Ricky Gervais is now being tossed about as a possible lead for the next movie to feature the Muppets. Anybody see a problem? The Muppets have always been a comedy team that depends on timing and pacing. The best comedic moments from the Muppets in both feature film and television form have been those that rely on a timing that sits halfway between the rapidity of the Marx Brothers and the slow burn of Jackie Gleason. Go too fast and things get a little too cartoonish, but slow down the pacing and Muppet bits die on the vine.
If there is one person in the world today guaranteed to slow down the Muppets and drain them of humor it would be Ricky Gervais. The humor of Gervais is based on pauses of an almost Pinteresque quality. Place too much space between the dialogue and physical slapstick of those Muppets and the comedy will vanish. Those spaces that gives Gervais his career can sometimes work, as in his very small part in "Night at the Museum." Those spaces have also proven capable of killing greatness when he is given too much rope. Witness his voice acting appearance on "The Simpsons." As has been the case with "The Simpsons" over the past few years, whenever a guest celebrity is given too big a part, the result can be disastrous. This truism came as a surprise with Sacha Baron Cohen's shockingly unfunny appearance, whereas the fact that the episode handed over to Lady Gaga sent the show to its all time low cannot have surprised anyone.
You never know whether you will get the funny Gervais or the annoying Gervais unless you know how big his part will be. Gervais was given far too big a part on his episode of "The Simpsons" and it ranks just barely above Gaga's. If the makers of the next Muppet film really feel they must tap into Gervais's elusive brand of comedy, then the best advice they can receive is to make his role a cameo. Not the human star or even a supporting player.
A cameo. Anything more than two or three minutes of Ricky Gervais in a Muppet movie is going to suck all the comedy right out of it.
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