Comedian, actor and writer Ricky Gervais recently dropped his latest stand-up special on Netflix, which had naturally been delayed by the pandemic. So not only have I just watched that, but I’ve also rewatched his other stand-up shows too, which are still funny. So I thought I’d do a review of them while I’m at it. None of this is sponsored, I just decided to have a bit of a Ricky binge as I’m a fan of his stand-up. I hope you enjoy.
Like any comedian, Ricky naturally isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, and he is seen as particularly controversial or offensive by some, I fully acknowledge that. His shows are 18-rated with good reason, because his humour is often very rude and he sometimes covers very dark topics. So it’s fine and understandable if some people feel offended by him, that’s their choice to hold such an opinion. Comedy is very subjective and open to interpretation, and we’re all different. I’m not going to say whether people should like him or not, and I wouldn’t expect other people to tell me likewise.
All I can say is that I like his stand-up comedy, and I’ve never felt personally offended by anything in his shows. For me, it always comes down to context, which often gets removed when people report on certain routines or share carefully edited clips on social media. As Ricky explains quite clearly in his newest release, joking about a particular subject isn’t a representation of a comedian’s views about that subject, nor is laughing about it a reflection on the audience’s views. I don’t agree with the sentiments expressed in every joke he makes, and I don’t find every single joke funny, yet I still enjoy his act. Because that’s what it is – an act, not a factual lecture. Every stand-up comedian portrays a character on stage, it’s escapism. Ricky’s stage persona is not the real Ricky.
In any case, the reason I like him isn’t because of the type of material he does – after all, there are various ‘edgy’ comedians who I dislike, and plenty of far tamer comedians who I love. I just like him because I find him funny. And his routines have no influence on my own personal beliefs, opinions and behaviours, because I know where to draw the lines. I also know that, in reality, he’s a big supporter of rights and equality, including animal welfare, gay marriage, mental health issues, etc. So that’s my interpretation and opinion of his work. Other people’s opinions will differ, and that’s fine.
So with all that said, let’s get on to the shows themselves. Each of his stand-up specials, lasting around 70-80 minutes, is loosely based on a particular theme, though he does go off on plenty of tangents as well. And there are naturally some topics that come up repeatedly, including his true views on religion (which I do agree with to a fair extent as I’m an atheist like him), his privileged position, his own health and getting older, fat people (i.e. those who could improve through healthier living but choose not to), charity work, animals, political correctness, and his radio producer friend Karl Pilkington (who has a uniquely strange perspective on the world). But he does talk about other things too. And even when topics are revisited, there are usually new jokes and observations, so it doesn’t feel too repetitive. At most he might do an occasional callback to something he said in a previous show, to set the scene for a new joke he’s about to make.
So, for me, there is a good variety of funny material in each of his gigs, and I’ve very much enjoyed going through them all. And there’s a nice collection of extras on his earlier DVDs as well. So I’ll briefly go through each of his shows, with the latest one at the end:
Animals (2003, DVD)
Ricky is a keen animal lover, and here he comments on various facts he’s found about all sorts of creatures, gives a mock commentary on a video of lions mating, shares illustrations from a book about animal homosexuality, and there’s an enjoyable analysis of the Bible story of creation. Plus there are digressions about fat people, giant Gorillas, mermaids, his childhood, and a second video at the start about taking a woman home from a bar.
There’s also an audio commentary, where he adds little remarks and anecdotes in response to the material. It’s not hugely entertaining and he soon struggles to find things to say, as he’s got nobody to banter with, but there are occasional nuggets of trivia and a few amusing moments, and he does talk about Karl for most of the last 20 minutes, which is the best bit.
The other extra is a fun 26-minute behind the scenes video diary filmed by Stephen Merchant. As well as Ricky working on the show and being interviewed by Stephen, we also see his support act Johnny Camden, a bit of Karl Pilkington, and Ricky’s appearance on Newsnight Review, where Ian Hislop was clearly not impressed with the show.
Politics (2004, DVD)
This show starts with an introductory sketch outside the Houses of Parliament, featuring TV producer and wheelchair user Ash Atalla, which is somewhat amusing – though Ash has since said that he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that kind of thing now, and that is understandable. It’s clearly very tongue in cheek and no offence is intended by it, but I can see why some people would feel awkward about it now. Ricky also touches on the subject of disability during the main show (not in an offensive way), as well as talking about charities, historical figures like Gandhi and Hitler, morality in fables & nursery rhymes, bad excuses for immoral behaviour, different forms of protests, and a routine about a strange sexual health advice leaflet for gay men.
