On Tuesday, Netflix released a new comedy special from Ricky Gervais, SuperNature. And like clockwork, hours later, headlines about Gervais’s transphobic material began to pour in.
“The old-fashioned women—oh, God. You know, the ones with wombs? Those fucking dinosaurs,” chirps Gervais not five minutes into SuperNature. “I love the new women. They’re great. The new ones we’ve been seeing lately—the ones with beards and cocks.”
This type of blatant, no-holds-barred anti-trans content has become rather easy to find on Netflix—which, under the guise of free speech, continues to platform comedians who seem particularly obsessed with making fun of the trans community. Look no further than Dave Chappelle, the legendary comedian who keeps finding himself in hot water with the LGBTQ+ community over transphobic jokes he’s told in multiple Netflix specials.
In October of last year, Chappelle’s jokes inspired a mass walkout at Netflix led by LGBTQ+ employees. But if anything, in the months since, Chappelle has doubled down on his stance. Earlier this month, Chappelle headlined four performances at the Hollywood Bowl for the inaugural Netflix Is a Joke festival, where he added even more transphobic material to his repertoire—despite promising to stop telling trans jokes at the end of his last Netflix special, The Closer. (The fourth and final show ended with him getting assaulted by an audience member who later told the New York Post that he had reached his “breaking point” while watching Chappelle make jokes about the LGBTQ+ community and the unhoused, and found the new set “triggering.”)
While Gervais and Chappelle have both been flogged in public for their transphobic jokes, their anti-trans sentiment seems to come from two very different places. For Chappelle, it’s become personal. For Gervais, though, it seems to be merely business.
For those familiar with Gervais’s work, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The star of the original British version of The Office has always fancied himself something of a provocateur, throwing out barbs at Hollywood’s elite during his multiple stints hosting the Golden Globes and reveling in his “edgy,” envelope-pushing humor. In every way, SuperNature is exactly what you would expect from the comedian, who tells equally stale, eye-roll inducing jokes about a whole host of marginalized communities and “sensitive topics”—going beyond the trans community to take shots at the Chinese, AIDS, and disabled children, among many others.
Gervais sees himself as an equal opportunity offender, and even uses that to justify why he targets the trans community in his special. “I talk about AIDS, famine, cancer, the Holocaust, rape, pedophilia. But no, the one thing you mustn’t joke about is identity politics,” Gervais says toward the end of SuperNature. “The one thing you should never joke about is the trans issue. They just want to be treated equally. I agree. That’s why I include them.”
Throughout SuperNature, Gervais tries to play both sides, opening with a convoluted Merriam–Webster–esque definition of “irony” as a vague defense for everything he’s about to say. The concept, according to Gervais, means, “When I say something I don’t really mean for comedic effect, and you, as an audience, you laugh at the wrong thing ’cause you know what the right thing is. It’s a way of satirizing attitudes.” His true beliefs, he claims, are not in line with the jokes he tells. At one point—in a line sandwiched between transphobic jokes—Gervais admits what by this point seems somewhat obvious: that he doesn’t actually hate or fear trans people.