Ricky Gervais condemned for crude, tired and lazy AIDS jokes in controversial Netflix special

Ricky Gervais gestures while performing on stage

Comedian Ricky Gervais jokes about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in his new Netflix special SuperNature.

Netflix released Ricky Gervais: SuperNature on Tuesday (24 May), with the special immediately drawing criticism for a lengthy opening segment in which the comic crack jokes at the expense of trans people.

After a 15-minute opening monologue about trans women, Gervais later turns his attention to the AIDS crisis.

“If you wanna keep me out of the house, put up a sign that says, I dunno, ‘Beware of the AIDS’.” Gervais says.

“Although, that’s not as good as it was, is it, AIDS? No seriously, like all diseases let you down but that was, I mean, in its heyday, it was f**king amazing, wasn’t it, AIDS?

“Coronavirus? F**k off. That couldn’t hold a candle to AIDS.”

Gervais continues, saying that in the 1980s queer men would decline sex as they didn’t want to “die”.

Referring to anti-retroviral drugs, he adds: “Now it’s: ‘Give it here, I’ll take pills for the rest of my life.'”

Gervais, who discusses his atheism in the set, takes aim at Christian fundamentalists who consider HIV and AIDS a “punishment” for LGBTQ+ people.

“So you think God’s in heaven and he’s looking down on civilisation and he suddenly goes: ‘I’m sick of all this bumming’,” he says in SuperNature.

“‘They’re taking the p**s. I’ve gotta do summat. I know: AIDS’. You know like he did with light, just like, ‘oh, it’s dark, what can I do? Light’, right, ‘let there be light’. The same with this: ‘Let there be AIDS. And there was AIDS’.”

Ricky Gervais has long relied on anti-trans jokes in his set. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Gervais, speaking as God, continues: “I’m going to put you down on Earth. Where? Africa. Why Africa? They’re dying anyway.”

“That’s not me saying that, is it? That’s God,” he adds.

Since the beginning of the epidemic in 1980, 36.3 million people have died of complications caused by AIDS, according to the World Health Organisation.

According to the WHO, Africa remains the most severely affected, with an estimated one in 25 adults living with HIV, more than two-thirds of all global cases.

Medical advances such as PrEP and anti-retroviral therapy means that new HIV cases are in decline in wealthy nations such as the UK and US, but HIV stigma remains. Around eight in 10 Americans living with HIV say they feel ashamed of their status, the Department of Health and Human Resources says. This can lead to depression, isolation and to people not taking their medication. It can also lead to people being hesitant to test.

Activists condemn Ricky Gervais for ‘inaccurate’ HIV jokes

Defending his set in advance, Ricky Gervais told the Late Show With Stephen Colbert on 18 May that “smart people” wouldn’t get offended about his HIV quips.

“There was a thought, ‘Will this be out of date?'” he said of SuperNature, which Gervais began working on in 2018.

“And then I realised that when you’re dealing with, you know, famine, AIDS, cancer, Hitler, those dudes are evergreen. So they’re not going to, they don’t date.”

He added: “I think people get offended when they mistake the subject of the joke for the actual target. Smart people know you can deal with anything.”

LGBTQ+ media watchdog GLAAD slammed Gervais’ special as “dangerous” and one that goes against Netflix’s own policies that content on its platform cannot “incite hate or violence”.

“It’s full of graphic, dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes. He also spouts anti-gay rhetoric and spreads inaccurate information about HIV,” a statement read.

“Attention Ricky and Netflix: people living with HIV today when on effective treatment lead long and healthy lives and cannot transmit HIV to others.”

Matthew Hodson, executive director of aidsmap and himself living with HIV, also failed to see the humour in Gervais’ set.

“I don’t believe that there is any subject so sacred that it’s impossible to find humour in it. I’ve sat in hospital wards, with friends who are dying, and we have laughed together,” he told PinkNews.

“As someone living with HIV, I am bored when HIV or AIDS is used as a metaphor for ‘the worst thing ever’.

“It isn’t even true anymore. It feels tired and lazy, born out of a desire to manufacture cheap outrage.

“I’m not outraged by Gervais’ latest AIDS jokes,” Hodson added, “I just don’t think they’re particularly funny.”