Ricky’s support act, Robin Ince, features heavily in the extra features here. Apart from a 3-minute glimpse into his audience warm-up routine, there’s also a funny 20-minute Living With Ricky featurette, where Ricky torments him with strange noises and silly jokes as they travel together. They also join forces for the audio commentary, where Ricky spends most of the first half hour reading from a 2001 diary he wrote about Robin, and the rest is banter, with barely any talk about the show itself. It’s all silly and pointless, yet still entertaining enough. Ricky gave up on doing commentaries after this though, and I’m not surprised, as it’s hard to fill the time with anything really meaningful when you’re trying to comment on a stand-up show. That said, it’s a shame he never did a commentary with Karl Pilkington, or even Stephen Merchant, but the podcasts and animated series they did together make up for that.
Talking of Karl, another enjoyable extra is a 19-minute chat to introduce us to him, during which we learn about his fascination with freaks, and his bewilderment over the infinite monkeys theory. There’s also a 5-minute clip about the making of the opening short with Ash, which isn’t anything exciting, but it does include the full, uninterrupted version of the video, without the theatre cutaways from the main show.
Fame (2007, DVD)
This show is introduced with a voiceover by Matthew Kelly from Stars In Their Eyes, before Ricky strides out to One Vision by Queen, which naturally I approve of as a big fan of the band. He then covers a wide selection of topics in the show, including charity work for people with various conditions, having a medical checkup for the tour, his amusing struggle to do an African accent, global warming, owning your reputation, the meaning of fame in historical vs modern times, newspaper reports & rumours, his atheism, royal visits, public toilets, and an incident between Sharon Osbourne and Chris Tarrant during an X Factor show that Ricky attended.
He also recalls an interview 5 years previously where, in response to a question about how to become famous, he made the deliberately absurd suggestion to kill a prostitute, clearly not meant seriously, to illustrate how some people will do anything for attention. However, after writing the story into his set in 2006, the Ipswich serial murders took place later in the year. And he didn’t take the story out when he started his tour in 2007, because the anecdote isn’t about those murders. But he does add a line about not doing that part of his set in Ipswich and, inevitably, the story did upset some of the residents who were naturally still reeling from recent events.
The extras include a second funny instalment of Living With Ricky, lasting 26 minutes, where he continues winding up Robin Ince with silly noises, the song Halfway Up The Stairs, making him kiss things, talking about his hot testicles, putting him on a fitness regime, and giving him a makeover. Robin’s both a glutton for punishment and a good sport, that’s for sure! There’s a reasonably amusing 8-minute clip of his warm-up set as well, where he talks about observational comedy and drugs.
There’s also a 15-minute feature where Karl Pilkington interviews Howard Isenberg, who believes he’s the only person in the universe with the ability to stop the body’s ageing process and live forever, and claims he’s protected from harm by the spirit world. It’s utter nonsense of course, because Howard did age, and died during lockdown in 2021, but it’s worth watching for more of Karl’s views on life.
Science (2010, DVD)
For this show Ricky enters his castle laboratory set to Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who, another fantastic choice of song. He doesn’t talk about science heavily during the show, but it does come up here and there, in amongst other topics including his back injury, acts of God, Susan Boyle, an audience member at a Ken Dodd show, autograph hunters, charity gifts and campaigns, spiders, his support of gay equality, the effect of fear on rational thought, and a great routine analysing a children’s book about the story of Noah.
Karl Pilkington appears in the extras yet again, and is great humorous value as usual. Firstly, there’s an entertaining second edition of Meet Karl Pilkington, lasting 25 minutes, where Ricky chats to him about various science-related topics. As Ricky gives some interesting facts and makes important points, Karl explains why it’s pointless to think about The Big Bang and put man on the moon, why we should throw rubbish into space, why he’d only use a time machine to repeat a holiday he once had, why thinking about the miracle of life hurts his head, and why he thinks slugs and spiders are pointless, plus he struggles with a simple logic problem that Ricky sets him.
There’s also an 18-minute feature where Karl meets Warwick Davis for the first time, which is very funny. And finally there’s a 10 minute video diary filmed by Ricky in New York, as he prepares for a guest appearance on Season 8 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, including a chat with Larry David and a few brief clips from a talk show interview. It’s not as interesting as the clips featuring Karl, but it’s still alright.
It’s also notable that this is the only one of his DVDs to have skippable copyright and logo screens, and the inclusion of subtitles.
Humanity (2018, Netflix)
Ricky’s first Netflix special was recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo, and was very successful, even if there was a bit of inevitable controversy to begin with. For instance, he discusses his speech at the Golden Globes, with particular reference to a joke he made about Caitlyn Jenner’s car accident and sex change, which had made headlines around the world.
