Whirl had her birthday at the beginning of this month. Along with that particular event came “All The Unpleasantness” regarding gall stone attacks. So I wanted to do something fun for her for her birthday. While I was walking north up State Street one afternoon late last month, I noticed the name Ricky Gervais on the marquee of the Chicago Theater. He was planning three nights of stand-up in Chicago for the first time in his career. I said to myself, “Self, that sounds like a birthday present, it does.”

I stop by the box office, get my pick of seats, and in three minutes the deal is done. All without the obligation to contend with Ticketmaster “convenience” charges. (They keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they think it means.)

I first learned about Ricky Gervais nearly six years ago while working with Midway’s London office. The NBC television series “The Office” was set to premiere and my British colleagues were quick to disabuse me of the notion that this was original material. They quickly educated me about the original BBC version of the show and when later in 2005 while working in London and Newcastle I had an opportunity to catch a few episodes on borrowed DVDs. Whirl and I have watched all of the original BBC and the ongoing American versions of “The Office” series. We thoroughly enjoyed the short-lived HBO series “Extras” and his first standup tour recorded for HBO, “Out of England”. But we had never seen him perform live. He’d never come to Chicago to perform before last night.

Gervais’ show at the Chicago Theater was fantastic. I felt there was an air of authenticity to the show that broke through the perception of performance. And that’s not an easy task given the nature of the room. The Chicago Theater is an ornate space, one that reinforces with every turn and detail that the audience is here to be entertained. To see a show. But I never felt like Gervais was putting on a show. It just seemed like he was telling funny stories. Cringe-worthy, outrageously funny stories. Maybe it was because he occasionally broke up this structure to discuss the very nature of comedy, or to explain that there was a particular exclusivity to what we were seeing. After all, he was testing new material and would throw out the “shit bits” that didn’t work. We’d be the only ones to ever get to see that part of the act.

John Dugan posted an excellent review of last night’s show for Time Out Chicago. Chris Jones posted another for the Chicago Tribune.

They’re planning to film the performances tonight and tomorrow night. And when we spoke with the ushers before the show last night, the second two shows are nearly sold out. But if you get an opportunity to come down and see him, do. If you cannot, listen to the “Ricky Gervais Guide to The English” at The Guardian.

On photography note, the promotional art for the tour was shot by Dirk Rees in April 2009 for an article for Shortlist magazine. It was retouched by The Operators. The red cross on Gervais’ face is for St. George’s Day. I think it is a fantastic, inspirational portrait.