The fact that Ricky Gervais is a popular stand-up comedian who still sells out tours and is hired for expensive television specials will stun some people. It’s the closest thing we have to the literal Marmite, all yeast-based savory spreads aside. Since breaking into the British comedy mainstream in 2001 when the first episode of The office aired, he’s polarized opinions – but when the extended riff on “Eskimos” in this, his new Netflix special, super natureone can assume that he is more than happy to live at the poles.
Asked (by himself, that’s stand-up after all) why the show is called super nature, Gervais replies that he will deal with the supernatural and his belief in its non-existence. “You’ve seen all the ghostbuster shows?” he asks his audience, taunting the genre in a drawn-out comparison with David Attenborough’s output (which he prefers). Oh, you could say that all sounds pretty sweet. And in a way it is. But it comes after a long opening segment that has nothing to do with the supernatural and everything to do with the terror of identity politics (“The only thing not to joke about is identity politics,” apparently). It runs through all the relevant catchphrases (“cancelled,” “wake comedy,” “virtue signaling”) in the first 15 minutes, and when his jokes about the spirit world hit home, they’re a welcome but brief respite.
The problem with super nature, as with much comedy these days, whether progressive or irreverent, consists in being dragged into the self-referential death spiral of the culture wars. Gervais has always been a master at this. Out of The office As for his stand-up, he revels in acknowledging the “you can’t say that anymore” element of taboo comedy. “That was ironic,” he denies early on. “There’s going to be a little bit of that throughout the show.” And I suppose there is: whether it’s about sexual assault, pedophilia, disability, obesity or whatever, we’re supposed to give the jokes a patina of giggly irony. As is all too common these days, the longest riff is reserved for trans humiliation. “Full disclosure,” he reveals towards the end of the show, “in real life, of course, I support transgender rights.” At this point, there are a few stray cheers from the naïve few in the audience who believe 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 surgeries — hits home.
However. Being offended by the content is a victory for Gervais, who is more comfortable composing hoaxes based on cheap shock factor than emotional or creative truth. And despite the lazy laziness of most endeavors, there are a few things to enjoy super nature. Gervais’ outspoken atheism — popular in the mid-noughties among the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris — has gone so completely out of fashion that it now has an almost charming oddity (and is preferable to jokes about watching Louis CK jerk off or not hot enough for “paedo teachers”). In those moments when the set loses the shackles of contemporary social concerns, Gervais seems gleefully nostalgic for a time when racist jokes were permissible under the progressive veneer of anti-organized religion.
There are a few cuter jokes (about the egg- and milk-producing platypus, Gervais notes that “it could make its own pudding”), but that’s not what the roaring crowd on this special wants. Jokes about 20th-century Swiss behavioral psychologist Jean Piaget have significantly less impact than jokes about hitting disabled toddlers. Gervais doesn’t have the guts to write gags about things he actually believes in, and constantly inoculates himself with sincerity (“This is so childish and misinformed, it hurts,” he says, chuckling, before ending a long, rambling and, you guessed it, Anti-Transwitzer). But the audience cannot afford this ironic distance. They hoot and holler along with all the bigotry and seem to enjoy it more the closer it gets to the edge and the more buttons it pushes. “Please welcome a man onto the stage who really doesn’t need this,” Gervais’s disembodied voice proclaims as the title comes up. He might not need to do it, but we definitely don’t need to see it.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/ricky-gervais-supernature-netflix-review-b2085304.html Ricky Gervais: SuperNature Review – As is all too common these days, the longest riff is reserved for trans humiliation