HBO // 2008 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // March 31st, 2009
"Here comes the chubby funster!"
By the time most comedians hit it big in TV and movies, they've spent years on the improv or stand-up circuits. Ricky Gervais is not most comedians. He burst onto British Television in 2001 with smash hit mockumentary The Office after working in radio and as a music advisor at the BBC. From The Office, Gervais went on to the critically acclaimed series Extras, co-created the world's most-downloaded podcast, won a host of awards, wrote a children's book, and appeared in big-budget Hollywood movies -- saving stand-up until after he became famous.
After three record-setting UK tours -- 2003's Animals, 2004's Politics, and 2007's Fame -- Gervais cobbled together the best routines from those shows and brought his stand-up to America. Ricky Gervais -- Out of England: The Stand-Up Special captures a 2008 performances at the WaMu Theater in Manhattan. It's crude, biting, politically incorrect, and absolutely hilarious.
If you've seen either of Gervais's BBC series, you know he isn't afraid to broach taboo subjects. If you've heard any of his podcasts (which, incidentally, I had to stop listening to while driving to work for fear I was going to crash because I was laughing too hard), then you know just how far he's willing to go with a joke. In Out of England, Gervais takes full advantage of his freedom onstage, tackling career-killing topics like incest, the Holocaust, and AIDS.
The reason he's able to make dangerous material funny is because he's playing a modified version of the clueless and egotistical characters that made him famous. When he calls teenaged cancer survivors "little bald f***ers" or says he respects Nelson Mandela because he hasn't re-offended, he knows that we know he's not serious. As he points out in the bonus interview, he's able to get away with a lot because his audience already likes him. Lucky thing, too. Most comedians wouldn't make it out of the theater if they called Anne Frank "lazy" for never writing a sequel.
Out of England isn't for the easily offended. Though there's plenty of warning in Gervais's previous work, casual Office fans might not expect this many jokes about masturbation and anal sex with chimpanzees. To be fair, only a handful of routines go into really murky waters. For every bit about a school friend who got caught pleasuring himself, there are jokes about unclear moral messages in popular nursery rhymes, the British tabloids' obsession with his weight, and bizarre animal facts.
The best thing about Gervais, on stage or on screen, is his unique comedic voice. He strikes a delicate balance between affable schlub and razor-sharp wit, and much of what he does feels improvised, even when it isn't. One of the best bits on the disc is a story a physical exam that turns into a flustered tangent about the size of his penis. The more he stammers, backtracks, and corrects himself, the clearer it is every facial tic is planned out in advance.
Out of England is also proof that Gervais doesn't get enough credit as a physical comedian. Though he spends much of the hour pacing from one side of the stage to the other (stopping occasionally to nip behind a podium for a sip from a can of Foster's beer), his storytelling is punctuated by some bit of pantomime that elevates whatever joke he's telling. It's one thing to describe the Coast Guard going out to sea to confront an elephant that's swimming illegally; it's another to show it.
The only downside to Out of England is that some diehard Gervais fans will have already heard most of it. The performance is a self-professed "greatest hits collection" from his British tours, which got their own DVD releases overseas. If, however, you live outside the UK and haven't seen the other specials, this is a great place to start.
Out of England runs a full 72 minutes, which is pretty good for a stand-up comedy special. It almost makes up for the fact that there's only one bonus feature: a 10-minute "Conversation with Ricky Gervais" promotional piece, where he talks briefly about subjects ranging from British versus American comedy, his influences, and comedy taboos. His insights are fascinating; too bad we don't get more of them.
The presentation is a capable-looking widescreen with 2.0 stereo sound. You won't feel like you're there, but you won't be sorry you bought the DVD either.
Out of England begins with Gervais emerging from behind a curtain to fireworks and fanfare, sweeping across stage in a regal crown-and-cape combo before stopping in front of 15-foot-tall lighted letters that spell out RICKY. "Not too over the top is it?" he asks.
Not at all.
Ricky Gervais is this century's finest British comedic export and we thank them for sharing him. Go out and pick up Out of England: The Stand-Up Special. Ricky needs the money so he can build that gate to keep the autistic kids off his lawn. Don't worry, I'm sure he's only kidding.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated