Ricky Gervais: Creative Genius or Distorting the Stand-Up Industry?

Ricky Gervais’s new set, Humanity, gave me a rare insight into the creative world of comedy and performance. Having never been to a stand-up show before, I was sceptical of what was to come, especially due to the dark humour that Gervais is known for. While I enjoyed the experience, it got me wondering about the comedians out there that are less successful, and how the big-hitters like Gervais can distort the stand-up scene.

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Gervais in his natural habitat

Held at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, the presence of Gervais was evident as his fans queued eagerly while the atmosphere brewed with excitement. When he finally appeared on stage with a can of Foster’s in hand, it was no doubt that this comedian has made a large, successful career for himself as the audience clapped in awe.

Indeed, Gervais has become an icon of comedy and a well-known household name, presenting an image of the UK comedy industry as glamourous and fun. Ricky himself, however, diverts away from this celebrity-mediated image as he simply comments upon the creative ethos behind the industry, suggesting “I was always creative” and “creativity is the ability to play“.

The controversial jokes that were touched upon during the performance include the sensitivities of transgender celebrities, rape and African children, to name a few. This has created a unique and of course controversial reputation for Ricky. The comedian also highlights his ‘creative play’ outside of performing through social media platforms, using Twitter for “just playing; mucking about for the hell of it” and “having a YouTube channel to dick around on“. He acknowledges that the ‘haters’ are actually adding to his reputation and success as he Tweets:

While Gervais has built up a large reputation as a comedian, the realities of the comedy and performance industries are far from this glamorous image. Ricky insists that “creativity is the ability to play” and “you have to let yourself go to be creative“, but, of course, not everyone has the same success of the Ricky Gervais brand even if they do build their creativity around the ethos of ‘play’.

It is stated that the UK had a “thriving and creative comedy scene” in 2014, however, this may only apply to the big-hitters that perform in the massive venues around the country. While Ricky’s ideas behind creative play legitimise the skills required for the creative industry, this distorts the scene as many creative comedians struggle to get their foot in the door of this competitive industry. Certainly, while many would dream of performing at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, they are more used to smaller comedy venues, such as Jongleurs Comedy Club in Cardiff or the local bars which host stand-up events.

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The realities of the stand-up scene

The hopeful stand-up comedians come in “hordes” in the increasingly crowded market, which means that the creative comedians are becoming increasingly underemployed and underpaid. This is evidenced by Sam Larner, who explains to Vice: “I often wonder why I do something that makes me a minimal amount of money and offers little in the way of what you might call success”.

Sam suggests that he cannot call himself a ‘pro’ as “the vast majority of your gigs will be done in front of an audience of comedians who are performing before or after you”, let alone actually charging people to see his performance. This is in comparison with Ricky’s Humanity performance in Cardiff which was bustling and atmospheric due to the 10,000 seat capacity with fans all paying nearly £40 for a ticket.

While the big-hitting comedians like Gervais are using their platforms to promote controversial comedy in large venues and make considerable amounts of money, the other creatives of the industry are losing hope due to being underemployed, underpaid and as it seems, underappreciated. It is due to this that a better involvement with local and upcoming talented creatives is needed in order to prevent the industry from becoming too distorted.

To relish in all kinds of stand-up comedians, there are a number of local Cardiff comedy clubs and bars where you will be sure to have a cracker of an evening:

Use the hashtag #cardiffcomedians to document the antics of your night!


Photo credits:

Featured Image – By Matt Hobbs (Ricky Gervais @ Tribeca Performing Arts #1) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Flickr

Ricky Gervais Performing – By Matt Hobbs (Ricky Gervais @ Tribeca Performing Arts #2) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Stand-Up Comedy Stage – Carlos Delgado [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons