Ricky Gervais: Humanity review — The atheist messiah returns in peak form for a divisive yet entertaining stand-up special
Most comedians flirt with irreverence in their acts but for Ricky Gervais, that is where his comedy starts. And frankly, it is tough to say where it ends.
Ricky Gervais is a special kind of comedian. Sure, most comedians flirt with irreverence in their acts but for Gervais, that is where his comedy starts. And frankly, it is tough to say where it ends. He crosses lines with abandon, making jokes about dead kids, paedophilia, his old body, trans-people and rape. He keeps the audience in splits throughout even as they try to figure out if the last thing he said was truly offensive. And he does it all without even alluding to Donald Trump even once.
Gervais returns to the stand-up stage after seven years. He gave us little tastes in that time as he hosted the Golden Globes (the Oscars would never have the stomach for him). But on a Netflix stage with little holding him back, Gervais gives a masterclass in what stand-up comedy is all about. Stepping into the special with a hint of an intro to himself, Gervais takes just a little time to warm up. But once he hits his stride, there is no turning back.
He draws the line for propriety and immediately crosses it. Refusing to stick to any topic for too long, he hops around from one sensitive topic to the next in a coherent, well-planned set. He also justifies the show’s title throughout unlike many other comedians who just pick an interesting word from their act. Gervais’ act is about himself sure, but if you want a discourse about humanity in about an hour, this would be a pretty apt act.
A lot of good comedy acts leave you with a little caricature which leaves you chuckling every time you remember it. In Ricky Gervais: Humanity, it is Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner's doctor from years ago who always calls Jenner by his (now her) full name. Gervais portrays him as an unsure man who keeps treating Jenner like his mate as he goes, "Oi Bruce, you f***er, how you doin' boy?" He does a little punch routine when he says that line and it comes out just perfect. It is far from the only hilarious portrayal in the act as Gervais throws in comic impressions of a chimp, Satan and Twitter users as well.
Gervais also expertly treads that fine line of being a rich jerk and yet being relateable at the same time. He does not miss a single opportunity to point out how rich he is and the luxurious lifestyle he leads. And yet astoundingly, he never once comes across as someone you would hate as he manages to pepper it all with those neat observations which endear him to the audience.
Part of Gervais’ appeal is that it takes a slightly twisted human being to appreciate his comedy. And this little collective which forms around him, when you know that not everyone is going to find the jokes funny and many would not agree with his viewpoints but you do, is what makes the entire thing so special. For example, most people like kids. A bunch of us do not see their utility at all. Gervais is able to tap into that and articulate why exactly we think what we think. It is a special skill to do that without being patronising but Gervais does it expertly.
Jokes about jokes
Another topic that on the surface seems like a minefield is the propriety of jokes. And as Gervais starts nibbling around it, you worry that he is taking on a challenge which will be the downfall of the show. Except he manages to make his point emphatically, while also managing to easily keep the audience entertained. Mounting a stout defence of the freedom of speech, at one point, he points to the irony of defending a man’s right to fantasise about Gervais being raped by Satan. And if that does not sell you on Gervais, then nothing will.
The best thing about Gervais is that he is two steps ahead of everyone on the argument he is making. He knows the counter-argument and will willingly bring it up because he has the ability to engage with that counter-argument. And nowhere is this skill more evident than in the bit about God and religion. A self-avowed atheist, Gervais asks the obvious questions about God: Why does not he kill Satan, or more pertinently, why did he make chocolate kill dogs? It is a neat section of the act which endears him even more to those on the fence about religion and is second only to his thoughts on the freedom of speech which really ought to be part of college courses.
It is not all smooth sailing though and the show has already been criticised for being trans-phobic. But Gervais tries his best to explain why his material is not really horrible and the argument is at least worth considering. In any case, if you are one who has rules about what comedy is acceptable, Gervais as a whole is best avoided.
Gervais’ brand of comedy is polarising to say the least. For those of us who like him, there can be no one better. If you don’t like him though, then it is entirely too easy to demonise him for making jokes on sensitive topics. Not that he would mind though. He is that rare Twitter celebrity who will get down in the trenches and slug it out with the “scum”. There is no PR nonsense, no fake persona, it is just pure Gervais.
Thankfully, he manages to translate that into a marvelous stand-up special which really sets the bar. And to do that while delivering a couple of messages he clearly cares about is simply a mark of his genius. It all adds up and makes Rick Gervais: Humanity a must-watch in the overcrowded space that is the stand-up special section on Netflix.
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