Ricky Gervais: Politics Review
Whilst many comedians end up on television only after trawling the stand up circuit building themselves a reputation, Ricky Gervais ended up going straight to television, and it was only after The Office had drawn to a close he took to the stage with Animals; his first ever stand up comedy tour. Politics was tour number two, only a year later, and Ricky’s come a long way. Though the title may suggest another lecture like discourse on the state of politics – particularly with the US elections not far behind us – you’re looking in the wrong place for cutting political satire. It’s merely an easy marquee to throw over the show, because what Gervais does best is play with subjects that are particularly politically incorrect.
Whilst it’s certainly a long way from the childish vulgarity of the likes of Roy Chubby Brown or Jim Davidson, this might not be a show you’d enjoy watching with your mother as Ricky skirts around the edges of good taste. He talks about disability and homosexuality with the kind of colourful vocabulary Lenny Bruce would have killed to be able to use, taking his jokes just past the limit of acceptable humour. You know you shouldn’t be laughing at some of this, you can imagine the wave of guilt washing over you were a member of the particular minority group being ridiculed at any one moment to walk in the room. But he gets away with it because there’s always a glint in his eye, a swift look at the audience that lets them know he knows full well they shouldn’t be laughing at him either. It’s a cheeky, almost schoolboy-like quality that allows him to take things further than you’d accept from anyone that delivered the lines with genuine vitriol. It seems he can find a way to go nearly too far with any subject, on charity ‘I don’t do enough, I do a bit but not enough, but I look at it like this… it’s a pain isn’t it. Nothing in it for me.’ On Dame Thora Hird ‘[in her wheelchair] up to the front door, straight in the stairlift – feet haven’t touched the floor yet – then lowered into the bath… never off her arse. Same as that Stephen Hawking. Lazy.’
You won’t find the kind of scathing attacks on political figures, decisions and the general state of the world that Bill Hicks excelled at, and despite knocking the general stupidity of parts of the population the show lacks the direct rants real political comedians are known for. You’ll find a lot of anecdotes, Gervais draws heavily on the humour found in people he’s known and the situations they have landed themselves in, and he finds it easiest to point out the ridiculous nature of their exploits whilst playing the persona of the guy that doesn’t really understand what is going on around him. It’s another tactic to get away with outrageous jokes, it’s often somebody else’s incorrectness getting the laugh whilst Gervais sits safely in the role of the storyteller, but it’s a tactic that works very well for him and he never has a problem raising laughs with it. The show isn’t perfect, the section on nursery rhymes isn’t the strongest and only very tenuously linked with politics at all through the moral that some of them hold. The biggest failing is probably the marketing of the show, with a title like Politics, and an image on the front of Gervais as Che Guevara people may well expect something different from the show, but that doesn’t stop it being a frequently hilarious performance and the anecdotal nature makes it an easy show to re-watch as, more often than not, the joke is in the telling rather than the punchline.
The show is presented in anamorphic widescreen but that is probably because so many of us have widescreen TVs now, as there’s nothing about it that requires the larger scope, it’s just become the de facto standard for DVD content. The image is a little soft and there are areas of the image that show slight encoding artefacts, but you won’t notice them, after all unless Gervais isn’t doing his job right there’s no reason for your eyes to ever wander from the lone man on stage.
The disc comes with a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack, which is all it needs, unless you fancied watching the show with immersive sounds of the audience laughing and eating toffees all around you, and of course the sound is always clear, thanks to the odd mic stuck to the side of Gervais’ face for the duration of the show.
Meet Karl Pilkington – An Interview with Ricky Gervais
By this point you will have heard of Karl Pilkington, maybe not because you listen to Gervais’ XFM radio show – on which he’s a producer – but certainly because the stories Ricky tells about him will stick in your memory. As with any apocryphal tale, those of Karl Pilkington sound exaggerated and too ridiculous to be true, but that’s just because you haven’t met him yet. Over twenty minutes, now we can all get to know Karl, a man who – through a combination of his intriguing way of thinking and slightly less than human appearance – may just be the proof needed to muffle the cries of Creationists the world over, as this missing link demonstrates that not only did man evolve from apes, but the process isn’t quite finished yet. Don’t get the wrong idea, he’s not a hateful man, he doesn’t say things to cause offence or to further some personal agenda of rage, he simply doesn’t understand. He doesn’t see why his thoughts are racist, or homophobic, but wait until you see him try and understand the concept of infinity, then you’ll really understand how his mind works (or doesn’t.) At least he was right about one thing, watching freaks really can be fascinating.
Living with Ricky
This little travelogue belies belief as much as the words of Karl Pilkington, whilst – by all accounts – Ricky Gervais is one of the most irritating people on the planet, so his incessant bugging of his long time friend and support act on this tour, Robin Ince, is believable, it’s hard to imagine any human being has the will power to stand the assault Ricky lays forth every single day. It’s great to hear them talk about each other, Robin sees Ricky as a guy that can be very annoying, but the times in between the annoyances make their relationship worthwhile. Ricky sees Robin as his plaything, and says those times in between only exist so he doesn’t push Robin completely over the edge, and he waits for his next opportunity to do something that Robin will loathe.
Much like Animals, the show has a video introduction, so here we get a look behind the scenes. It’s not thrilling, but it is interesting to see the reactions of passers by as Ricky tussles with a guy in a wheelchair, it’s strange how you can get away with anything if there’s a crew filming it.
Commentary from Ricky Gervais and Robin Ince
Commenting on a stand-up show can’t be easy, where’s the fun in a joke if it’s intimately dissected, which is probably why Ricky doesn’t really talk about the show here. Instead, the time is largely spent arguing with Robin about the diary Ricky kept during the tour. Unlike a normal diary it’s not about what Ricky did, it’s about what Robin did, how often do you see someone keeping a diary of someone else’s life? It’s actually quite funny to listen to as Robin and Ricky don’t seem to see eye to eye on the events within it, and Robin seems a bit annoyed that – apparently not for the first time – Ricky is just making up incidents in his life and passing them off as facts, with the goal of humiliating Robin as much as possible. Once again the mind boggles at how they’ve managed to stay friends.
Robin on Stage
Robin Ince was Ricky’s support act for the entire tour – in fact having him alone to torture was one of the biggest reasons for Ricky doing the tour at all – but sadly his entire routine isn’t present here. Instead we get only a few jokes, which makes it rather hard to get into the act, it would have been much better to have it in its entirety.
The show is very funny, anyone that enjoyed Animals is bound to like this too, but those that weren’t so keen may still want to consider this, as Gervais’ stand up has come a long way in a year, and it could easily win over some that didn’t enjoy Animals. The technical side of the disc is unspectacular, but as good as it needed to be, and the extras are actually worthwhile – often a problem for stand up DVDs. In fact it’s worth finding a copy just to see that Karl Pilkington interview, which is unintentional comedy genius.
You can read Matt Day's exclusive interview with Ricky Gervais here