Now a revered commodity thanks to “The Office” and “Extras,” Ricky Gervais is making a rare journey to the U.S. to do standup, yet he only ventures a bit into his life as a star in his 75 minutes onstage. A precision-oriented writer with well-oiled timing, Gervais instead goes deep into non-politically correct territory, riffing on autistic kids, the Holocaust, AIDS and gay sex, diseases and the pervy behavior of his schoolmates, the belly laughs shifting around the Kodak Theater as nerves are struck. On his opening night in the States, Gervais’ no-nonsense approach hit every bull’s eye.
Truth plus emotional distance is Gervais’ stock in trade. He latches onto aspects of life not that well thought out, demanding consequence and logic; when it’s not present, regardless of whether it’s the diet of a 350-pound woman or a swimming elephant, he attacks. He is brash and penetrating, his routine filled with sharp asides, one of which is a straight theft from Eddie Izzard, and he never apologizes for anything that might go a bit too far, even his Anne Frank jokes. It’s easily forgotten that his attire when he enters the stage includes a crown and a cape. Symbolically, though, they linger as all of Gervais’ attacks come from a position of power.
Fat people, gay sex options, a theoretical meeting between Hitler and Nietzsche, the lack of moral consequence in Humpty Dumpty and animal facts from the Internet — it all works because it’s based on truth, whether the story concerns something he saw on the “Jerry Springer Show,” read on a pamphlet in 1989 or occurred at a public restroom near his house 30 years ago. And if anyone at your office questions whether commandos actually wear underpants, you know where they have been.
Race and politics are the only hot-button topics that do not make it into his Out of England show, which played two nights in L.A. and is booked tonight through Wednesday at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. (HBO is taping in Gotham).
A running joke in his routine concerns his charity work, which leads to an elevated sense of entitlement and some shenanigans inspired by the movie “Rain Man.” Uproariously funny at its conclusion, it works as well as his TV shows, stripping away at the behavior of the privileged to reveal the fool.