Ricky Gervais: Animals

Review by Steve Bennett

It's difficult to believe that Ricky Gervais has never applied himself to stand-up comedy before. And not just because you might have expected the creator of sublime sitcom The Office to have learned his craft at the chalkface - but because he turns out to be so damn good at it.

Animals is his first live show, yet it blows away the efforts of most established comics. Even those with a decade's experience on him.

The theme suggested by the title is the evolution, behaviour and myths surrounding the planet's million or so species of fauna. A broad enough brief, you would have thought, but not one Gervais is particularly disciplined about sticking to.

Instead, for the first half of the hour-and-a-quarter show, vague animal-related facts are mentioned only as a springboard for a vast range of tangential topics from transsexual conjurors to the great war poets.

Most of this is delivered in Gervais's familiar comedy persona, the arrogant, sneering and opinionated oaf unconstrained by the depth of his ignorance.

But it's nowhere near as one-dimensional as it seems, as he'll happily subvert his own character - lobbing a suitably obscure fact into the mix and acknowledging with an self-deprecating 'Not bad for a gyppo from Reading.' It gives the act a cheery playfulness, and proves hugely effective at making what could have been an unlikeable stance quite endearing.

Only one of his routines is less than excellent - a sarcastic commentary on the Biblical creation story which overextends its ideas, though even this provides a good crop of razor-sharp snide asides, and paves the way for a fantastic set-piece later on.

But otherwise the inventive brilliance doesn't let up, with plenty of well-crafted material worthy of the label 'instant classic'. Deliciously tasteless Stephen Hawking gags and a truly inspired section about gay antics in the animal kingdom are among the memorable highlights.

But his tour de force is a rip-roaring final section, relentlessly ridiculing a page of shoddily-researched animal trivia he discovered on the Internet. It provides some big targets, but Gervais intelligently finds the devil in the detail too, nit-picking at words until he spins them out into ridiculously over-the-top scenarios.

With Animals, Gervais has proved himself no one-trick pony, creating some stunning stand-up a world away from the underplayed comedy of embarrassment of The Office.

Clever, original and rarely less than hilarious, let's hope this stormer of a show marks the start of a glittering second career on the stage.

Steve Bennett
July 2, 2002

Review date: 1 Jan 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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