Ricky Gervais’ ‘heartless’ Netflix special sparks a fierce backlash over ableist language

A new Ricky Gervais Netflix special has sparked a major backlash, with an accompanying petition against his use of ableist language garnering thousands of signatures.

The comedian’s new project, Armageddon, isn’t due for release until Christmas Day but he has shared previews of it on social media. One clip sees him make a “joke” about terminally ill children who have their wishes granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Labelling them “baldies”, he also makes use of the ableist “r” slur, saying: “Why didn’t you wish to get better? What, you f***ing re****ed as well?”

An online petition, organised through change.org, has called on Netflix to remove the “offensive skit mocking terminally ill children”. Receiving over 4,000 signatures, it was organised by Sess Cova, whose daughter had cancer.

The skit is not just disrespectful but also deeply hurtful, she said.

“It mocks the courage and resilience of these young fighters who face their illness with grace and beauty despite their baldness.

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“Ricky Gervais’ jokes were not only distasteful but also heartless. They are a slap in the face to not only the children battling these serious illnesses, but also their parents and families who stand by them through this difficult journey.”

The mother also posed questions for Netflix about how the content came to be commissioned, writing that “comedy should never come at the expense of someone else’s pain or suffering, especially when it involves innocent children battling life-threatening illnesses.”

Elsewhere, broadcaster and journalist India Willoughby branded Gervais a “terrible person who appeals to the very worst people in society”.

His reference to veganism, she claimed, showed him to be “a bully who tries to balance out his cruelty to human beings by being nice to animals”.

Armageddon has drawn the attention of the disabled community, too, with disability charity Scope noting that “language like this has consequences.”

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, the charity said: “He argues that he wouldn’t use this language in ‘real-life’ but his stand-up routine doesn’t exist in a parallel universe. The stage is real. Netflix is real. The people this kind of language impacts are real.”

Scope also said that the media has an enormous role to play in the fight for disability equality and understanding, adding that: “Disabled people already face negative attitudes [and] ‘joking’ about this kind of language trivialises it. It risks normalising the abuse that many disabled people face on a day-to-day basis.”

Disabled LGBTQIA+ streamer and gamer @JeffiePlays added: “This is so upsetting to see. This year alone, there has been a huge increase in slurs, the r slur in particular. If your ‘comedy’ hits at vulnerable people or is bullying, you just aren’t funny.

“Ableism, discrimination and disability hate crime is our real life and this will have an impact on us.”

Meanwhile, @napqueen3000 wrote: “Everyone is praising Ricky Gervais today for giving money to an animal charity, yet he’s also using ableist slurs. How come this ‘saint’ can be kind to animals and yet is absolutely disgusting in his attitude to disabled people, trans people, fat people.”

PinkNews has contacted Netflix for comment.

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