Ricky Gervais’ “Humanity” At The Theatre At Madison Square Garden, Wednesday, October 25th, 2017, Reviewed
At the Theatre At Madison Square Garden last night, Ricky claimed he called his one man stand-up performance “Humanity” because he hates humanity so much. But that’s a trope. It isn’t that Gervais isn’t a misanthrope, it is that after hitting the home run of fame and fortune since 2001, he has made misanthropy one of his primary calling cards and by the time Ricky reaches the encore, he is portraying himself at his mother’s funeral with the rest of his family, laughing hysterically at his big brother Bob’s jokes and concluding that you only live once, so you might as well have a laugh. Fine as far as it goes, but hardly the work of a man seeking a final solution.
Ricky Gervais, a failed New Romantic singer (who got his revenge on the UK pop firmament of the 80s by becoming friends with David Bowie, he’d played a Bowie fanatic in 1998), his big break came co-writing and directing (with Stephen Merchant) “The Office” on BBC -only a baker’s dozen of episodes, not unlike “Fawlty Towers,” but it was enough. Through the 00s he went from power to power, two seasons of his celebrity spoof “Extras” and two seasons of the animated comedy “The Ricky Gervais Show,” and god (I know) bless him because the man had the self-restraint to stop a program years before its shelf life ended. His stand up, which I’ve seen twice but never in person before, was excellent always: he is one of the funniest men, up there with fellow country man Eddie Izzard, as well as American comedians Louis CK, Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock: the top of the food chain funny. Plus, he knows when to stop, I’ve seen Rock and Izzard go on for 120 minutes, long after we’re laughed at. Ricky stops after 75 minutes.
But his last stand up show, “Science” had ended by the time the decade closed, and the 2010s haven’t been quite as kind. “Humanity” is Ricky’s return to the stage and it is terrific. While he doesn’t reach the heights of his first “Out Of England”‘s riff on an AIDs pamphlet, a piece that expresses exactly the point he makes in the show that laughing at an AIDs and gay men pamphlett isn’t even nearly the same as laughing at gay men with AIDs. He notes that joking about Bill Cosby is not necessarily racist, it depends on the joke. “People get offended when they mistake the subject of a joke for the target”. Of course, when the mood takes him, he nails both. He repeats a joke he told at the Golden Globes: “Relax, I’m going to be nice tonight. I’ve changed… not as much as Bruce Jenner”.
In “Humanity” Ricky opens by noting he is not a big fan of humanity, moves onto riffs about dogs, before settling on his main subject for the night: twitter and political correctness. A little on the defensive side perhaps, yet he maintains your interest, the riffs keep on coming and so do the insults. He keeps away from Trump but when he was describing a man who ended up being Adolph Hitler, I thought it might have been POTUS. He laughs himself sick at the people who take offence of him on twitter, he keeps moving, though not precisely forward, and it is a complaint that everything always revolves around himself, though you only think that after the fact, during the performance you can’t take your eyes off him. It’s a rock solid performance, Springsteen fans take note, no teleprompter I can see, he doesn’t even vaguely appear to be reading: like all the best comedians it feels improvised though he first mentioned this show in 2013 which would make a solid four years of toil in order to be so thoroughly in control of the material, he eases us onwards. People think I was a little brutal in my Bruce review a coupla weeks ago, but Bruce is to one man shows what Ricky is to rock anthems. There is simply no comparison, Ricky is a perfection of tone and pace, of timing. There is an ease so great in his performance, he is self-deflating in his egomania and the smartest man in the room, even when the room holds 5,000 people. I consider myself witty but there is witty and then there is Gervais: he is endlessly inventive and funny.
I can’t quite follow Ricky’s internal tick tock here, one part the circle of life, one part social science, one part social media, one part the story so far, and three parts anything for a laugh, his riff on not having children is tremendously funny but quite why is it here? There seems to be no clear segueing. By the end, when we reach death, there has been the moments that seem to dot through humanity’s life cycle, but it isn’t quite that either. Perhaps it is about stand-up, on Jimmy Fallon earlier this week he noted that he was enjoying touring more than everything else he does in the entertainment field (he then appeared in a terrible segment, one of Fallon’s rotten games).
Not everything hits my funny bone, a bit about when she was he, Caitlyn visiting a doctor left me a little cold. Another joke about a man’s testicles floating in the bath left me shrugging: perhaps it is similar to my dislike for scatalogical jokes. But the problems were few and far between, because any one who can make fun of a deaf, dumb, and blind orphan getting cancer, can’t be all bad. The best joke of the night was about not rape but language: “woman runs into a police station and says “officer, I’ve just been graped” Officer says “You mean raped” She replies “no, there was a bunch of them.” What a classic pun, what a classic funny man: “a joke about a bad thing is not as bad as a bad thing”. And this ain’t a bad thing.