The special also includes the so-called ‘dead baby joke’ that had caused some outrage after a couple walked out of one of his earlier shows on the tour. It was the first night out they’d had since losing their son to stillbirth so, while they had enjoyed a lot of other rather dark material during the show, that particular moment understandably hit a raw emotional nerve for them. But the reports about their exit led to anger from others who had never seen the show – as it was still a year before the Netflix premiere – and thus didn’t know the story or its context. And once the special was released online, it didn’t cause any media furore, as it then became clear that it’s a fleeting part of a lengthy sketch about fictional fatherhood. The target of the routine is Ricky himself, as he uses an extreme scenario to explain why he wouldn’t have the skills or patience to be a good father, and thus why he doesn’t currently have children. It’s not celebrating a bad thing.
And beyond all of that, Ricky talks about a variety of other random things, including dogs, becoming a chimp, being spoilt, nut allergies, freedom of speech in comedy, growing old, wigs, distending testicles, the problems of social media, Twitter arguments, and the benefits of laughing in the face of adversity. So I enjoyed all of that.
SuperNature (2022, Netflix)
This is Ricky’s latest show that has just come out, from his tour that was severely delayed by the Covid pandemic. It was filmed at the London Palladium, and is the first of his shows to have audio description available.
The tour itself generated no complaints or media coverage as far as I’m aware. Hundreds of thousands of people spanning all sectors of society bought tickets, knowing that he deals with taboo subjects, and they enjoyed themselves. But now it’s online for everyone to see, inevitably it’s resulted in a few complaints from people who already weren’t fans of his. So Ricky has had to explain things in interviews that he already explains in the show anyway. If anything, he explains his comedy a bit too much in this special, as his audience already knows his style anyway, and those who don’t like him will ignore him regardless. But his observations on things like woke comedy, cancel culture, outrage and virtue signalling are amusing, and unfortunately they are prominent issues that need to be discussed in this day and age, we can’t pretend they don’t exist.
In any case, despite him referencing all sorts of sensitive issues throughout the show, only one has resulted in complaints and headlines. But from what I can tell from watching the full show, I don’t see any evidence that he’s transphobic. The routine in question sees him directly quoting, and mocking the ideology of, the most aggressive and abusive hardline trans activists, who fail to realise that their actions are actually fuelling division and misunderstandings against the wonderful wider community of trans people they’re trying to protect. The fact that many of those activists have taken the bait and are attacking both Ricky and anyone else who speaks in his favour is only proving his point and giving him free publicity. And he knew full well that would happen, he’s not stupid. He’s basically flushing them out to illustrate the issue.
So of course trans rights are vital and need to be protected, nobody’s disputing that. Ricky explicitly states his own support for that later in the show, which is conveniently omitted from the clip that’s in circulation. And, absolutely, there are some genuinely traumatic events and serious anxieties underpinning the actions of the activists in question, mirroring concerns that many other trans people have. The community undoubtedly needs everyone’s help and support to feel safe. And exactly the same sentiments apply for women’s rights and safety as well, they’re equally essential. No group is more important than any other. But there needs to be polite discourse and gentle awareness raising if we’re to achieve inclusivity and equality, as opposed to attacking people just because they unwittingly get someone’s pronouns or grammatical preferences wrong, or because they have different ideas. Anger and abuse is only going to alienate people. Societal norms are changing and evolving, as has always happened over the centuries, and some people need time and education to adjust.
Anyway, apart from that, Ricky also talks about his disbelief in the supernatural (reincarnation, ghosts, heaven, praying, etc), and marvels at the ‘super’ powers and abilities of nature (hence the show’s title). And he also discusses things like stress relief, cats and dogs, Boris Johnson, AIDS, extreme anti-abortionists, Hitler, old age & death, medical check-ups, gyms, the human brain, becoming a lesbian and racism, and recounts some amusing true stories from his school days. So there’s actually quite a mixture of topics overall, even though the headlines suggest otherwise.
Overall, it’s certainly not a show for everyone, but then nor are any of his others. And sure, it doesn’t contain anything hugely original in terms of subjects covered either. After all, he knows what works, so he doesn’t need to deviate from his trademark style. But I enjoyed it – it’s a very funny show, and it’s great that he’s added audio description this time.
And I’m looking forward to his next show, Armageddon, which I will try and see in person if I can. But it’s not the end of the world, pun intended, if I can’t make it, as it will also be on Netflix. It should be fun in any case.