With His Latest Contrived Controversy, Ricky Gervais Reminds Us That He’s A Professional Troll
Ahead of the release of his newest Netflix special Armageddon, professional comedy provocateur Ricky Gervais dropped a terminal smackdown on a bunch of imaginary Make-A-Wish kids, proving once again that, when it comes to his joke-crafting, no line is too far to cross and no fruit is too low-hanging.
At this point, most media outlets probably have a pre-written template for their writers to use each time Gervais grabs headlines in advance of a major release — after all, the cycle is always the same. Gervais chooses any sensitive topic, he writes the most obvious offensive joke about it, he lobs it at the internet and then he lets the outrage machine do his marketing for him. It’s not a unique branding move — riling up the “woke mob” with entry-level dark humor in order to earn the lucrative title of “cancel culture victim” is one of the most reliable business decisions in the current stand-up scene. However, Gervais does deserve credit for being a trailblazer of the strategy, as he’s been prioritizing controversy over laughs since long before most anti-woke comedians had even heard of Patreon podcasts.
Gervais’ latest bit to earn headlines like “Ricky Gervais SLAMMED For OFFENSIVE Jokes” is in a clip from his upcoming special that he joint-posted with @netflixisajoke on Instagram. In the joke, Gervais claims that he fulfilled numerous Make-A-Wish requests during the pandemic — whatever you think a Gervais-esque punchline would be for that set-up, dumb it down even further.
Obviously, anyone with a passing familiarity with Gervais’ dark comedy knows that any story of his that starts with Make-A-Wish kids is going to leave them in an even worse spot by the end. And, of course, Gervais fans would intuitively understand that the set-up itself is absurd — how many eight-year-olds are massive fans of the U.K. Office series? — so the punchline of, “Why didn’t you wish to get better?” lands with a limp wrist as it completely meets any reasonable comedy fan’s expectations instead of doing anything at all to subvert them.
But, again, the point of posting the clip wasn’t to get laughs — no, that’s not the aim of this genre of comedy — it was to stir the pot and generate the negative responses that inspire a sort of counter-protest support for the offending comic. Adding the “r-slur” after the end of the story where it fails to contribute anything funny to the clip isn’t a comedic choice, it’s a cynically strategic one made by a man who’s been planning his controversial Instagram clips since the beginning of the tour.
And, to be clear, this plan worked wonders — a quick Google News search of Gervais’ name returns a crop of news stories from numerous semi-reputable publications (and some disreputable ones as well) covering the enraged reactions of media members and Twitter warriors to the inflammatory clip with the title of Gervais’ new special splattered across every paragraph. As a racket, outrage comedy follows Occam's razor — the simplest path to viral controversy is usually the best one.