The start of December has unleashed the annual onslaught of festive decorations including trees, lights and those familiar yet annoying songs incessantly pumped out of shops and into our subconscious. The constant exposure to merriment is infectious, but the knowledge that the year is drawing to a close and a break is approaching makes finding enthusiasm for work that much harder.
Sometimes though, work can offer little perks. The practice that employs me was involved in the refurbishment of a theatre recently, and since the project has completed, our team were offered seats for a performance. Stroke of luck for us, the show was a ‘Work in Progress’ event by the one and only Ricky Gervais. Bargain seats in an intimate venue well suited to comedy on a Monday night – what better way to kick off a cold week?
Gervais’s comedy however is a bit touch and go with my taste. Hilariously awkward as The Office’s David Brent and as Andy Millman in Extras; the cringes and cackles blend superbly when he portrays a character. Live however, I have struggled to always see the funny side. I couldn’t finish watching his latest Netflix special, Humanity, not because it was necessarily bad, but it just didn’t feel like it was for me. I was still curious to experience him live though; benefit of the doubt seemed the best stance.
Bloomsbury Theatre was wonderfully cosy, with a capacity of just over 500 people, you still feel within touching distance of the stage even in the back row. The seating was comfy and the finishings felt luxurious without being ostentatious. Gervais was very casual and relaxed as he introduced himself as ‘a man who really doesn’t have to be here’ which was the first chuckle of the night for me. In advance of the evening a colleague had told us Gervais was worth about £80 million which formed most of the reason behind my chortle.
Opening with mock apologies for the dubious quality of what we were about to see, Gervais reiterated that the show was a work in progress and we hadn’t paid much for the tickets so shouldn’t expect a masterpiece. He then explained he planned on calling his new show Supernatural with a focus on debunking the supernatural itself, including emphasis that nature is super enough already.
I had begun scribbling some notes of topics Gervais mentioned on the back of my ticket but as he continued they essentially became a laundry list of topics one “shouldn’t” joke about. What makes Gervais a Marmite type of comedian is he pushes the boundary, talking about real issues that should be taken seriously and taking a swipe at them, but without malice. The sort of subjects he touched on included obesity, transgender children, racism, the afterlife, cats vs dogs and abortion.
An early comment about the Me Too movement wasn’t to my taste and made me shift in my seat a little, but later in the show he juxtaposed that by bringing out a list of official ridiculous reasons that women had been committed to asylums in the 1800s and read them out. It’s quite an art what he does; talking about hot button topics, saying the things we’re afraid to, but without explicitly slating anything directly. It was delightful to watch his brain tick over and stumble about as he got lost in a ramble at one point, only to admit he didn’t know where the sketch was going and move onto the next idea. He made himself giggle quite a few times which was endearing in a childlike way.
Gervais brought along a couple of guest comedians who had short sets sprinkled into his performance, probably allowing Gervais to make notes. The first guest was Brian Gittins, an awkward character performed by actor David Earl, who came shuffling on stage to the Hall and Oates song ‘You Make My Dreams’ for longer than he should have. This strong start however wasn’t sustained. His crudely crafted jokes lost momentum and didn’t quite land right with the audience. The character reminded me of Angelos Epithemiou as performed by Dan Renton Skinner (but without the Sainsbury’s bag). Gittins (Earl) was funny, but a bit too strong on the cringe factor for my taste.
The second guest was Sean McLoughlin whose style was a bit more rant like. He too was funny, but also failed to launch it seemed. While the audience chuckled it felt like we were never really on his side. He made quite a few references to drugs which made me wonder if he was indeed playing a highly strung character or genuinely a bit wired.
When Gervais returned for his final segment he explained that growing up his family showed affection by ribbing into each other and I thought this describes his comedy style. While some of his comments might have made me a little uncomfortable, he’s unapologetic in his stance and reminded me that life is too short to take everything too seriously.
While I may disagree with some of the things he said or find them a bit distasteful, I am grateful to live somewhere where one is exposed to different views. One does not have to agree with everything, just like it’s impossible to please everyone, and it’s about knowing what you believe for yourself and not taking things personally. I do however look forward to seeing what makes it into the show when it’s completed, although I will wait for the Netflix special to see it.