More than 3 million UK viewers watched Ricky Gervais's Netflix special SuperNature in its first week, British Comedy Guide can exclusively reveal, suggesting controversy about the comic's material about trans people only increased the size of its audience.
Released on 24th May, Gervais's second special for the streaming giant was watched by almost 3.04 million individual Netflix accounts - or 16.9% of all UK Netflix accounts - in its opening seven days. It quickly surpassed Jimmy Carr's His Dark Material, which was the most watched Netflix special of 2021 in the UK and had been seen by 2.48 million UK viewers by the end of May.
Indeed, in its first week, the only time period for which figures are currently available, SuperNature was already approaching the total viewership of Gervais's first Netflix special, 2018's Humanity, which has been watched by almost 3.8 million UK viewers since its release, or 24% of all UK Netflix accounts.
SuperNature also maintained an impressive hold on viewers' attention according to mediatech firm Digital i, with an 82.85 view-through rate, which is the average percentage of the special people actually watched. That compares to 71.58% for Humanity and 75.70% for His Dark Material.
Netflix doesn't generally release viewing figures. However, Gervais took to social media earlier this month to claim SuperNature as the "most watched special in the world", after confirming that the streamer has also snapped up the rights for his next special, Armageddon, to be released in 2024 for "a deal even bigger than those first two specials".
American LGBT advocacy group GLAAD have been one of many high-profile voices denouncing SuperNature for its 'transphobic' material, criticising "comedians who spew hate in place of humour, and the media companies who give them a platform", adding that the special was "full of graphic, dangerous, anti-trans rants masquerading as jokes" and "anti-gay rhetoric".
In the show, Gervais talks about "old-fashioned women, you know the ones with wombs? Those fucking dinosaurs. I love the new women. They're great, aren't they? The new ones we've been seeing lately. The ones with beards and cocks. They're as good as gold, I love them."
He then proceeds to act out a discussion in which someone assumes a trans woman is a potential predator, asking: "What if he rapes me?" - prompting the response from an enraged activist: "What if SHE rapes you, you fucking TERF whore?"
Netflix's co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos last week reiterated the streamer's backing for Gervais, Carr and US comic Dave Chappelle over their controversial material, telling a panel at the Cannes Lions advertising conference on Thursday that: "We've always been a supporter of the art".
Against the backdrop of Netflix's falling subscriber numbers and stock market valuation, which has led it to cut jobs and consider an advert-based funding approach for the first time, he added: "We're programming to people with a real variety of tastes and sensibilities. [There's a range in] how they were brought up, what they think is offensive or what they think is damaging to themselves or to children.
"We won't make everyone happy, but that's the beauty of on-demand: you can turn it off. The reason comedy is hard is we don't all laugh at the same thing. We all cry at the same thing so drama is a little easier to pull off, but when it comes to comedy, it's all very different.
"Also, it's not frozen in time. Those comedians who are good at what they do are always testing the audience. They know what gets laughs; it's road-tested before they record the special. If you look back at Eddie Murphy's Delirious, at the time, it was the greatest hour of comedy ever filmed. Most of that material is pretty out of step today. Eddie says the same thing.
"Part of the art form is to cross the line, and part of the art form means you only find where the line is by crossing it sometimes. Supporting expression is really important."
Digital i extrapolates ratings from the personal viewing history of thousands of Netflix viewers, to whom it pays a small fee for their data.
"It's hard to say whether or not SuperNature will surpass the viewing figures for Humanity, but I personally have a hunch that it will" Sam Vahdati, marketing executive for Digital i, told BCG. "It seems that controversy in the news/social media may have been good advertising for Ricky."