With Latest Netflix Special, Ricky Gervais Is More Troll Than Comedian

‘You can’t say anything anymore,’ says the comedian who gets paid millions to say it
With Latest Netflix Special, Ricky Gervais Is More Troll Than Comedian

What a way to end the year for Ricky Gervais! Despite the controversy leading up to his new Netflix special Armageddon (or more likely, because of the controversial clips he chose to promote it), the comic’s latest dropped on Christmas day and immediately zoomed to the top of the streamer charts.

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While Gervais is getting big numbers for Armageddon, it’s unlikely it will do much for his comedic reputation. Rather than telling jokes, the comic would rather giggle about those who would allegedly prevent him from doing so. He begins his latest special by talking about the reaction to his last one, 2022’s Supernature

“Big backlash,” Gervais exclaims. “People going, ‘You can’t say that!’”

Of course, Gervais lives for “You can’t say that!” The admonition has officially become his brand. “You can say that and I did,” he boasts, puffing out his chest about Supernature being the most-watched Netflix special of the year. All of this in spite of “them!”

Where would Armageddon be without its debate with the fictional “them”? You know “them” — the woke, the 20-year-olds, the “you can’t say that!” crowd. That “them” crowd is always after “us” — Ricky Gervais and his fans, the common-sense blokes who know bullshit when they see it. There’s no choice but to poke back at “them” and their oversensitive opinions around language, gender and cultural appropriation. There’s an interesting discussion to be had about the changing social guardrails around offensive language, but this ain’t it. Instead, Gervais ridicules and demonizes anyone who wants to curb the ability of — gosh, I don’t know, Ricky Gervais? — from saying whatever he wants. 

But like all attacks on the faceless hordes, whether they be against the woke, the fascists, the liberals, or “the media,” it’s all a straw man game. Construct a ridiculous argument that no actual person ever makes, then kick the pretend antagonist right in the straw-filled pants. 

“Them” never puts up much of a fight. As Jesse David Fox notes in his insightful new Comedy Book, “Today, the people who say they can’t say anything anymore are often found saying it during a performance they earned tens of thousands of dollars for, on their podcast they make hundreds of thousands of year on, or the special they got millions for.”

In the BBC version of The Office, which will go down as Gervais’s biggest triumph, the comedian was the butt of his own joke. His middle-aged corporate drone dreams of being an entertainer, but is continually punished for his own vanity and stupidity. Sure, it was a commentary on the mindlessness of anonymous desk jobs everywhere, but it was also a startling look inward at a certain kind of wannabe comedian too narcissistic to see that his jokes aren’t funny. Somewhere along the line, Gervais stopped looking in the mirror — now it’s the people who’d stop David Brent from sharing cringe punchlines who are the problem. 

Toward the end of Armageddon, Gervais unconvincingly reveals to the audience, “I just thought of a joke, but I can’t tell it! It’s too offensive!” You can almost hear him counting to three in his head before he relents. “Oh, all right, I’ll do it!”

Of course he does. And based on the early numbers for Armageddon, he’s just going to keep on doing it. As Gervais says in his Insta post, “What a wonderful world.”

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