Ricky Gervais is back with a new Netflix stand up show, SuperNature and it is brilliantly crafted in a way that you will question what is funny and what is too far to joke about.
Ricky Gervais is a contentious comedian. Known for rubbing people up the wrong way with his unshaken beliefs on religion, and morals Gervais last saw controversy with his previous Netflix 2018 show.
Mocking trans individuals, specifically, former-Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, Gervais was on the end of tonnes of abuse and negativity.
Personally, I found that 2018 stand-up show excruciating to stomach, however, his latest foray, SuperNature, applies all the learnings, and satire to present a hilarious show, one that shows his learnings on how to craft a joke.
SuperNature, named after Gervais’ own dismay with the supernatural industry, and his adoration of the natural kingdom, doesn’t wholly continue the conversation that once riled audiences, but instead, comments on the implications of offensive jokes, and how a joke cannot be offensive, but rather how we as individuals take offence.
In it, Gervais mocks those who were offended saying that the only reason this new special contains a “Well I’ll just identify as a…” joke is to solely cause contention for the Internet to promote his show for free as a result of the inevitable backlash.
Reminding me a great deal of Daniel Sloss’ stand-up show Dark wherein Sloss tells a dark story, and the audience takes offence with a comment before Sloss calls the audience to question exactly what element offended them, Gervais is just the same, albeit older and significantly richer.
Similarly, Gervais’ understanding of ironic satire, used to make jabs at intellectual progression is sure to rile audiences, however, when audiences reframe the performer as the comic he is, telling and moulding the joke to incite the strongest reaction, rather than an activist using his platform to spout hate, I feel many may consider this a work of genius.
Instead, the commentary from The Office creator on virtue signalling, and the ability to separate the art from the artists also riffs off similar controversial comedians that the Internet has cancelled over the years including similarly controversial Louis C.K which was addressed in the American’s stand-up show Sorry.
While a lot of his jokes may not have sat right with my morality, it cannot be denied that Gervais has purposefully worded, and told his jokes in a way that makes me question whether a joke is funny or offensive, and if so, why I respond in a certain way regardless of whether my instinct is to laugh or take offence.
For instance, when discussing Gervais’ success leading him to become a multi-millionaire, Gervais sarcastically remarks, “I’m like Rosa Parks. Except I fought for the right to never ride a bus again.”
Whether you believe Gervais, a man of extreme privilege, can make light of a historical figure that fought for racial equality or not is entirely the point of his show.
Admittedly some jokes and bits didn’t necessarily land. Not because they were unfunny, but rather the way in which the joke was structured wasn’t as fine-tuned as others, including an entire gambit on the AIDS crisis of the 80s compared to COVID, which did disappoint considering the polished craft that had gone into the formatting of the show up to that point.
Though this was redeemed later with a commentary on the entomology of an offensive term of phrase to describe somebody from an Asian country, which was undermined with a lowbrow joke, that was structured in such a way it caught me entirely off guard and made me laugh hysterically.
In truth, many will be offended by this show. Gervais has already had to defend the show, having spoken on the BBC magazine programme, The One Show saying, “I think that’s what comedy is for, really – to get us through stuff, and I deal in taboo subjects because I want to take the audience to a place it hasn’t been before, even for a split second.
“Most offence comes from when people mistake the subject of a joke with the actual target.”
Further, in the show itself, Ricky Gervais understands how his initial remarks in the 2018 special offended the trans community, reassuringly adding, “In real life, of course, I support trans rights.
“I support all human rights and trans rights are human rights.
“Live your best life, use your preferred pronouns, be the gender that you feel that you are,” he continued before, as audiences expected, adding an undercutting punchline about Eddie Izzard who has identified as gender fluid and has requested she/her pronouns.
Gervais also said, “it’s mad to think that joking about something means you’re anti-it”.
Many will find an issue with SuperNature, however, to me, it is one of Ricky Gervais’ strongest pieces of work and shows his ability to understand the criticism, whilst delivering a critique of his own as to why comedy is subjective and needs context for audiences to appreciate the punchline.
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