Ricky Gervais: Science

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Early preview show: Bloomsbury Theatre, London, April 20, 2009

Ricky Gervais is dabbling in science, and tonight we are his guinea pigs. Four months before he starts his next major stand-up tour, he’s in London’s 535-seater Bloomsbury Theatre to squirt the detergent of new material into our eyes, and gauge the reaction.

What is already apparent is that while the show may be called Science, most of it is unapologetically off-topic. This is about as scientific as the Book of Genesis.

There’s a lot of loose preamble about how this is work in progress, that tickets are ‘only’ £15 (the same as full price admission on many a comic’s tour), and some genuine complaints about the regular audible thuds from the judo sessions next door – said in jest, though clearly it rightly irks him that a theatre show has to compete with such distractions.

It’s the first of several false beginnings – some intentional, some because he wants to delay the start of his working day, like office workers everywhere. The best of these asides has him recalling one of Ken Dodd’s notoriously long gigs – hilariously reducing five hours and a six-decade career to a grunt and a gurn. The laughs he gets at the ‘mental fat girl’ in Dodd’s audience are much less comfortable, coming at the expense of a clearly troubled woman, but the truth is that the scenario is all the funnier because you know you shouldn’t be laughing.

Gervais can overuse this sort of ‘ironically’ inappropriate material, and tonight is no exception, mining the politically incorrect seam just a little too often, even though it can work brilliantly well. However, his other potentially irritating trait, of boasting – tongue-in-cheek, of course – about all his success, fame and international awards is kept largely in check during the 50-minute show.

Instead, he uses some of the other strings to his comedy bow, with such innocent material as recalling a child’s wonderfully naïve idea of a ‘car of the future’, which still has the power to reduce him to girlish giggles that prove highly contagious – even if the material is slight.

Followers of comedy might find that many of his trains of thought run along well-established tracks. There are other comedians with material about the disappointment of receiving charity Christmas gifts, gay marriage, the media coverage of Ian Huntley (Gervias’s bit here sounding a bit close to Russell Brand’s) and the implausibility of the Noah’s Ark myth.

Although the journeys may hold few surprises, he can pull out enough succinct and funny gags along the way to keep amusing. And even in his absence, Gervais’s podcast cohort Karl Pilkington still seems to be supplying some of the best lines, thanks to his off-the-wall reasoning relayed second-hand.

The Noah story is the cornerstone of the show as it currently stands, a sardonic page-by-page deconstruction of a childhood book, providing another contribution to the current wave of rationality sweeping through comedy. There are quite a few moments here – and elsewhere – where the audience are noticeably quiet, waiting patiently for the next joke, giving Gervais a slack that a club audience mightn’t give an unknown. Since they are fans, they trust they will be rewarded eventually – and usually they are right.

Eliminating those quieter moments will no doubt be Gervais’s objective before the tour starts at the Edinburgh Fringe in August – however unscientific his methods.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
London, April 2009

Review date: 1 Jan 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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