Friday, March 20, 2009

An interesting line appears in Anthony Quinn's Independent review of Lesbian Vampire Killers (I do love a good rom-com), starring Mathew Horne and James Corden. Says Quinn: "A loveable pair of mates in Gavin and Stacey, here they have flagrantly overstretched their appeal, and now look in danger of becoming the Hale and Pace de nos jours".

I'm afraid that Horne and Corden can only dream of being the new Hale and Pace. I've caught a few editions of Hale and Pace on Men & Motors recently, and they're actually half-decent sketch shows. Proper jokes, good solid comic performances and all the stuff that seems to be an optional extra in a lot of TV comedy now. The lows are pretty low, but the highs consist of good material, put over with gusto. I remember being underwhelmed at the time, but they stand up surprisingly well, especially in comparison to most of what we've been getting in recent years.

Talking of what passes for comic genius now, I've just stumbled across this unpublished article, written for the Oldie's Rant column. The editor decided, probably quite reasonably, that attacks on individuals weren't the sort of thing he wanted to include, and so persuaded me to write about people who take up the bike space on trains with their luggage instead, Anyway, here it is:


Like God and poverty, Ricky Gervais is everywhere. Otherwise sane and rational adults rave about Extras, while believing The Office to be neither as clever nor funny as its creators thought is pure H.M. Bateman material. Sadly, I can’t see or hear him without wanting to put an anvil through my television. Not being a blacksmith and knowing how to switch off, order is maintained, but I still wonder how such a mugging ninny became the saviour of television comedy.

Admittedly, he came in at a perfect juncture, with commissioners actively seeking out the unfunny. Channel 4’s Eleven O’Clock Show was one of the worst comedy programmes ever made and Gervais was the best thing on it. Amid such rubbish, a mediocre comic could only shine.

His stand-up act relies heavily on jokes about race and disability. I can’t work out what winds me up more: being told that something is never a suitable subject for humour or a middle-class white man doing darkie and spaz jokes behind a slender and not entirely convincing veil of irony. He’s just Bernard Manning with a better tailor and worse timing.

His supporters say he does comedy of embarrassment. It seems more to me like the comedy of inflating his ego. When David Bowie appeared in Extras and sang an insulting song about Gervais’ character, it seemed self-deprecating, but the subtext seemed more like “I’m a major celebrity, these are my major celebrity friends who want to be in my hit show. I own entertainment”.

Why do I know so much about his work? I’m a big comedy fan, and I want to enjoy new things. Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m missing something? So I watch him, hoping to be dazzled, and each time conclude that everyone else is mad, misguided and stupid. Time to visit Anvils R Us.


Nearly 3 years after I wrote that, people whose opinions I otherwise respect still can't see Gervais for the chancer he is, a man who's made a very meagre endowment of talent go an unfeasibly long way. Am I missing something or is everyone else wrong?


LibraDoodle said...

At the risk of setting my face against a wonderful piece, I found myself both nodding in agreement at the main thrust of your argument and at the same time thinking of RG's stand up show in which he fillets the creation myth and which made me laugh said face off.

You do of course have a point and as ever put it well, but there is some funny in the man, despite much evidence to the contrary, not least "The Office" which I loathed from start to finish.

Your tag for the piece is genius by the way.

Mark X said...

I have much the same opinion of Gervais, and have done ever since The 11 O'clock Show. However, it's only recently dawned on me just how much I'm overcoming about his act in order to dislike him.

Take the Extras Christmas special. He spends a lot of time in that making cheap digs at other comedians he doesn't like (mainly Peter Kay and Catherine Tate), along with comedians who already have plenty of money yet still see fit to rent themselves out to any ad agency willing to contact their agent. I'm regularly infuriated by lazy catchphrase-heavy comedians like Catherine Tate! I somehow feel slightly betrayed each time I hear Hugh Laurie's voice tacked onto the end of an advert for Tiscoli Broadband! Additionally, I find it endlessly entertaining when Stewart Lee does pretty much the same thing.

Similarly, I should be won over by the fact that he's willing to include oodles of UK-centric jokes in the HBO edits of Extras. While several edits are made (references to Kate Adie become nods to Katie Kouric, for instance), jokes that completely rely on knowing who Hale & Pace, Moira Stewart or Ronnie Corbett are remain intact. However, the charmless air that Gervais manages to exude (including the way he generally dismisses all other British comedy every time the likes of Jay Leno asks him about his influences) manages to outweigh all that, and I find myself watching each episode of Extras (and previously The Office) in the faint hope I'll somehow finally tune into to the global joke that everyone else seems to understand apart from me.

Phil Norman said...

He's a fine example of the fact that the number one quality you need in modern comedy is ambition (or a good agent). It'll be interesting to see how long he can keep his current phase going, that of being a jobbing Hollywood actor who makes sure his every small triumph is PA-ed to the UK broadsheets like a kind of all-year-long round robin letter. ('Gervais scouted for Oscar presentation role! (er, along with about 2,000 other LA residents.)')

His dismissal of Britain rings hollow for me - on this evidence, he cares what we think about him more than anything else. You don't get all this with Craig Ferguson.

Matthew Rudd said...

Phil's right, so all I can add is that Ricky Gervais is a complete twat. I think Phil forgot that bit...