“Early” review: Ricky Gervais, live (HBO in November)

If last night’s show at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden is any indication, Ricky Gervais is not taking any chances with his first American TV stand-up special (HBO is taping his NYC shows this week for broadcast in November). Because for "The Out of England Tour," Gervais has crafted 70-75 minutes of his greatest hits and bits from his three previous tours, Animals, Politics, and Fame. They’re all available for DVD in the U.K., and also ready for your viewing online thanks to YouTube and the like.

In recent interviews, Gervais has told reporters that "stand-up comedy is more of a process of evolution," as he told the Canadian press. "The audience chooses the best bits for you. It’s a process of natural selection. So over a hundred comedy dates, they’ve chosen your best hour. You thought it up and you said it, but they’ve done the difficult part for you. It’s cheating, in a way." And in this instance, most definitely cheating. Or is it?

Not that you could hear anyone in the audience of 5,600 at MSG complaining. File under curious coincidence: While Ricky Gervais performed in the theater, Bon Jovi had the arena packed with a perhaps slightly different demographic. Or, if you know someone who is a fan of both, which show would that fan pick? OK. That’s a tangent. You want to know about the show. How was it? Right? Right-o, then. Gervais brings back his set and opening sequence from "Fame," complete with his name in lights, a regal robe and crown and a podium for his can of Foster’s lager. Despite the three previous tours, Gervais isn’t known as a stand-up comedian but as the creative genius behind The Office and Extras, and he wisely doesn’t try to win over the Americans with set-ups and punchlines. Rather, Gervais uses the audience’s immense adoration for him to be a cheeky bastard, opening with several mocking tones about his "charity work" and fat people. In last night’s show, he took a lengthy aside about giving a urine sample during a physical into a recurring bit about whether his organs were all in proportion. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Taking a break every so often between tales to get another sip from his beer, Gervais preferred longer set pieces that allowed him engage the crowd at his pace, whether it was reading from his favorite leaflet (actually displaying a leaflet this time, rather than reciting it from memory on "Politics") suggesting alternatives for gay men to anal sex, or re-enacting childhood tales to question their actual moral lessons. He’s not afraid to have a go at anyone, really, even Stephen Hawking. Other routines he returns to for his HBO debut included the first guy to contract AIDS, the difference between sharks and Nazis, a hypothetical discussion between Hitler and Nietzsche, Humpty Dumpty, and the outrageous ideas his schoolmate (upon whom Gervais based the "Gareth" character) espoused on cannibals and glory holes. There is a brief encore. Last night, Gervais acted out several bits of animal trivia he read on a blog devoted to such, wondering why and how these facts became known. Funny stuff.

Gervais tapes one final show on Wednesday.

Related: Reviews of his warm-up shows last weekend in Los Angeles all sounded positive notes, including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, and Variety.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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3 thoughts on ““Early” review: Ricky Gervais, live (HBO in November)

  1. hey comics comic,
    saw his last tour – did all the same bits you mentioned (not complaining…sure he’s got lots of new fans)
    as a fan of both (i saw Bon Jovi five years ago, and The British Office is my fave sitcom of all-time), I’d rather see Bon Jovi live – music just resonates better live –
    in fact, music’s the opposite of comedy to me, in that the more you hear and know a song, the better it gets live, whereas a comedy bit gets worse due to teh lack of a punchline surprise (in my opinion).
    Rock On,

  2. First, thanks for the review! I was very eager to hear how it went.
    I’ll admit I’m bummed to hear that much of the material won’t be new; but I disagree with Harris. I could hear a really strong, well-delivered bit of comedy material over and over again – hundreds of times — without tiring of it. (Are there folks who no longer listen to the old Bill Cosby records that most of us collected as kids?) For example: the Gervias bit about the pamphlet listing alternative “options” is gold and I’m sure he knows it. I won’t regret a chance to see him trotting that one out again for the HBO audience. If it were mine, I’d use it again as well.
    As to the rest: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that someone with his schedule hasn’t had the time to test out and hone a full hour of new material. And I’ll be happy to watch when it airs in the fall. But still a bit disappointed. Only because I admire him so much. At this point, I was starting to believe Gervais could do almost anything.
    Then I saw the “Ghost Town” trailer. Combined with this review, I am starting to accept that he may be human after all. Which, oddly, when mixed with the tubby face and silly laugh, may only enhance his charm.

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