Ricky Gervais: Politics

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

What do you do once you've created one of the most acclaimed sitcoms in modern times, attracting the attentions of a Hollywood that's feting you for more big-money deals than you ever thought possible?

Well, if you're Ricky Gervais you play a medium-sized theatre in the West Midlands, programmed somewhere between a psychic from Living TV and a man billed as the 'best Elvis impersonator in the business'.

With his first stand-up tour, Politics, Gervais is taking what could quite clearly be considered a backwards career move. But the idea is that he's paying his dues and earning some kudos for being able to cut it live. He's often spoken of his embarrassment at becoming so successful so quickly when dozens of talented comics are left grafting on the circuit with little acclaim, and this is his attempt to show he's no flash in the pan.

The Office obviously gives him a huge short-cut, allowing him to fill theatres on the strength of his name alone. Whether the fans come in anticipation of seeing David Brent or Ricky Gervais is a moot point. And while there are obvious similarities between the Wernham Hogg boss and Gervais's stand-up persona, it's the differences that are most telling.

Many of the best moments in The Office, and there are plenty to choose from, come from Brent's ham-fisted attempts at political correctness, foiled by his seething mass of prejudices bubbling up to puncture the pretence of saying the right thing.

But on stage, Gervais deliberately sets out to say the most evil, cruel thing he can imagine: The Holocaust, Stephen Hawking, paedophilia they're all fair game as far as he's concerned.

It's an oafish, bigoted character closer to the mostly-forgotten segments he contributed to Channel 4's ill-fated 11 O'Clock Show, and which earned the then-unknown Gervais plenty of flak from those who couldn't see the joke.

These days, of course, he's officially a national treasure. When he mentions his Golden Globes, he doesn't get the usual British reaction of begrudging envy, but a spontaneous, supportive round of applause. He's the audience's friend, and we know he can't possibly mean the uncharitable things he says.

His act is like a six-year-old boy swearing. He knows it's wrong, but says it for the reaction anyway. The grown-ups know he should be told off, but the sheer cheek is so charming that it's not only forgiven, but funny.

Gervais plays the naughty innocent to perfection; his pitch rising to a screech as he gets overexcited at his outrageous thoughts, and he giggles helplessly as he recalls some gloriously inappropriate thought. It's pure sham, of course, but the pretence of spontaneity is perfect enough for everyone to swallow. Such delivery is what sets him a world apart from the genuinely hate-filled comics of old.

The theme of the show is supposedly Politics, but you'd be hard pressed to see why. This is hardly Mark Thomas territory, as Gervais doesn't so much digress from the topic as ignore it altogether. A self-mocking, despairing glance at the show's title behind him partway through a routine about schoolboy masturbation shows that such irrelevance just all part of the gag.

For his piece de resistance, he recycles a formula from Animals, his short-lived (but not so short it couldn't be filmed for a rush-release DVD) live show from last year. Then he ran down a list of dubious fauna-related trivia culled from the internet; here it's safe sex tips for gay men – ideal for upping the eugh-factor even further.

Gervais does venture away from the cheeky shock technique now and again, mainly to deconstruct childhood fables and nursery rhymes. It may be a tried and tested comedy mechanism, but it's effectively employed.

At around an hour – and that includes a short film that sees Gervais tipping a disabled passer-by (actually Office producer Ash Atalla) out of his wheelchair – this is not a long show, but any longer and you suspect the limitations of his persona may start to grate.

As it is, he leaves the audience wanting more, while having done more than enough to prove that yes, he can indeed cut it live. His stand-up spurs have been won.

Steve Bennett
Birmingham
April 6, 2004

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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