Ricky Gervais: Humanity, review: With his most cohesive and heart-on-sleeve show yet, it's good to have him back

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"A winning combination of straight-talking pub philosopher, wind-up merchant and incorrigible class-clown": comedian Ricky Gervais
"A winning combination of straight-talking pub philosopher, wind-up merchant and incorrigible class-clown": comedian Ricky Gervais Credit: Clara Molden for The Telegraph

It feels as though British stand-up has gone a bit quiet in the past few years, at least compared to its morale-boosting boom period during the post-Credit Crunch bust. Is that partly due to the absence of Ricky Gervais

Humanity, his fifth live show, is his first new major solo offering this decade – a decade that has seen him plough on with new TV projects (Life’s Too Short, Derek and Special Correspondents) without garnering the same critical and popular adulation that still surfaces, in a nano-second, around his 2001 debut sitcom The Office, his acknowledged master-work.

Artwork for Ricky Gervais: Humanity

With the recent return of that show’s presiding chronic egotist David Brent in the mockumentary Life on the Road (and its attendant pop-up gigs), we’ve been reminded just why we (well, most of us) were wowed by Gervais in the first place. And Humanity provides a timely reconfirmation of his rare aptitude as a breeze-shooter: a winning combination of straight-talking pub philosopher, wind-up merchant and incorrigible class-clown.

His arrival is heralded by pulsing lights and oratorical blasts from the past (Churchill, Hitler, Martin Luther King). A sign of showbiz grandiosity, a hint at a Big Theme? Actually, there’s none of the tongue-in-cheek pomp of Fame, 10 years ago, in which he donned crown and robes. Here he’s insistently casual in black t-shirt and jeans, padding about, swilling beer, his visual luxuries a skull-emblazoned lectern and starry backdrop. And as ever the title is an umbrella under which shelter a host of quips and riffs.

"Humanity finds him lampooning the snowflake sensibilities of those who take offence at the slightest thing" Credit: Clara Molden for The Telegraph

That said, this feels like his most cohesive show to-date, the most consistently funny and most heart-on-sleeve (albeit in Gervais’s case that organ is slippery and elusive in the extreme). Though very much a social media animal – a big beast on Twitter – Humanity finds him lampooning the snowflake sensibilities of those who take offence at the slightest thing. 

The starting-point for that train of thought is provided by his 2016 Golden Globe Awards jibes at Caitlyn Jenner, and the latter’s involvement in a fatal car-crash (“She didn’t do a lot for women drivers”). Cue outrage about his “transphobia” and his taboo mentioning of Jenner’s pre-realignment male (now “dead”) name, Bruce. This storm in a teacup (swelled by media manipulation) ushers in a faux-awkward re-enactment of Jenner’s decisive first visit to his/her doctor and a mock confession, complete with hilarious miming, of Gervais’ desire to re-align himself in accordance with his chimp DNA.

Ricky Gervais hosting the Golden Globes in 2012 Credit: AP/NBC/Paul Drinkwater

He’s still into baiting his audience, whether through obnoxious bragging (“I could have this place burnt down for a laugh”) or affected callousness (his flip material on cot-deaths prompts a sharp collective intake of breath, even if it results in an involuntary exhalation of laughter). But at 55, is there a new seriousness, even maturity here? His material about his reasons for not having children climbs from low-lying disgruntlement at being force-shown photos of other people’s kids to a peak of hypothetical ire, directed at the useless ingrate off-spring he imagines his wealth would give rise to. Is he nasty and selfish or actually doing this overpopulated world a favour? 

He begins with observations on the funny-peculiar specialisms of dog breeds (he deems dogs “better than people”) and ends with a condemnation of the barbaric cruelty towards canines of the Yulin ‘festival’ in China, an emblem of a nasty age (“even the worst things in the world are worse”). A lot has happened since his last show, Science - much of it to do with the bleak rise of unreason. I didn’t expect to write this, but it’s good to have him back.

Tour continues to Oct (Eventim Apollo, London 4-7 Oct); rickygervais.com

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