There’s no way to discuss this without offering spoilers, so if you haven’t watched Ricky Gervais’s “SuperNature,” go watch it now. I shouldn’t mention that, because if you do watch it, then you’ll have no need to read this article because that’s how bad the coverage has been.
The set opens with Gervais whipping out the old saw about how women aren’t funny. (Can I make references to “whipping out” without coming off as cisgender? Let’s see.) “What about all the funny female comedians,” he says before stumbling when attempting to offer examples. He then goes on to explain the special is heavy with satire, which allows people to “laugh at the wrong thing because you know what the right thing is.”
He continues, “In real life, I know there are loads of funny women, like, um … No, but there are! Dame Edna Everage. Eddie Izzard.” From there he riffs on Twitter and the art of comedy for a bit, before finally diving into the “problematic” jokes about the new-fangled women, the ones with beards and wedding tackle, such as Izzard, that has the internet aghast.
Never mind that people aren’t bent out of shape about his jokes about how there are no funny female comedians or that coverage of “SuperNature” erases women in favor of defending men. The patriarchy always wins, I suppose.
Nevertheless, people are big mad about his trans jokes despite the fact that most of the show, while punching in all directions, comes from a place of doctrinaire liberalism. The name of the show itself was inspired by Gervais’s atheism. As he says, “Anything that exists is by definition part of nature and is explainable, if not now then eventually.” Right-wing provocateur Gervais is not.
But given that, also in Gervais’ words, the most offensive thing that can be said right now is that women don’t have penises, it doesn’t matter that he’s a member of the team, no pun intended. Of the special, GLAAD had this to say:
We watched the Ricky Gervais ‘comedy’ special on Netflix so you don’t have to. It’s full of graphic, dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes. He also spouts anti-gay rhetoric & spreads inaccurate information about HIV.
Yes, because in 2022, people are looking to Ricky Gervais for information about HIV. Something tells me that the second sentence from GLAAD is merely an attempt to make the complaints seem to be more than simply a response to his jokes about new-fangled women.
It’s almost as if his critics are trying to prove his point. Lefty comics are generally given a bit more leeway on the topics they discuss, after all. Anthony Jeselnik explained it in a 2019 interview with The New York Times. When asked why woke comedians don’t criticize him, Jeselnik replied, “It’s because they know I’m woke.” He added that his onstage persona is an act, saying, “The character is such a monster that you know I’m on the right side of things.”
He might have a point. At least one trans comedian thought his joke on the topic, delivered in 2015’s “Thoughts and Prayers,” was great. Dave Chappelle and Gervais, though? Not so much. Or perhaps we’ve just reached a point in the years since where there is one, and only one, group of people that we cannot make fun of.
It’s a sentiment Gervais agrees with. Toward the end of “SuperNature,” he returns to the jokes that have gotten him in trouble, this time proclaiming his support for gay people, trans people, all people except furries. (I’m assuming that part because he doesn’t mention them. He erases them, just as his critics erase women.)
His issue isn’t with women with penises, but the fact that identity politics are the one thing we can’t joke about. As a comedian, he likely realizes that putting barriers around certain topics, and refusing to humanize them, makes it difficult to discuss them.
As he’s on the liberal team, this is what’s truly problematic for him. Just as Chappelle and Jeselnik are on the “right side of things,” so is Gervais. They’re looking at the power of comedy, from Lenny Bruce to George Carlin to Richard Pryor to today. Whether or not you agree with them, they use their skills to try to effect social change. And they cannot do that if they can’t discuss certain topics.
It’s reminiscent of another extremely ribald comedian, one who wrote a tragedy in which the main character said some things he shouldn’t have, given his audience. Of course, we’re talking about Shakespeare and “The Murder of Gonzango,” the play within a play, designed by Hamlet to determine if his uncle Claudius truly had murdered his father. Hamlet, in other words, was using entertainment to try to smoke out a killer.
With “SuperNature,” Gervais is attempting his own “The Murder of Gonzago,” using entertainment to smoke out those who wish to kill comedy. But while Hamlet used the play as the thing to catch the conscience of the king, Gervais instead has caught the ire of the woke kings, queens, and everything in between. Nobody let them in on the secret.