Ricky Gervais broke his seven-year hiatus from stand up with the Netflix special “Humanity.” It was clear from the beginning that he was playing catch-up with the world of comedy, riffing on political correctness and transgender people — topics that have been beaten into the ground by countless high-profile comics in the past years. At the same time, Gervais produced one of the more soul-baring acts I’ve seen. Whenever he was able to get away from current events and delve into his own tribulations, he seemed more genuine than any comedian I’ve seen recently.
The better part of the first half of Gervais’ act was spent poking fun of at people who take offense to his opinions. He defended his Caitlyn Jenner jokes from the past few years, seeming to be worried that he missed out on a ripe topic. This section felt tired and overwrought. The few people that cared about Jenner’s life have long since moved on.
I understand that political correctness and the lack thereof is probably most relevant in comedy; comedians make their living off offending people, but I’m tired of hearing rants against it. Even though I usually agree that anything can be a joke in the right context, I wish the topic itself of PC culture could be left alone. It’s old news at this point.
Gervais finally moved into his own life, expressing his concerns with having children (plenty of dead baby jokes), getting older (just enough genitalia jokes) and living in the upper class after starting out poor. This is where Gervais shines. He’s able to brag about how lovely and easy his life is while remaining humble and sparing himself nothing. He can recite the most horrible, depraved joke about a baby dying, and somehow show the audience a selfless, thoughtful person underneath.
Even when Gervais is ranting against the over-sensitivity of people, he manages to bring his own morality into the show. My favorite example was his discussion of his work against animal cruelty. I don’t want to give away the joke, but he told the story of a person on Twitter taking offense to a tweet of Gervais’ exposing the cruelty of East Asian dog meat festivals. Gervais donates thousands of dollars each year to animal rights causes.
While I hold that PC culture is a tired topic, I did appreciate that Gervais took the last 10 minutes of the show to explicitly explain why he thought having a sense of humor is so important. This is something that I think is often missed by comedians raving against political correctness. He explained that we live in an incredibly sad world (one he asserts is getting worse) and humor is the only way to stay sane. Gervais’ most important point was from his older brother: “We’re all gonna die, so we should have a laugh. If you think of something funny, you’ve got to say it, win, lose or draw.”