HUMANITY. Directed by John L. Spencer. With Ricky Gervais. Live at London’s Eventim Apollo. Netflix.
KAREN RUTTER reviews
Dead naming. Dead travellers. Dead babies. Dear lord, is nothing sacred?
Not when you’re Ricky Gervais. In Humanity, his first solo comedy special in seven years, he spends the first 10 minutes trouncing famous trans woman Caitlyn – née Bruce – Jenner. Too soon, Ricky, and maybe too sensitive, some would say. Nah. In fact, the comedian insists on calling Caitlyn “Bruce” throughout his spiel.
It would seem extraordinarily offensive. But one knows, because it is Ricky Gervais doing the delivery, that he is 100% aware of the line he is treading. His supposed attitude here – that of the boorish transphobe – is an ironical stance in itself. There are multiple layers to Gervais’ humour, which is what stumps some people. They generally tend to react to the outermost, easiest-to-access surface – “How can you think a child dying of a nut allergy is funny?” – while failing to appreciate the deeper commentary. Humanity is full of such examples: Gervais is a dedicated Tweeter, and delights in the more literal responses to his snark. They form a large part of his show, in fact.
Humanity is about Gervais getting back at some of the more colourful haters he has encountered in the social media hemisphere, interspersed with some truly brilliant vignettes (the one about dogs and their jobs is hilarious), and a few weaker insertions (the plane safety stuff).
What keeps the attention engaged is his skillfully-honed physicality and sense of timing. The same man who created the hapless David Brent of The Office, with his shifty looks off-camera and his vulnerable swagger, knows how to work a room with on point delivery. And he can take the mickey out of himself too, albeit with a certain amount of smugness (“It’s amazing how quickly you get used to privilege.”)
The delivery is top notch. But ultimately, the content is divisive. You’re either going to find a joke about adopted children from Africa funny, or not. Likewise getting screwed by Satan. If you’re offended by supposed offensiveness, this one’s not for you. But if you listen between the cracks, you’ll also find a more personal and honest edge shaping the comedy. Gervais’ concern for animals is real, and his reasons for not having children has an edge. It’s this stuff which makes him so interesting.
And if you loved what he did with The Office and David Brent: Life on the Road, you’re most probably going to love this.
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