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Ricky Gervais Scores Again, This Time with HBO Standup Special

Ricky Gervais, co-creator of Extras and the original British version of The Office, goes it alone this weekend, starring in his first U.S. standup special and featuring only his own material.

And what material it is – delivered almost effortlessly, it seems, with a casualness that distracts from both how well-written, and how outrageous, it really is.

Ricky Gervais: Out of England,  premiering Saturday night at 9 on HBO, takes on targets you wouldn’t think anyone could get away with poking fun at, including Stephen Hawking, nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks. But Gervais does it, in part because he seldom breaks character, and encourages audiences to laugh at him as well as with him.

Watching this 75-minute solo special, you’ll do plenty of both.

It’s stunning, in one way, that Gervais can take an actual artifact, a public-service postcard from the early days of AIDS, and mine this “found comedy” item for several minutes’ worth of observations, questions, reenactments and very big laughs. Yet it works because his delivery is so quietly conversational – an effect enhanced by the headphone microphone he uses in lieu of the standard-issue hand mike.

In standup, Jerry Seinfeld points out odd little behaviors and irritations, comments on them, and moves on. Ricky Gervais takes a similar approach, but is more of a comedic pit bull: once he locks onto something, it takes a long time for him to let go. And somehow, when the first and second punch lines eventually lead to the eleventh and twelfth ones, the whole bit becomes even funnier as a result.

The Office, Extras and now Out of England – when it comes to making brilliant TV comedy, Ricky Gervais is now an uncanny, astoundingly impressive 3 for 3.