Ricky Gervais Massey Hall, Toronto ON, July 14

Ricky Gervais Massey Hall, Toronto ON, July 14
Photo: Geoff Fitzgerald
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Ricky Gervais ended the first show of a three-night stint at Toronto's Massey Hall, in the middle of his "Humanity Tour," with an endearing and hilarious tale of his siblings wringing humour and pathos from his mother's funeral, then imparted some wisdom from his brother Bob: "If you think something's funny, you've got to say it."
 
The line is a handy little summary for this tour, on which Gervais grapples largely with the concept of "offense": Who gives it, who takes it and why. His set is filled with railing against the easily offended, those who don't get the nuance of his jokes or, at least, can't settle down long enough to allow themselves to.
 
Great comedians can make you laugh at things you shouldn't, and in the best moments, Gervais does. His bit about his hypothetical child dying suddenly, and his reaction, were hilarious, as was his bit about "the good old days" of being a pedophile.
 
Yet for all of Gervais's talent and wit, no matter how you slice it, it's hard to figure one standard for whether something should be offensive — that the subject of a joke isn't necessarily the target of a joke, a concept he discussed twice — applies to a joke that refers to Melissa McCarthy as a "beast."
 
Gervais mentioned a few times how he's been wrongly accused of being "out of touch," but it was hard to listen to 20 minutes of him literally explaining why a joke about Caitlyn Jenner (Caitlyn Jenner? Still?) isn't offensive without feeling that way yourself. After all: If you have to explain a joke, can it really be that funny?
 
There were a few moments like this, where Gervais's logic caught up with him. At one point, during a bit about a Twitter quarrel in which a Texan bigot suggested Gervais get raped by Satan and, as a result of retweeting it, was accused of finding rape funny, Gervais quipped about how he couldn't believe that he was defending a man's right to say that. One couldn't help but think that Gervais could have spent just a little more time unpacking that notion: Why amplify a bigot when free speech gives you the chance to make people think?
 
Gervais's self-examination makes for some of his best comedy, but bits about his wealth and physical appearance stopped short of getting at the deeper questions that might truly challenge his audience and himself. And when he punched outwards, his jokes too often relied on stereotypes that Gervais insists he's unpacking and challenging, even when he's just getting a cheap laugh from likening his "Identifying as a chimp" to Jenner's gender transition.