Although I don't normally review stand-up specials, I was actually excited about "Ricky Gervais: Out of England 2 — The Stand-Up Special," having so thoroughly enjoyed the comic/actor/writer-producer's first effort for HBO.

Ricky_ooe2_4 At least in terms of his stand-up, though, the sequel proves a major disappointment, with Gervais appearing more interested in shocking or provoking — and repeatedly falling back in profanity to punctuate the frequent gaps — without structuring the kind of smart, intricate routines seen the first time around.

Taped in Chicago, the special — which premieres on Dec. 18 — finds Gervais attacking the usual targets and sacred cows: Fat people. Famine in Africa. Pedophilia. Charity. Fear of terrorism.

Until a routine about Noah and the Ark, however — which comes almost 30 minutes into the 80-minute special — there's hardly a memorable line. And near the end, when Gervais turns semi-serious about the need for comics to have the freedom to offend — saying there's "nothing you shouldn't joke about" — given the flat nature of what preceded it, that feels more like an alibi for the latest effort's comedic shortcomings than an opening to intelligent discussion.

It's too bad, since Gervais' collaboration with HBO has been largely positive, from the terrific series "Extras" to his first special to his animated podcasts.

But the Gervais on display here — who has lost 20 pounds or so, and looks it — has also slimmed down in the least flattering way for a comic.

He's about 40% less funny.


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