Review: Ricky Gervais, SuperNature, York Barbican, May 13

ARRIVING at York Barbican, and reaching instinctively for keys, mobile, coins, for the security check, there was a surprise in store.

"No need," said the smiling man by the revolving door. "It's not like it was for The Specials or UB40." And, so it is officially less dangerous to attend a Ricky Gervais gig than one by a veteran Midlands ska or reggae band. To be fair, no mention was made of "offensive weapons" by the doorman, and the only ones to be encountered by Monday's full house came from the mouth of notorious agent provocateur Ricky Gervais.

Often busy with television and film commitments, not to mention making an album or hosting awards ceremonies, Gervais's live stand-up shows are more sporadic. Nevertheless, the man from The Office, Extras, Derek and After Life talked Politics at the Grand Opera House in April 2004 and explored Humanity at York Barbican in in February 2017. Now he was completing a hat-trick of York visits, this time opening his SuperNature tour with two sold-out Barbican shows.

Last time, the Witney wit, actor, director and screenwriter tackled such taboo subjects as rape, death, terrorism and...nut allergies. This time the scathing, scabrous atheist Ricky would be taking a typically sceptical look at the absurdity of superstition, magic and all unsubstantiated beliefs, "all leading to a celebratory conclusion that nature is already super enough".

Not before Mark Watson, not even a week since his own gig, The Infinity Show, sold out Pocklington Arts Centre, was in the scraping the potatoes and washing the dishes role, telling you how good Ricky's show was going to be. He laughed at being a David Baddiel lookalike – or Sue Perkins if he shaved off his beard – and at being named as one of the 50 sexiest Jewish men on Twitter..."not bad for someone who's not even Jewish", he said. He's far too good to be a warm-up; do see his next show, To Infinity and Beyond, or whatever.

And so, the wait was over, here's Ricky, one lectern, jeans, black T-shirt, familiar girth and a can of lager, lager, lager. Back in 2004, the live format sat somewhat awkwardly on Gervais, but at 57, he is assured, at ease, self-deprecating, as he goes about his business of taking you up on the high wire of offence, and seeing if and when you will fall off.

Apparently, he has signed up for a Netflix special already, amusing himself that only seven or eight minutes of material would pass for inclusion: his observations on cats and dogs, the fluffy stuff among the acid-dipped spikes elsewhere.

Maybe his thoughts on Pro-life and the afterlife will make it through too, but the more base revelations on his use of a baby Hitler picture? Probably not. He is still the naughty schoolboy at heart, giggling at his own jokes, revelling in the discomfort of others, enjoying being snide and snotty. He loves animals more than humans. As a storyteller, he falls short of Dave Allen, Billy Connolly, Bill Bailey; as a putdown merchant, however, Ricky is up there with Richard III.

Charles Hutchinson

Ricky Gervais: SuperNature, York Barbican, tonight (May 14), 7.30pm. SOLD OUT