Ricky Gervais has returned to stand-up comedy with a Netflix special. But the hour-long show, which bears the tagline “prepare to be offended”, has been widely condemned as transphobic.
Gervais dedicated more than 15 minutes of the show, entitled Humanity, to building on controversy from when he presented the 2016 Golden Globe Awards, which resulted in him facing accusations of transphobia for mocking Caitlyn Jenner – an example of which can be seen in the video above.
Humanity sees Gervais return to this material, referring to Jenner by her dead name – a term used to describe a trans person’s given name before their transition – a total of 15 times.
After mocking Jenner’s transition by recounting a “story” of an imagined medical appointment, Gervais then compares identifying as trans to identifying as a chimp.
She’s always identified as a woman. That means she’s a woman. Fine, if that’s the rules. If you feel you’re a woman, you are. I’m not a bigot who thinks having all that done is science going too far.
In fact, I don’t think it’s going far enough. ’Cause I’ve always identified as a chimp, right? Well, I am a chimp. If I say I’m a chimp, I am a chimp pre-op. But don’t ever dead-name me. Don’t call me Ricky Gervais again. From now on, you call me Bobo.
He concludes his “joke” by making light of anti-trans bathroom laws, which make hundreds of thousands of trans Americans feel anxious and insecure on a daily basis.
I’ll be legally a chimp… I’ll be able to use chimp toilets.
Responding to Gervais, LGBT+ charity Stonewall condemned his transphobic joke, telling indy100:
Ricky Gervais’s ‘jokes’ about Caitlyn Jenner are anything but funny – they are deeply damaging and offensive.
Trans people in Britain face huge levels of abuse at the moment with two in five trans people (41 per cent) having experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.
Mocking anyone for being who they are isn’t comedy, it’s bullying and completely unacceptable.
Trans comedian and writer Shon Faye also criticised Gervais, explaining to indy100 how devastating dead-naming can be to a trans person:
People often feel justified to dead name Caitlyn Jenner – three years into her public transition – because she was famous before she came out. But I find this highly suspect reasoning when everyone knows her name, Caitlyn, and who is being referred to.
Dead-naming is such a horrifying thing to do to any trans person because it says that their true identity and their authentic self and the steps they have taken to be recognised by society more authentically can be snatched away at any time. It’s also just courtesy. If you change your name that is your name and people should respect it.
The reason people don’t is because they wish to express dominance over trans people and remind us they can invalidate and belittle us at any time. Which is why trans people don’t find dead-naming Jenner or anyone else funny.
I would add that taking a swipe at trans people is the laziest comedy under the sun. We are the easiest group to target right now and everyone is doing it. Comedians like Gervais should try harder.
Lee-Anne Lawrance, LGBT+ Greens' deputy chair, added:
Cis people regularly go by other names. If your friend Robert prefers to go by Rob, then you respect them and call them that. The same respect should be shown to trans people and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.
Just because you don't like someone, it doesn't mean it's OK to dead name them or misgender them. That's transphobic.
Trans Twitter users also criticised Gervais.
Right-wing YouTuber Paul Joseph Watson, who rallies against 'political correctness', praised Gervais’s new show. Although Gervais has described himself as having “liberal views”, he still took the time to respond to Joseph’s compliment:
Speaking about Humanity and the Caitlyn Jenner controversy with The Independent earlier this month, Gervais quipped that automatically equating a joke about Jenner to being transphobic was the equivalent to suggesting Bill Cosby jokes were automatically racist.
I don’t really court controversy because I like the truth more.
I don’t like being labelled a shock comedian because I’ve never done that. I’ve had that ever since The 11 O’Clock Show, before they realised it was irony.
Gervais also told The Independent that “in light of what’s happened in the last couple of years, we’ve realised telling a rude joke is not the worst thing you can do in entertainment”.
indy100 has contacted Netflix and representatives of Gervais for comment.