First Night: Ricky Gervais: Science, Edinburgh Playhouse
Wednesday 26 August 2009
Two years ago Ricky Gervais shrugged off criticism for a poor performance at the Concert for Diana by making a bold as brass entrance to his Edinburgh Castle show, wearing a crown and sharing the stage with a pair of giant Golden Globe replicas. This year the comedian entered the festival city buoyed by a burgeoning Hollywood career, something that he was happy to wave in our faces with some introductory trailers, one of which featured his new film The Invention of Lying. The message, as ever, was 'look at me I am a big star and see how I ironically bask in that status'.
As with Animals, Politics and Fame, Science bears little or no relation to the content of the show, rather it is an excuse to set the stage as Frankenstein's castle laboratory. Of course, what's in a name if the material is good? Certainly Gervais starts evenly enough, in particular with an amusing tale of watching Ken Dodd perform in Regents Park alongside a sexually excited female fan. The routine builds to Gervais making a bizarre soundscape of Dodd's trademark groans and the moans of this over-amorous lady mixed in with Gervais' own gasping bewilderment.
Inevitably, in what follows, there is a large measure of trademark tongue-in-cheek political incorrectness. So for example, Gervais wants to keep the goat that his friends have gifted an African family in his name. This kind of shtick falls down for me, however, when he describes the only time he found himself drinking and driving. Remarking that he nearly knocked over an old woman he adds: "I didn't though... I raped her." Gervais says that this is his "favourite" joke, but it is ill-judged to say the least.
When you go from this rape joke to a joke about how spiders look like they are "always ready" you can see how out of context this routine is as well as showing how unstructured Science is. In many shows themes and ideas weave in and out and, as a reviewer or an audience member, you are able to pick up threads and tie them together in a number of ways. With Science you might as well talk about it chronologically, as a timeline is the show's only binding.
By far the longest section of the show is a dissection of an old school book Gervais recently found that tells the story of Noah's Ark. This fable is every atheists dream, of course, and something that is a very easy comic target and one that is revisited often, Eddie Izzard's latest show being a case in point. Trashing it perhaps is the only part of the show that links to science in the sense that this tale is irrational and his embroidery is attempting to undermine it. "Toucans fly! Get their first!" he exclaims pointing at a projected image from the book of the birds walking to the ark.
Weakly lampooning a couple of Oscar Wilde quotes and noting that swearing would be out of place on the news or Antiques Roadshow are just some of the gems that come between Noah and the end of this 75 minute show. Perhaps Hollywood, the reason why Gervais stock has risen lately is also why his latest stand up offering is his most disappointing.
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