Ricky Gervais has a lot to say. And when he is in such fine fettle; confident, content, and with a roaring and palpable enthusiasm it would be a crime to stop him.
First and foremost on Gervais’ mind is his return to stand-up with Humanity after a seven year gap. Gervais’ decision not to rush back to performing has reaped a huge reward, too. Not just financially and critically, as Humanity has been his most lucrative and critically acclaimed show to date. But also because Gervais’ love for performing has been reinvigorated. So much so that he now prefers being a stand-up comedian to writing, directing or acting.
“When I first started out I always felt it was my second or third job. I thought of myself as a writer/director first, maybe even an actor next. I loved doing stand-up. I always enjoyed it. Now it is the favorite thing I do. There’s just nothing like it. Particularly for someone like me who really likes to auteur everything and be in charge and I am a control freak, there is nothing like it. With stand-up I just go: ‘I’m gigging tomorrow night.’ Tickets sell out in a minute, and I say what the fu** I want. I have just fallen back in love with it.”
“I look forward to the gig even more than I did. In the past there were some routines that I didn’t love. But now every bit of the gig I love because they love it. I really enjoy them enjoying it. They choose your best hour and a half. When I write a sitcom or a film I do my best guess, and I put it out there. And I can’t change it. With this I can change from night to night. On paper it might be the same thing. But in performance it just gets richer and better. You just keep adding to the canvas.”
Gervais’ love is much deeper than simply having complete control, though. He knows that he has never been better as a stand-up, and his comments suggest this is just the beginning.
“I think I am good at it now. That shouldn’t be a revelation. It should take 15 years to be a really good stand-up. I thought I was good at it. Every step along the way I knew I was getting better. Now I just realize, ‘Ah, I was OK before. But now I am a real stand-up’.”
“You have got to put the work in. You've got to have something to say. You can’t just do the same show for 10 years. You’ve got to mean it. You’ve got to grow with it as well.”
There’s also a deeper connection between Gervais and his audience, and he even goes as far as to describe their back and forth as “two mates talking.”
“The audience has known me for 15 years. Now I can go further and they’re with me, because they know me and they know what I am doing. The other thing is anticipation. If people wait seven years to get a ticket once they get one it means the crowd is great, and the atmosphere has been amazing. It has easily been my favorite tour. The best audiences. The fastest selling. Everything has been great.”
It’s clear that, as a stand-up, Gervais has never felt more fulfilled, passionate or expressive. All of which, he insists, is reflected in the material. “This is much realer. This is much more me. I talk about my family and upbringing. The big thing about it is the demise of humanity because of the rise of stupidity. This post-truth theory where people think their opinion is as much as a fact. The rise on social media of, ‘It’s more important to be popular than right.’ No-one looks at an argument any more. They just look at who is saying it. Everyone has a side.”
Gervais’ disdain isn’t just reserved for the far right, though, as he makes it clear that he also has an issue with the liberal left, too.
“Both sides are guilty. The world we’ve got now exists because both sides are tired of being told what to do by authoritarian liberals. The more you tell someone not to say that the more they’re going to want to say it. People have got to grow up … I don’t really get political. What I do pick on is the stupidity of something, whoever is saying it. I do try and deconstruct, everything from PC culture.”
“In the early days of Twitter someone would get hounded off because they used the wrong word. They’re not villains they just didn’t know. On the other side you have people that hate PC culture because they want to be racist. There is bad on both sides.”
“It is tribal now. That’s exactly what has happened. No one looks at the actual argument anymore, they look at who is saying it … Every person has 100 different opinions. I go across left and right. I consider myself a leftie liberal. But it is all mixed up now. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. What we have done is we have fallen to the two extremes. If you’re not a left liberal, you are a fascist.”
The mere utterance of that sentence provokes Gervais to break into his famous laugh.
“There is a lot in between. Obviously it is the extremes on both sides that make the rest of their sides have to bear the brunt. Where most people are all right. Most people are right in the middle.”
Appealing to and dissecting both sides of the aisle has clearly galvanized Gervais, who even before Humanity was regarded as one of the most incisive comedic minds of his generation. Now it sounds as though that was just the beginning. As Gervais is not just at the height of his powers, but is probably more vital than he has ever been before.
Ricky Gervais performs Humanity at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday October 25.