Ricky Gervais: a clunky, self-gratifying stand-up rant
Like so many stand-up comedians whose career paths have led them back to the stage, Ricky Gervais has dedicated his new stand-up special on Netflix to the comedic performance itself.
The roughly hour-long special, titled SuperNature, highlights how not even Gervais can make culture war discourse entertaining despite his knack for nailing punchlines.
SuperNature seems to follow a whole host of similarly-themed specials by other comedians worried about the state of stand-up. Bill Burr’s 2019 special Paper Tiger was all about cancel culture and gender issues. Dave Chappelle’s now infamous 2021 special The Closer similarly had much of its runtime dedicated to jabs at cancel culture, trans people and Twitter.
Gervais, hopping on this bandwagon, is a little late to the game. His formula seems almost geared towards making Twitter angry as his irreverent brand of comedy graduates from tongue-in-cheek prodding at powers that be to mean-spirited punching down (that is, making fun of the less advantaged).
It’s as if Gervais gets on stage hoping for backlash. Within three minutes he has his phone in his hand reading a real comment he got on Twitter. What follows is a solid 15 minutes about political correctness, punctuated throughout by self-justification and the pretence that he actually doesn’t care - even though he so very obviously does.
His whole shtick relies on him half-heartedly back-pedalling or, better yet, saying that he’s too rich and famous to care what critics think. But why does he spend so much time talking about it then? Why waste his genuine talent for comedy on such clunky and self-gratifying talking points?
It’s tragicomic to watch a formerly sharp and witty Gervais get caught up in his own manufactured controversyTomas Einarsson
An especially poignant example of this fixation with political correctness comes when Gervais claims that it’s all ‘Oxbridge comedians’ saying that ‘comedy should punch up. You should never punch down.’
But it wasn’t just well-educated posh comedians writing op-eds in print newspapers who said that; it was also George Carlin, the last comedian anyone could ever call politically correct. Carlin more than once plainly and emphatically argued that making fun of those less fortunate than yourself is simply not as funny or culturally incisive as ridiculing those on top.
That’s why it’s tragicomic to watch a formerly sharp and witty Gervais get caught up in his own manufactured controversy. After the first segment of drawn-out diatribes about how he should be allowed to make fun of women and trans people, there’s a glimmer of hope that maybe he’ll talk about something, anything else.
Gervais spent so much time perfecting his takedown of cancel culture that he didn’t have much material about anything elseTomas Einarsson
Then he goes on about the difference between cats and dogs with all the energy of an uncomfortable water cooler conversation that could belong in his painfully awkward show The Office. There’s also more than one joke which Gervais claims is too funny, too offensive to say - and then says them anyway. These jokes also all fall fairly flat.
Gervais seems to have spent so much time perfecting his takedown of cancel culture - which never seems to actually cancel any comedians - that he didn’t have much material about anything else.
SuperNature unintentionally says a lot more about the state of stand-up than Ricky Gervais ever intended to. Will every special released by major comedians now inevitably begin with drawn-out jokes about how comedians can’t make jokes anymore? Will they all have this thinly-veiled tone of resentment resonate throughout? Will it be directed against those that say that punching down isn’t nearly as witty as comedians like Ricky Gervais think it is?
Here’s hoping it’s only a phase. It’s not like Gervais is a bad comedian per se, it’s just that this ham-fisted harping on about getting cancelled gets stale rather quickly.