If you’re looking for a standup set about science, you’re better off with Robin Ince’s Happiness Through Science DVD than Ricky Gervais’ Science DVD because, as Gervais points out, Science is more “an investigation into the rational and non-rational” than it is cracks at Medel and his peas. However, if you’re in on Gervais’ irony (and you’d better be, as he went out of the way to come on to an ironic rock’n’roll light show), the set sits on top of the scientific method of thinking for yourself and not giving into stereotypes and phobias: If religious people’s problem with gay people is the promiscuity, then why ban marriage, a promise of monogamy? How can you fit more than five million species inside one ark? Should you take action if someone who looks like the terrorists in the Daily Mail boards your plane on the day the news estimates will be “another nine-eleven”?
Gervais’s “shock comic” style is surprising when you learn that he has said his biggest influences in standup have been Stewart Lee and Sean Lock. And likewise, in How I Escaped My Certain Fate, Lee says that Gervais is the first comic he ever felt jealous of because Gervais was doing the style Lee used to do when that style was unpopular and un-commercially viable, but Gervais was doing it when the timing was right and becoming very successful at it. And yet Stewart Lee’s bit on Islam was reviewed by the London Evening Standard as being “tediously politically correct” whereas Gervais spends a good portion of Science defending his use of the word “mong.” How are these the same styles? It’s this ability to say shocking things ironically that gives Gervais his name: God gives AIDS to babies, wanking off 15 men is like spinning plates, and a joke about pedophiles so astonishing that he couches it as something he inappropriately told at a dinner party when he was twenty-five. “There’s nothing you can’t make a joke about,” he says. It’s all to do with context. Comedy can either come from a good place or from a bad place. It’s a shame, though, the broader your audience gets as you become more famous, the larger the percentage of them will agree with your words but fail to see the irony.
The bonus features are the best part of all Ricky Gervais DVDs, from a documentary about Robin Ince to a stalker-esque commentary track to an interview with Karl Pilkington. Science features a second interview with Karl Pilkington, an interview with both Pilkington and Hollywood star Warwick Davis, and behind the scenes on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Now, there are pieces of Gervais’s set that sound like they were bought or stolen off Pilkington (or for the skeptics, proof that there’s no such person). For example, in a bit about the insurance’s claim that the volcano was “an act of God,” he mimes the insurance salesman ringing up God to check on this fact and quips that he’s surprised that God answers his own phone. This echoes Pilkington’s point that, counter to the Inside the Actor’s Studio assumption that God will be waiting for you at the pearly gates, if he owns the place, he wouldn’t be the one on the door. More of a direct lift, Gervais complains that a friend bought a goat for an African family on his behalf for a holiday present, saying that the African family is thinking, “Not another mouth to feed.” This was an exact quote from Pilkington on the radio, and honestly, when I saw him perform this bit in New York City a few years ago, it rubbed me the wrong way. I wondered, even if he legitimately bought the line off Karl, if he thought his fans wouldn’t recognize it.
Anyway, the bonus features are much more science-centric than the show itself, with Karl’s thoughts on the big bang (“Stephen Hawking is wasting his life thinking about things that don’t matter”), space (Karl reckons we should put our trash into space to create an “antiques roadshow of shit from years gone by”), and biology (Karl refuses to believe that slugs are evolved because otherwise why are they clogging up his shower?). We also learn that at age four, Karl used to poo in a litter tray under the stairs in the kitchen. Things just get weirder and weirder.
So, if you like squirmishly un-PC jokes with a splash of irony, pick up Science: Ricky Gervais Live IV on region 2/PAL DVD or Blu-Ray. You can also see it as part of HBO’s Ricky Gervais: Out of England II.