight (March 29) that there is a joke in the show about dead babies which upset this couple so much that they had to leave the show.
“Going out after a loss can be a difficult thing to do. 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.”