mastered cringe comedy with The Office, but his new Netflix special, Humanity, is all cringe with little comedy. Gervais, who’s revealed himself to be way more like David Brent than most fans probably hoped, has effectively turned himself into a human smirk, a walking talking jerk off hand motion directed at anybody who doesn’t find anything funny or interesting about his tired attempts at shock and “fuck your feelings” 4chan-style bluster. He’s basically your angry, drunken uncle at this point, all too happy to tell you what’s wrong with the world and why everybody’s dumber than him.
Humanity is basically an hour and fifteen minutes of this tweet, which was written over two years ago, and still nicely sums up modern-day Gervais:
That eye-rolling dismissal of other people’s opinions makes up the bulk of this special. Did you think his jokes about Caitlyn Jenner at the Golden Globes in 2016 were a disrespectful case of deadnaming? Well, Gervais is here to tell you how dumb he thinks you are as he does it again, all the while acting like it’s somehow brave or courageous in this day and age to be an asshole. He uses Humanity to respond directly to his critics, whose offense he constantly derides despite seeming pretty damn offended himself. He rambles on through a long, mirthless joke about the size of Jenner’s penis, hammering down on the non-punchline that this bit isn’t transphobic because it took place “years ago,” before Jenner’s transition, all in the service of trying to piss off and disrespect some of the most marginalized and at risk people in society. All in a day’s work for a fiftysomething multimillionaire whose last watchable TV show was over a decade ago and who has somehow turned into comedy’s most prominent defender of transphobia.
He even goes full rightwing talk radio and equates trans rights with an absurd strawman involving animals. He says that he’s always identified as a chimp, and how people need to stop deadnaming him and start calling him “Bobo.” The big punchline to this extended bit of dimwitted old man tedium is that it’s probably easier for a man to become a chimpanzee than for a man to become a woman. That’s straight Bill O’Reilly turf. If Gervais wasn’t so opposed to the concept of offense, he would probably be offended at how terrible his stand-up’s become.
This nonsense sticks out even more because pockets of Humanity are actually good. When his “no fucks given” attitude isn’t directed downwards—when he talks about his family and his personal life—Gervais’s constant condescension and mean-spiritedness puncture his own self-importance. He plays up his own arrogance and how out of touch he is with regular people now that he’s rich and famous, and whether it’s accurate or just an exaggeration, he’s at least found a worthwhile target for his contempt during these moments. It’s no surprise, but Gervais’s stand-up works best when he effectively turns himself into a David Brent-style cartoon oaf, only this time one whose late-in-life wealth has made him hate the common people even more than he already did.
Too often that mock arrogance is clearly based in reality, though. Gervais is the kind of middle aged dude who thinks dead baby jokes are somehow shocking or transgressive. And then there are a lot of rape jokes near the end, because of course there are. Like so many middle-aged comedians today, he needs you to respect his decision to say whatever kind of lazy, dismissive junk enters his brain, even if it effectively denies the humanity of others, while he seemingly takes great offense at any amount of criticism lobbed his way. He acts tough but might be the weakest man in show business today.
Gervais’s self-impressed disrespect and contempt for others is brutally boring and comedically inert, stifling whatever laughs he might’ve otherwise dredged up from his audience. His Humanity makes you hope for an extinction level event, and soon.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.