Despite what the posters or the queue for overpriced beer may suggest, tonight is about far more than laughs. Indeed, after five years at the cutting edge of British comedy, this is a defining moment in the career of Ricky Gervais.
With Fame, he takes his stand-up to a third instalment, something that had been avoided with The Office and Extras. As Gervais has said of the difficult third series, “Its going to get criticised whatever isnt it?”.
Yet far from veering on the side of caution, the comedian is embarking on a two month UK-wide tour of the show, with plans to take it to the United States also. Again this breaks with the traditions of a man who has admitted to restricting his last two stand up tours to Londons Bloomsbury Theatre, because it was the closest venue to his home.
Throwing himself into such a commitment leaves 45 year-old Gervais slightly vulnerable, but vindication for such a move comes in acknowledging that this is the fastest-selling comedy tour in history. For the second consecutive night, Cardiffs enormous CIA is lined with rows of bog-standard folding chairs. Crowding into such seating gives the venue a distinct feel assembly hall feel, but the promise of such a special guest keeps the entire class in keen spirits.
With a mock Stars In Your Eyes introduction by Matthew Kelly, and Radiohead’s The Bends blaring out behind him, Gervais appears in a crown and robe, King of Comedy get up. This flamboyance is furthered as his stage props, a giant Emmy award and ‘Ricky’ in huge lit-up letters, come into view. Refreshingly, Gervais still holds a can of Carling, showing that even superstardom cannot detach a man from his Reading upbringing.
As with previous shows Animals and Politics, Fame takes the form of a comedic lecture, with Gervais using a broad title for discussion, and veering from it to touch upon his comedy staples, the disabled, the overweight, race and sexuality. Having examined teenage cancer charities and obesity sufferers, Gervais turns on the rich and famous, which is where his best material can be found.
Looking at the recent Celebrity Big Brother series, he questions the revelation of Ian ‘H’ Watkins’ sexuality (‘we were meant to go “Youre Joking!”‘) and takes a jibe at HarperCollins, publishers of Mein Kampf, who dropped Jade Goody’s new book because of concerns that it would be “a bit racist”.
The other angle of Fame is, naturally, Gervais himself. The ludicrous, and hilarious, side to the comics life is revealed through a string of personal anecdotes, which succeed through Gervais mastery of visual comedy. He uses Eddie Izzards method of stepping from one character to the other when re-creating a conversation, and knows when to throw in a brilliantly incredulous expression. These silent moments often generate the biggest laughs, as shown when producing a particularly apt portrayal of an embarrassed doctor trying not to notice an obvious wet patch on Gervais boxers. Most importantly, Gervais hesitates in the right places, showing a superb control that keeps the audience hooked to his every word.
Other parts of this 70 minute routine, however, are not quite as engaging. Keen followers of Gervais work, understandably expecting greatness, may be frustrated with the slightly predictable subject matter in his performance. The mere mention of Karl Pilkington, Gervais moronic producer from his XFM days and star of the all-conquering podcasts, raises applause. But to hear about the man second-hand is uninteresting; re-telling one of Karls unique interpretations of life, to my mind, has lost its novelty value. Also (those dazzling lights being very hard to ignore), the very outlay of the show smacks of an extreme self-importance.
Gervais is, in all probability, to be the defining comedian of his generation, but you get the feeling that, occasionally, he knows this too well. To know the value of his house, or how much he earned for charities last year, feels a little unnecessary and, moreover, is not actually funny.
Gervais does, none the less, counter this arrogance with intimate anecdotes involving his long-term partner Jane, revealing the simple man behind the visage. Furthermore, millions of pounds have been spent by us so we can sit and listen to the man talk about his life, so perhaps a certain pomposity is entitled. If this is to be our last experience of Ricky Gervais before he cements his worldwide stardom, then the memory will be a very fond one indeed.