Ricky Gervais defends ‘taboo’ jokes following backlash to Netflix special: ‘They don’t mean anything’

Comic’s latest special has been branded as ‘dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes’ by LGBTQ+ rights organisation GLAAD

Ricky Gervais defends joking about 'taboo subjects'

Ricky Gervais has defended his right to joke about “taboo subjects” following a significant backlash to his latest stand-up special.

On Tuesday (24 May), The Office creator’s new special SuperNature was released on Netflix.

It was met with condemnation due to an opening series of jokes targeting transgender people. LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation GLAAD called Gervais’s remarks “dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes”.

Appearing on The One Show on Tuesday (24 May) to promote the special, Gervais was asked about making his audience feel “uncomfortable”.

“I think that’s what comedy is for really, to get us through stuff and ideally taboo subjects, because I want to take the audience to a place it hasn’t been before, even for a split second,” he said.

“Most offence comes from when people mistake the subject of a joke with the actual target. So it starts, they go, ‘What’s he gonna say?’ I tell the joke. Phew. They laugh.”

He continued: “It’s like a parachute jump. It’s scary, but then you land and it’s all OK. And I think that’s what comedy is for, getting us over taboo subjects. They’re not scary anymore. So I deal with everything.”

Gervais then said that comedians often got caught up in “second guessing” the audience, before comparing his stand-up to his Netflix series After Life.

Gervais explained his stance on ‘The One Show'

“Even in narrative stuff like After Life, people are saying, ‘The audience hate this.’ Of course they can. Real life is much worse. These are just jokes. They don’t mean anything. They’re just for you to laugh for an hour or so. So that’s why ideally, taboo subjects.”

In his two-star review of SuperNature forThe Independent, critic Nick Hilton wrote: “As is all too frequent these days, the longest riff is reserved for the humiliation of trans people. ‘Full disclosure,’ [Gervais] reveals towards the end of the show, ‘in real life, of course I support trans rights.’

“At this point there are a few stray cheers from the naïve few in the audience who think the irony is real, but that’s nothing compared to the roar of laughter and applause when the punchline – a crass joke about gender affirmation surgery – arrives.”

In the wake of the release of SuperNature, a clip resurfaced online from stand up James Acaster’s 2019 special Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999, in which he takes aim at comics who spend large chunks of their sets “slagging off transgender people”.

“I used to name one of the comedians that was about, in that routine, but it always got really awkward in the room because apparently in 2019 most people are still more than happy to laugh at trans people but they’re not comfortable laughing at Ricky Gervais yet. That’s the line,” he quips.

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