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The Guardian - AU

Ricky Gervais Netflix special condemned by LGBTQ groups for ‘anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes’

Ricky Gervais at a screening of Netflix's After Life in New York in 2019
Ricky Gervais at a screening of After Life in New York in 2019. His new Netflix special SuperNature has drawn criticism for jokes about trans people. Photograph: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Ricky Gervais’ new Netflix special SuperNature has drawn criticism for several jokes about trans people, with the US LGBTQ rights group Glaad calling it “dangerous”.

“We watched the Ricky Gervais ‘comedy’ special on Netflix so you don’t have to,” Glaad said in a statement published on Tuesday night. “It’s full of graphic, dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes. He also spouts anti-gay rhetoric and spreads inaccurate information about HIV.”

In the show Gervais, a longtime controversialist, opens with a caveat that many of his jokes will be ironic, explaining: “That’s when I say something I don’t really mean, for comic effect, and you, as an audience, you laugh at the wrong thing because you know what the right thing is. It’s a way of satirising attitudes.”

Soon after, he jokes about “old-fashioned women. They’re the ones with wombs. Those fucking dinosaurs. I love the new women. They’re great, aren’t they? The new ones we’ve been seeing lately. The ones with beards and cocks.” He then imagines a conversation with a woman who objects to sharing a bathroom with a trans woman: “They are ladies, look at their pronouns. What about this person isn’t a lady?” He then responds: “Well, his penis.”

“Full disclosure: in real life, of course, I support trans rights,” Gervais later says. “I support all human rights, and trans rights are human rights. Live your best life. Use your preferred pronouns. Be the gender that you feel that you are. But meet me halfway, ladies: lose the cock. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Netflix has a policy that content ‘designed to incite hate or violence’ is not allowed on their platform, but we all know that anti-LGBTQ content does exactly that,” Glaad’s statement said. “While Netflix is home to some groundbreaking LGBTQ shows, it refuses to enforce its own policy in comedy.

“The LGBTQ community and our allies have made it very clear that so-called comedians who spew hate in place of humor, and the media companies who give them a platform, will be held accountable. Meanwhile, there are PLENTY of funny LGBTQ comedians to support.”

Gervais and Netflix have yet to respond to requests for comment.

On Tuesday Alexis Rangel, policy counsel with the National Center for Transgender Equality in the US, said jokes that perpetuated “dehumanizing myths about transgender people” could fuel hatred of trans people and “give people permission to discriminate, harass and even commit violence”.

In SuperNature, Gervais disputes that “words are actual violence”, saying: “These people are virtue signalling … they’re basically saying that minorities don’t have a sense of humour, which is so patronising.”

The show also includes a lengthy routine about the origins of HIV, when Gervais says: “That’s not as good as it was, Aids … in its heyday, it was fucking amazing, wasn’t it, Aids?” He then pretends to be a gay man refusing sex in the 80s due to the risk: “Now it’s, ‘Give it here. I’ll take pills for the rest of my life.’”

During this routine he tells his audience: “Netflix have already bought this, fuck ’em.”

After protests and staff walkouts this month in response to anti-trans jokes in Dave Chappelle’s latest special, The Closer, Netflix updated its corporate culture guidelines to add a portion about artistic expression that states that employees “may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful” and, if that’s not acceptable, “Netflix may not be the best place for you.”

Ted Sarandos, the chief executive of Netflix, has defended Chappelle’s special, saying: “You can’t please everybody or the content would be pretty dull. I do think that the inclusion of the special on Netflix is consistent with our comedy offering.”

When Chappelle was attacked on stage by an audience member, he joked that the attacker “was a trans man”.