One of The Onion’s classic headlines reads: “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-To-Door Trying To Shock People.” The satirical article, published in 2001, was a devastating blow to a musician whose career consisted of dressing like a lunatic and screaming profane lyrics. Once you shine a light on it, the shtick becomes embarrassing quickly.
That headline came to mind when reading a tweet Ricky Gervais posted in the days before the release of his new Netflix special, “Armageddon“: “In this show, I talk about sex, death, pedophilia, race, religion, disability, free speech, global warming, the holocaust and Elton John. If you don’t approve of jokes about any of these things, then please don’t watch. You won’t enjoy it and you’ll get upset.”
Hoping to stir up online discourse and make his “woke” enemies — real or imagined — tremble in their boots, “Armageddon,” which dropped on Christmas Day, starts with Gervais loosely riffing on how he can’t be stopped. People get mad at his jokes? Tough shit — he had the #1 comedy special on Netflix last year. It’s the latest example of a comedian with an enormous platform saying whatever he wants while complaining about how he can’t say anything anymore.
From there, the “Armageddon” theme loosely ties to how Gervais thinks humanity will end, with brief ruminations threaded through on topics like climate change and robots. It’s among the best material, but so quickly devolves into a culture war snoozefest that it begs for an editor.
A decade ago it would have been impossible to mention Gervais in the same breath as conservative has-beens like Rob Schneider and Roseanne Barr, but middle age appears to be the great equalizer in modern comedy. Is there NOTHING more interesting to talk about than folks who disagree with you on Twitter, or how tough it is to use the right labels for LGBTQ people? Don’t worry: Gervias even delivers a Critical Race Theory bit that even the writers at “Gutfeld!” would groan at. Despite saying “fuck” and “cunt” constantly, it doesn’t hide the fact that his jokes are as edgy as a drunk uncle stiltedly paraphrasing Newsmax quotes over Christmas dinner. Thankfully, he curbs the anti-trans rhetoric he delivered in his last special, dropping a few relatively subtle, but still smarmy, thoughts on the matter, seeming to want to dodge that press cycle again.
Outside of the repetitive culture war grievance, here are some of the cutting-edge topics that Gervais is SURE will shock and delight audiences:
*Universities are teaching courses about Taylor Swift — isn’t that daft?
*A punchline about the 1998 film “Armageddon”
*Quips about Michael Jackson’s alleged pedophilia
*A joke about Chinese people eating dogs
*Controversy about the casting of the 2014 movie “The Theory of Everything”
*A Peter Dinklage / “Seven Dwarves” bit
Comedians from the Catskills to local schoolyards would all agree that these chunks are beyond hacky. To add to the headache, before the 20-minute mark alone, Gervais drones on endlessly about how popular he is, the size of his house, how charitable he is, how rich he is and how skilled he is at comedy. Not laughing? It’s just jokes, he’s playing a role, and you’re the problem. In fact, nearly every “edgy” bit ends with an admonishment that it’s ONLY a joke.
That said, during the special Gervais (mercifully) does self-censor one slur and one racist impression, the latter allegedly per the begging of his longtime partner, Jane Fallon. Conveniently, he allows himself to draw lines in the sand, but everyone who disagrees with him is a phony snowflake.
Beyond the lack of fresh material, Gervais’ delivery is as dull as his staging and all-black getup: There’s no style, no pizazz, no cadence to his humor.
Compare this slop to a modern master of standup like Anthony Jeselnik, who uses pitch-black comedy to push audiences right to the edge of their comfort zone, but the goal is always building to a satisfying and unique punchline.
Ultimately, it’s depressing to see a comic mind this sharp turn into mushy paste. His series “Extras” is one of the most clever and biting satires of all time, but it feels like 2023 Gervais would bully the 2005 version of himself for daring to rewrite material to make it shaper. Isn’t there someone in his camp who can tell him these jokes are half-baked? Maybe his one-time “Office” collaborator Stephen Merchant could give him some tough love?
This article will inevitably inspire dozens of emails and tweets with variations of “You don’t get it,” “You’re such a snowflake” and “They’re just jokes.” More disappointingly, Netflix is slated to dump another piece of holiday coal down our chimneys with yet another past-his-prime Dave Chappelle special dropping on Dec. 31. It’s sure to underline all of the tired points Gervais made a week prior. Hopefully, in 2024, these A-list acts can find something new to talk about.