HE is known for courting controversy with his jokes and his tirades on Twitter.

And Ricky Gervais’s show at Manchester Apollo on Tuesday was no different with gags about cot death, Caitlyn Jenner and the minefield of transgender politics, paedophilia, terrorism, the merits of inviting Hitler to a dinner party and conspiring to deliberately set off someone’s extreme nut allergy.

But there is method to his madness. Gervais may be on his most ruthless form yet with his fifth and probably final stand-up world tour, Humanity, but he wants his audiences to be able to laugh at anything.

Most of the comedy here could be described as guilty laughs. But Gervais is at pains to make the distinction that making a joke about a bad thing is not the same as condoning it.

And the co-creator of The Office reckons if you can laugh at the worst things in life you can pretty much get through anything. It was food for thought as much as a night of a stand-up and even if you disagree with him he had a lot to say about the knee jerk, subjective nature of offence.

This neatly led to a discussion of the social media age with millions of people arguably reacting first and thinking later – all with the view their opinion is more valuable than anyone else’s in the ‘echo chamber’ that is Twitter.

The danger of huge celebrities like Gervais returning to stand-up is the hero worship factor. There was a little of that but without props or projections the star was at back to basics best – confident, cutting, compelling.

The Jenner jokes may have gone beyond comedy and into feud territory which has been ongoing since last year’s Golden Globes. But even that went on to become an interesting point about the culture of identity.

Another highlight was the atheist’s discussion about his Twitter debate with a creationist Christian from Texas. And the show’s finale was surprisingly and genuinely poignant, revealing a side we rarely see of Gervais and neatly tying up the show’s cutting but thought-provoking themes.