RICKY GERVAIS, TOURING Back on the road after seven years. Still funny?
Ricky Gervais enters the stage after recordings of some the great (and not so great) men of history – including Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and Adolf Hitler. And then there's a portentous introduction – are we then going to hear some deep philosophical insights tonight? Well not so much, more chatty and relaxed riffing, with some of his most personal material yet.
Gervais tells us he doesn't know why he titled his first stand-up show in seven years Humanity, as he prefers dogs and cats, and the bane of his life are people just waiting to be offended by his humour. He explains this with a long section of the show, a meta deconstruction that Stewart Lee would be proud of, gnawing away, detail by detail, to explain his craft, and how the kind of people who take to Twitter to berate him are those who confuse the subject of a gag with its target.
He had, he tells us, been accused of transphobia after his jokes at the Golden Globes about Caitlyn Jenner. He respects Jenner's belief that she was always a woman despite being born in a male body, but then delivers the knowingly provocative line: “If I say I'm a chimp, I am a chimp.” And as he cracks all the tasteless jokes he could have told at the Globes but that he wouldn't dream of saying in public, we realise he's having his cake and eating it. It's a neat trick and shows Gervais at his wind-up best.
Yet transgender issues are the least of the “I dare you to be offended” elements in the evening, with rape, his scorn for people with a nut allergy, adopting an orphan African boy so he could become his personal servant and cot death also covered. The last may sound a gag too far, but it is part of a long section prompted by Gervais having to explain all too often why he is not a parent. Psychologists would have field day, but as a mere critic I felt it overstayed its welcome, one of a few longueurs in the 90-minute show, which I saw at the Brighton Centre.
But there's personal stuff too, and its genuineness is striking, as Gervais's stage persona – particularly at celebrity events such as the Golden Globes – is determinedly cynical. Taking about his uncle Reginald, who sported a comically obvious wig for most of life, but which for the Gervais family became the elephant in the room, or how important joking around was in his upbringing (even to the point of mining his mother's funeral for laughs) is touching.
He ends the show (before the encore) with a section about animal cruelty. It's not often I make a note at a comedy show about animals being skinned alive for human carnivores' delectation, but Gervais just about brings it back to comedy by relating it to a story about one of his many online trolls, with whom he got into a heated Twitter debate. “I should have left it,” is the refrain here, which we know means there's another level of glorious insult coming to top the previous one. You would think by now his trolls would know better than to take him on, but they don't. It's just material for his next show.
- Ricky Gervais is touring until 19 October
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