What can we expect from Humanity?
A ponderous, almost philosophical headline if read literally. So, perhaps Ricky Gervais can shed some light!
With his tour, Humanity, expected to sell out in minutes, and a track-record of some of the fastest selling stand-up shows in history, how has Ricky Gervais’ stand-up got to this untouchable level of success? His only ‘stand-up’ in the last six years has been his critically acclaimed work for the Golden Globes, which he’s just won a Writer’s Guild award for. An incredible feat for a set that spanned a total of approximately ten minutes.
It’s no secret that his stand-up has evolved from his first, Animals, which was now an unbelivable thirteen years ago.
In keeping with his previous stand-up work, Humanity uses a subject for a title. This format is brilliantly clever, allowing a theme for the comic to ponder throughout, and also a reference point to relate back to when he (inevitably) goes deliciously off-topic.
After the The Office went ballistic, Ricky wrote and performed Animals, followed swiftly by Politics in 2004.
Stylistically, these two shows were perhaps lower key than his later tours. Dressed in black (because ‘it’s thinning’), Ricky’s persona is predomanently cheeky, and his conversation tone akin to his radio work with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington.
Animals was incredibly imaginative for a first show with its clever integration of props, a short film to open and sourced material blended into a cohesive and varied show.
Audiences loved it, and Animals includes now-iconic sections, like Genesis, ‘gay animals’ (below) and the infamous list of animal facts ‘from the internet’. This blend of satire, ironic explanation, and out-and-out jokes made Ricky’s stand-up something different.
Famously unimpressed, however, was comedian and writer, Ian Hislop, who commented that the material was ‘. . . banal’. Clearly, at first, Gervais’ low-key, digressive style was misunderstood by such critics.
When carefully crafted witicisms are performed in this style, perhaps it’s too easy to forget how honed they are – that crucial difference between effortlessness and no effort. Gervais has proven time and time again that his stand-up is, and always was, the former. If proof of this were needed, it’s apparent in Meet Ricky Gervais, his chat-show series that pre-dates animals. You can still catch this on All 4 – highly recommended!
Politics built on the strong foundation of Animals, and unsurprisingly, is stylistically the most similar. Similarly cheeky and low key, it gave us iconic sections like the ‘sexual advice pamphlet’, an analysis on charity – ‘it’s a pain, ennet’, and everything from Schindler’s List to Stephen Hawking got menioned. Well, it was certainly political . . .
Schindler’s List is an example of exactly how well Gervais can guage an audience reaction. At the end of the section, knowing it pushes boundaries, he immediately picks up a previously referenced Lenny Henry poster saying ‘shut up – Lenny Henry, thirty quid!’.
Politics was arguably more refined than Animals, with smoother segues, more content and sections were generally shorter. The master craftsman was refining his art.
After a three year break, Ricky came back with Fame. Immediately the feeling is different. There’s a greater energy, (slightly) more staging (than the previous zero – Ricky’s name is in big letters behind him, a satire on vanity). There is also a lot more movement around the stage – Ricky is now completely owning the space.
Crucially though, the jokes style was the same as ever, albeit with unique additions. Answering imaginary questions, as if they were posed by the audience, was a genious way to enhance his latest rant on charity.
Sections like the Matthew Kelly Stars in their Eyes introduction brimmed with his trademark cheekiness as Ricky declared: ‘Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Ricky Gervais!‘.
Ricky was perhaps the most directly satirical to date, giving us an insight into his changing relationship with fame. This, all juxtaposed with sections like the satire of the internet, and poor Sukki, who may (or may not) have ever made it to that well.
The infamous Sharon Osbourne vs. Chris Tarrent section, is perhaps one of the best moments, just for its sheer randomness, anecdotal insight and seeming lack of punchline – all it takes now is a trademark Gervais expression to get a laugh.
After a two-year hiatus while he worked on other projects, Ricky gave us Science. This show was even more energetic, but notably, also angrier than earlier stand-ups.
It felt edgier, there are more pet-peaves (his unfortunate experience at a Ken Dodd gig, and the ‘Act of God’ insurance satire), and most importantly, everything felt tighter than ever – every gesture and expression considered to the extreme. Ricky was visably thinner, and (probably coincidentally) the flood gates opened on the fat jokes.
Science also marked a return to the props and sources. There’s a follow up to the genesis analysis in Animals, in the form of a break down of Noah, and towards the end, Ricky regailed the audience with his favourite Oscar Wilde Quotes.
Ricky has said Humanity is his most honest, personal show to date, so we can probably expect something more similar to Science in terms of persona.
At this point, it’s worth noting that there will be readers out there who know exactly what Humanity is like – because, well . . . They’ve already seen it. The sell-out first few dates continue to happen, and lucky audiences will know exactly what’s in store (no spoilers please)!
The six year hiatus (the longest since he started out with Animals) is bound to see a few more stylistic changes, as Ricky continues to develop and tweak his style. Like all artists, no doubt Ricky is still refining his art. We can’t wait to see it, and have Ricky back at the Eventim Apollo.