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Gervais Stand-up: Just All Right

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  November 13, 2008 06:16 AM

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It’s always a pleasure to watch Ricky Gervais say really, really stupid things.

That was the case in the original British “The Office,” in which his boss character, David Brent, was in desperate need of verbal Imodium. That was the case in “Extras,” which saw his aspiring actor scale the heights of sitcom-catchphrase idiocy. And that is the case, more or less, in HBO‘s “Ricky Gervais: Out of England -- The Standup Special,” which premieres Saturday night at 9.

The live show, recorded last year in New York, is Gervais with a beer and 70 minutes of loosey-goosey material. Ambling across a stage with “RICKY” in lights behind him, he wanders through politically incorrect material about the holocaust, Stephen Hawking, Rosa Parks, and autism, notably the day he took an autistic guy to a casino in hopes of having a “Rain Man” experience. He spends time on obesity, ridiculing the notion that being fat is some kind of disease. And he deconstructs, sex act by sex act, an AIDS safe-sex flier.

As he runs through these bits, Gervais adopts a vain, puffed-up, and prickly persona -- someone who’s like David Brent, but also like Gervais himself. The guy is not as excruciatingly clueless as Brent, but he’s pretty insufferable. He brags about all the charities he supports, feigning modesty by repeating, “I don’t want to talk about it,“ and he explains that he once had a 20-year-old guy with cancer thrown out of a benefit performance because it was meant for teens.

The jokes are fair to middling, to be honest, and they don’t feel particularly fresh, especially toward the end of the performance. I saw his bit about the media labeling him a “chubby funster” a few years ago on “The Daily Show.” But his delivery is irresistible nonetheless, as he rambles on like a fool, filling in the gaps with self-incriminatory hemming and hawing, reveling in all the attention.

Based on this special, I can’t say Gervais is at his best doing standup. He thrives when he can add flourishes to a script, as he has done so brilliantly on “The Office” and “Extras,” or when he has other performers to work against. His memorable Emmy Awards moment this year, when he accused Steve Carell of stealing his Emmy, was a fantastic little cringe moment -- the highlight of the night, really. When he has someone to bounce off, he bounces a little bit higher.

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