Ricky Gervais Netflix controversy — why this comedy special is blowing up the internet

Ricky Gervais performing in the Netflix special titled Humanity
(Image credit: Ray Burmiston)

Netflix has another controversial comedian on its hands this week: Ricky Gervais. This is because the British comedian/actor's SuperNature standup special just dropped on Netflix, and his jokes at the expense of trans people are raising plenty of ire across the internet.

While Netflix hasn't published social media posts of the segments in the special where Gervais talks about trans people, it did release a very meta moment from the start of the event where the comedian tries to make a joke about there not being any "funny female comedians." He goes on to say his joke was based in irony, and that he was going to use this tactic throughout the set. 

See for yourself:

Other clips promoting the special talk about Gervais' atheism and his hatred of social media. So it's not exactly surprising that many voices on social media are upset about his event.

Near the start of the special, Gervais delivers the following lines (transcription via The Hollywood Reporter): "I love the new women. The new ones we’ve been seeing lately. The ones with beards and c***s. They’re as good as gold, I love ’em. No, it’s the old-fashioned ones, they go, ‘Oh, they want to use our toilets.’ ‘Why shouldn’t they use your toilets?’ ‘For ladies!’ ‘They are ladies — look at their pronouns! What about this person isn’t a lady?’ ‘Well, his penis.’ ‘Her penis, you f***ing bigot!’ ‘What if he rapes me?’ ‘What if she rapes you, you f***ing TERF w***e!'"

He later goes on to state he's a trans rights supporter, saying "In real life, of course, I support trans rights. I support all human rights, and trans rights are human rights. You know, live your best life. Use your preferred pronouns. Be the gender that you feel you are."

It's the line that follows all that that appears to undercut him: "But meet me halfway, ladies. Lose the cock. That’s all I’m saying." This line is likely one of the sentences Gervais was referencing when talking about his use of irony. He told Sirius XM's Jim Norton & Sam Roberts Show that " To me, there’s nothing controversial in that because it’s just jokes. I even explain what ‘irony’ is at the beginning of the show, and everyone there, I don’t know how many people I played to — half a million people — no complaints."

The public's reaction to Gervais and Netflix's other anti-trans comedy special jokes

The day the special launched, trans woman Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic, made a joke online that compared Gervais to a penis, and he subsequently blocked her (though she hadn't even tagged him in the post). Caraballo then claimed that Gervais issued a DMCA takedown for the use of an image of his performance. 

SNL associate producer Greg Scarnici tweeted that they're canceling Netflix because of it:

Supporters of Gervais and Netflix include user Andrew Kirby:

This content in Gervais' Netflix special may have some feeling a sense of Déjà vu. Allegations of anti-trans jokes in Dave Chappelle's 2021 Netflix special The Closer led to an employee walkout at Netflix. The service stuck by Chappelle's content in the face of public outcry over its decision to host this special.

Elliot Page, star of Netflix's Umbrella Academy, himself a trans man, shared public support for the protestors, stating that he “stand[s] with the trans, nonbinary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace.

Netflix, in its publicly-visible culture policy states "Entertaining the world is an amazing opportunity and also a challenge because viewers have very different tastes and points of view. So we offer a wide variety of TV shows and movies, some of which can be provocative. To help members make informed choices about what to watch, we offer ratings, content warnings and easy to use parental controls."

While handling cleanup on the Chappelle special controversy, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos told The Hollywood Reporter that while he "100 percent" believes "that content on-screen can have impact in the real world, positive and negative," he also believes that "the inclusion of the special on Netflix is consistent with our comedy offering, it’s consistent with Dave Chappelle’s comedy brand and this is … one of those times when there’s something on Netflix that you’re not going to like."

All of this comes in the aftermath of Netflix firing LGBTQ and non-white staffers who ran its social media and online content channels. These teams worked on Netflix brands such as Most (an LGBTQ-focused channel), Strong Black Lead, Golden (an Asian American-focused outlet) and Con Todo (which created Latinx-directed content).

As mentioned above, you don't have to look far to find people saying they're canceling their Netflix subscription because of Gervais' special — or voicing support for the comedian.

Either way, when Netflix is aware it will be hemorrhaging more subscribers this quarter, this isn't good news for the streaming service.

In other streaming news: we've got good news and bad news about Din Djarin and Grogu: Mandalorian season 3's release date isn't coming until 2023.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • Curlynerd
    So my Italian friends are really tired of the Italian jokes and my Jewish friends even more so. Come on, seriously, it's comedy and free expression, so if you're unhappy about it, don't watch it, don't give him free press by splashing social media. Generally loosen up already. There is plenty of representation out there, even a disproportionate amount. But comedians always make joke about different things and people. Should we ban comedy? Have censorship?

    Don't like it, don't watch it.