‘Lazy comedy’: What the critics are saying about Ricky Gervais’s Netflix special Armageddon

Ricky Gervais has been panned by critics over his new Netflix special, Armageddon.

The British comedian, 62, released his latest stand-up show on Christmas Day, with the streaming giant describing it as “controversial takes on political correctness and oversensitivity in a taboo-busting comedy special about the end of humanity”.

Even before the show’s release, it became the subject of controversy due to a joke Gervais makes in which he mocks terminally ill children and uses an ableist slur.

The joke led to disability charity Scope condemning Gervais and Netflix, warning that they risked “normalising the abuse that many disabled people face on a day-to-day basis”.

Following Armageddon’s release, it seems that critics are less-than-impressed by Gervais’s latest efforts.

“Even by Gervais’s own estimation, the show is not a piercing satire,”The Independent’s TV critic Nick Hilton wrote.

“In fact, it is almost an anti-satire, a list of unsayable things for which Gervais invites his audience to provide meaning. The problem is that, unlike ‘great satire’ – which is provocative, incendiary and takes the abuses of the establishment to task – Gervais has become trapped in the web of political correctness.”

He later remarked: “Gervais’s jokes, which mock illegal immigrants, homeless people, trans people and more, are the sort of opinions that, far from getting you cancelled, are likely to be vote winners at the ballot box. Rather than being ‘great satire’, Armageddon is just another piece of lazy comedy that plays on the majority’s fear of minority voices.”

Ricky Gervais (Netflix)
Ricky Gervais (Netflix)

“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 humour,” Variety said in its review.

“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?”

In a review of the live show that the Armageddon special was filmed around, The Telegraph said: “Gervais is competent enough – I chuckled once or twice – but there’s nothing to surprise anyone here.

“If you want bad-taste one-liners, Jerry Sadowitz beats him on quality and Jimmy Carr on quantity. If you want philosophical, provocative comedy that mocks social pieties and says the supposedly unsayable, try Garrett Millerick, Alfie Brown, or Fin Taylor. Gervais is trapped between two ill-fitting styles, and outclassed in both directions.”

 (2020 NBCUniversal Media, LLC via)
(2020 NBCUniversal Media, LLC via)

“The shame is that there’s ample room in comedy to tease at woke over-earnestness and the contradictions of modern political correctness,” The Guardian’s critic said.

“With his jokes about the overuse of the word ‘fascist’, say, or a devious one about so-called cultural appropriation, Gervais shows how good he could be if Armageddon’s spirit were curious and engaged rather than macho and smug. He promises, tongue firmly in cheek, to find a justification for the worst jokes here before taping for Netflix. Might I suggest simply writing better ones?”

Gervais defended the uproar over his “Make-a-Wish” joke earlier in December, claiming that people weren’t “really offended” by it.

“I’m literally saying in the joke that I don’t do that. But people have a reaction. They don’t analyse it,” he said in an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live.

“They feel something – that’s what offence is. It’s a feeling. That’s why ‘I’m offended’ is quite meaningless. What do you want me to change?”

The comedian added that he believes that “99 per cent” of the reaction was “faux offence”.

“They’re not really offended. They just want to be heard,” he said.

“Of all the millions of people that watched it and loved it, only a few don’t like it. If I give them special attention and try and placate them, I’ve annoyed the other millions of people that got the joke. They go, ‘No, you’ve ruined it for us!’”

He continued: “I’ve got a duty to the people that like it and get it. I wouldn’t sit down with a heckler would I? If I’m playing to 20,000 people, I wouldn’t stop the show and explain to them. I ignore them.”