Joke Scientician

[Live] Ricky Gervais: Science, Sheffield City Hall, 3rd December 2009

In comparison with his previous shows, Gervais’ latest has taken a relative critical mauling. I know this because I can’t just go out and have fun, I have to do my research first. You’ll probably have read that despite the show being called Science that isn’t really what it’s about. I know I was similarly disappointed when I watched Chris Rock’s Bigger and Blacker only to find he was still just 5′ 11″  and nun-blacker.

Expectations weren’t particularly raised after a 20 minute Gagasaki from [shudder] Mock The Week regular Stuart Francis and then a cripplingly unfunny intro video by the usually unimpeachable Louis CK. Running gag: Ricky drinks cum. A lot of cum. At one point he even called it jizz. Tee hee!

Things improved markedly when Gervais did eventually take the stage riding a Segway scooter. Admittedly, this was only the third funniest instance of somebody riding a Segway after George W. Bush fell off his in 2003 and Peter Gabriel’s seminal Live8 performance. But anyway, this isn’t my top Segway moments post.

For somebody who has a reputation for being edgy, Gervais’ source material is startlingly unoriginal and middle of the road, even. But it really is – and I think I’m the first person to notice this – all in the delivery. His first bit centred on the hardly earth-shattering observation that Amanda Holden is a judge on Britain’s Got Talent despite her talents being nebulous at best. It was his extended, repetitious treatise on her only talent being sucking off Neil Morrissey whilst married to Les Dennis which got the really big laughs. The phrase “the engorged, veiny bangstick of TV funnyman Neil Morrissey” shamefully amused me in particular.

His next targets were autograph hunters, fat people and a particularly tasteless routine about an overweight, and probably mentally ill woman masturbating at a Ken Dodd gig. As usual these jokes were couched as being more about Gervais’ reactions to the situation than attacks on the subjects. That may or may not be true but he added some great dashes of physical comedy – not something he’s normally noted for – particularly with his observation that all autograph hunters are asymmetrical.

The undoubted centrepiece of the gig was his close reading of a Sunday School book telling the story of Noah’s Ark. It doesn’t take a finely honed comic mind to pick holes in The Old Testament, but Gervais was in his element deconstructing every sentence and spinning out the source material by holding imagined conversations between God and Noah – “God: The Ark must have three floors and a large door in the middle. Noah: Don’t micromanage. I know how to build a boat.” This routine also came closest to fulfilling Gervais’ notional aim of highlighting the divide between science and religion, the rational and the spiritual. But frankly, I couldn’t give one solitary shit about that, as long as it’s funny. It was.

The set closed with a few observations about the climate of fear post 9/11, which was probably the weakest part of the set, and that old Gervais standard: the paeodophile joke. Again, this was supposedly more about his stupidity for telling said joke at a dinner party, rather than the joke itself. You can probably guess which element got the biggest laugh, though.

Some may carp that he hasn’t paid his dues and steals a lot of his cues from lesser-known comedians, but in terms of big comedy, he’s a witty, engaging, intelligent presence. When compared to the other turds who sell out similar sized venues, I know who I’d rather see.

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