Near the end of his latest hilarious HBO stand-up special, in which he irreverently deconstructed his childhood "Noah's Ark" storybook, Ricky Gervais turned almost serious and offered what we'll take as his philosophy of comedy.
"I think a comedian should take you to places you haven't been before, otherwise you could do it yourself," he said. "There's enough anodyne comedy out there... obvious stuff that doesn't make any difference at all."
Gervais also made clear that he has no patience for "this spate of comedians saying, 'sorry' when they go too far."
We'll keep his two-pronged approach – avoiding the obvious and saying what you think, damn the consequences – in mind this weekend as we prepare for a welcome double-dose of the Gervais wit, in a couple of very different forums.
"The Ricky Gervais Show" – an animated show in which he and writing partner Stephen Merchant banter with pal Karl Pilkington, a purveyor of bizarre theories – returns for a second season on HBO Friday.
Finding laughs in less-than-obvious places worked for Gervais in his original, UK version of "The Office," the show that made him a major comedy force. Instead of writing the usual mindless guffaw-a-minute sitcom, Gervais and Merchant employed the humor of the uncomfortable to wrench uneasy laughs out of a too-close-to-home, soul-crushing workplace.
He and Merchant found a different kind of humor in an even more unlikely source in Pilkington, a radio producer who believes “The Flinstones” is rooted in historical fact and who has an odd fascination with monkeys. Gervais and Merchant pick apart Pilkington's detailed ramblings, laughing more at him than with him, though he’s seemingly confident enough in his strange beliefs not to care that he’s the joke.
The no-apologies Gervais was on display in "Extras," his and Merchants' brilliant attack on shallow celebrity culture and fame, bringing in stars like Daniel Radcliffe, Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen to play obnoxious versions of themselves. The series ended with Gervais’ sell-out actor character fleeing a Reality TV show for has-beens.
Gervais' smart and fearless humor made last year's Golden Globes the most entertaining awards show in recent memory, as he targeted Mel Gibson’s drinking (he went easy on him knowing what we know now) and even hurled a divorce joke at a seeming sacred (tofu) cow like Paul McCartney.
We're looking forward to more unabashed puncturing of pretensions Sunday night, whether the celebs are in on the joke or not.
In the meantime, as we await a weekend of laughs, courtesy of Gervais, here are some final serious words about the state of humor from his HBO special:
"There's also a witch-hunt at the moment with people saying, 'Oh, is there anything we shouldn't make a joke about?'
"No – there's nothing you shouldn't joke about. It depends what the joke is....
"Comedy comes from a good or a bad place. It's up to you to decide what that is."
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, Miltie-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.