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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"RICKY GERVAIS: OUT OF ENGLAND"

If you're making a list of the funniest people on the planet, Ricky Gervais would have to be somewhere near the top. His British TV show "The Office" found an audience on DVD here in the States (and inspired a great American version), and his other series, HBO's "Extras," also got plenty of notice. However, audiences on these shores have never really had a chance to see Gervais doing his stand-up routine. That changes with the DVD release of Ricky Gervais: Out of England on March 31 from HBO Entertainment.

Recorded at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, the DVD features the comedian covering a wide array of topics, including his image in the media (he resents that the tabloids refer to him as a "tubby funster"), celebrities' egos, and even the Holocaust. For much of his show, Gervais takes on the persona of a clueless star, oblivious to the real world. Under this guise, he pokes some fun at the way famous people get involved in pet causes for selfish purposes. He also looks for hidden meanings in fairy tales. The moral of Humpty Dumpty: Don't ask horses to perform reconstructive surgery.

Out of England is funny all the way through. However, there are two bits that absolutely kill. One, which comes toward the end, finds him introducing the subject of "glory holes" and then segueing into a hysterical story about a childhood friend of his who had a humiliating experience with one. Gervais shows a real knack for storytelling with this routine, as he spends great care on the set-up so that the payoff gets maximum laugh value.

The other highlight - and the funniest part of the whole DVD - is an extended bit in which Gervais reads and comments on an outdated old AIDS prevention pamphlet that offers up some hilarious alternatives to unsafe sex. The pamphlet is funny in itself, but it's the comedian's dissection of the (odd) suggestions that proves to be comic gold. This 7-minute sequence made me laugh harder than I have in quite a while. I actually watched it twice because it was so clever.

Ricky Gervais: Out of England offers 72 minutes of first-rate stand-up comedy, plus an 11-minute bonus feature in which the star expounds on some of his routines and explains how he chooses his source material. The DVD shows one of our most innovative and technically skilled comedians at his very best. Gervais has mastered irony, sarcasm, and dry wit. As he says in the bonus interview, there's really no such thing as British humor, because funny is funny. And he ought to know.

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