Sunday, September 14, 2008

In praise of Gervais (and Philips DVD players)

I saw Ricky Gervais on Letterman last Friday, and he was bearing good news: at long last, one of his stand-up specials will be broadcast in America on HBO (and available on DVD afterward). I believe it's scheduled for Nov. 15, though there's no title and the date looks like it's tentative.

I was at one of the three tapings at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden last July, from which the special will be assembled (I took the blurry photo, above, at the taping).

I made the trip to New York primarily to see Gervais, who I'm convinced - after the Office, Extras, and the great British-only stand-up DVDs: Animals, Politics, and (my favorite) Fame - is the best comic actor and stand-up working today.

My best guess as to why his stand-up DVDs aren't available in North America is some distributor's misguided idea that North Americans won't get the jokes, thanks to references to Syd Little, Dawn French, Chris Tarrant, and the Chuckle Brothers. Who? Who cares? Whether you get the references or not, this stuff is frigging hilarious.

If you live in North America, do not be deterred: simply pick up a $40 all-region DVD player from Wal-Mart (I recommend the Philips one that says, "Plays all DVDs" on the box), order the three-DVD set from (along with "Zidane," a great film that will never be available here either), and prepare to laugh until you cry. At Gervais, not Zidane.

The order in which to watch these is the order in which they were released: Animals, Politics, and Fame. Animals is funny, Politics is funnier, and Fame is one of the best comedy DVDs I've seen. It truly rivals some of the best, Chris Rock's "Black and Blacker" included.

**Spoiler warning**

Highlights include Gervais' take (he calls it "a lecture") on:

- The Richard Gere urban legend, featuring a great act-out of Gere stroking a "nervous" hamster;

- A British anti-rape ad campaign ("What kind of society has to remind people not to rape?");

- His religion teacher, who says that "all the laws of the land are included in the Bible" (Gervais asks: "video piracy?");

- How a conversation between the first man with HIV and the monkey who gave it to him might've played out (given the choice between admitting to having sex with a monkey or eating a monkey, both man and monkey agree: "I ate 'em.").

Arguably, the best bit is Gervais' recounting of a taping of X-Factor, where he witnesses Sharon Osbourne repeatedly insult and humiliate TV presenter Chris Tarrant.

The NY show is devoid of these references and "North Americanized" to a certain extent. Still, I hope that it's a success; if it is, perhaps a larger tour of the continental U.S. and Canada will be in the cards. Here's to hoping.

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