The king of low-key comedy takes over America
Following a ridiculously grandiose opening involving pyrotechnics, a crown and a giant lighted "RICKY" as a backdrop, the pudgy, unaffecting Gervais gets into his somewhat soft-spoken act between sips off a big can of Foster's. He starts off tame, with a bit about an easy target: cancer patients. It's obvious that there are no sacred cows for Gervais, as he'll proceed to make fun of people with autism (sharing a botched attempt at recreating Rain Man) and AIDS (with a brilliant bit of dialogue between patient zero and the monkey that infected him) before moving on to safer topics like the Holocaust. There's almost a sense that he's oblivious to the horrible nature of what he's saying, but that's just the Ricky Gervais Comedy Persona he's crafted over the years, and that's what makes him a phenomenal performer.
Unlike so many stand-up acts or monologists (two genres of performance Gervais falls between), the man seems wholly uninterested in talking about himself, outside of a few minor notes tossed out for clarification, rather than content (unless you count the stories he tells about childhood friends.) Instead, he acts more like a commentator or analyst, evaluating material he's brought with him, including a 1989 postcard advocating alternatives to unsafe anal sex and a list of unusual animal facts. Reading off the items, it's not a case of a simple quick joke about it. Instead, he delves in, brings the item to life and illustrates how absurd it is. It's a technique that works great when examining old children's stories for ridiculous elements.
The thing that surprised me about Gervais act is how base his comedy can be, perhaps because as a well-respected British performer, you expect something classy. Instead, you get bits about urinating for doctors, giant genitalia (perhaps a European comic thing,) not wearing underwear and being watched while masturbating. But for as scatalogical as he can get, he's never aggressive about it. Thanks to his unassuming look and measured delivery, it's almost cute in a way, like a kid saying "poopie." But it's the rare kid who can compare sharks and nazis, ruminate on war and joke about glory holes. That's what makes Mr. Gervais so special.
HBO continues to disappoint with their stand-up DVDs, offering only an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track. It's not that the track is bad in any way, and it's in fact quite good, presenting Gervais clearly, with clean separation from the audience, in a balanced mix that's front and center.
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