Before coming onstage for his new Netflix special SuperNature, Ricky Gervais introduces himself as “a man who doesn’t really need to do this.” Boy is that true.
As Gervais mentions many times during the show, he is incredibly wealthy. He’s either doing another Netflix special for his ego or a new pool house or whatever it is rich people frivolously spend on. Gervais periodically chuckles to himself during SuperNature and says that Netflix has already paid for the hour, so he can do what he likes. He reportedly earned around $40 million dollars in a previous Netflix deal, so we can expect that he received a similar payday here. Grossly overcompensating an unfunny and irrelevant comedian makes sense considering Netflix’s blatant downward trajectory these days. If they’d saved their money on this garbage, maybe they wouldn’t have had to lay off 150 employees last week.
Instead of enjoying his existing wealth, though, Gervais feels the need to challenge us, because hyper-sensitive audiences haven’t seen someone push boundaries like this! Except for the other Netflix specials hosted by older comedians desperately attempting to stay relevant.
Gervais’ jokes throughout the special are hacky and lazy. He defends his transphobia (which he dives into right at the top), racism, ableism, and fatphobia by saying that a) he doesn’t mean any of it, he’s just trying to be funny, and b) he’s an equal opportunity offender. Gervais goes to great lengths to explain that first point multiple times, emphasizing that it’s just irony and that he’s putting on whatever persona will make the joke as funny as possible. He wants us to laugh at how wrong that perspective is, not the transphobic joke itself! His larger point, though, is all about laughing at people who would be offended by transphobic jokes, not transphobes themselves. Gervais also willfully ignores the fact that stand-up specials and pop culture in general shape our world views, establish norms, and affect people. In short: his words matter. His jokes about trans women using bathrooms contribute to existing transphobic rhetoric, which emboldens both individual action and policy making that hurts trans people. People who are denied gender affirming healthcare, attacked, and murdered simply for existing.
Never once does Gervais consider actual trans people. To him, they are hypothetical—can he joke about them? People say that’s not okay? Why not?!? He is a rich man with a microphone, he should be able to do what he likes! You know what’ll really make them feel equal? Being made fun of by a washed-up comedian, who already derided trans people in his last Netflix special. But surely that wasn’t enough.
Cancel culture comes up, naturally. “Can’t mention him anymore, he’s cancelled,” Gervais says of Louis C.K. “Not enough to apologize and move on.” It’s not surprising that Gervais buys into the fallacy of cancel culture. Just a reminder: C.K. kept working even after being accused of sexual misconduct and recently won a Grammy, because the system ultimately works in favor of men like him. Again, Gervais is grasping for relevance here. It would be annoying if it wasn’t so blatant and pathetic.
Gervais’ delivery also leaves much to be desired. He laughs incessantly, like he’s trying to remind people that this is meant to be funny. He struggles to get through a bit about him becoming a transgender woman because he’s laughing so much. It’s like Jimmy Fallon, but far shittier.
Gervais is truly off-putting in SuperNature, a detestable combination of smug and obtuse. Only two of his bits are any good—one about a platypus, and a touching one about how Gervais and his male relatives and friends express affection. Both of these are too little too late, though. His retirement can’t come soon enough.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.