RICKY GERVAIS speaks with us about his GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS hosting duties, “The Office”, “The Ricky Gervais Show” and much more. I’ve always been a fan of Ricky’s work and I loved him as Dr. Ben in “Louie” this season. Ricky is such an amazing person and I am looking forward to all of his upcoming projects and watching him host “The 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards” on January 16, 2011 on NBC.
Q: I love how a lot of the Americans didn’t get the reference during your last hosting gig to Extras when you made the comment to Kate Winslet about the Holocaust. I’m hoping you’re going to have some more stuff like that coming up.
Ricky Gervais: Do you mean references that no one understands? I’ve got loads of those. Without them knowing it. Yes, that was an episode of Extras where Kate Winslet played a twisted version of herself of course and she was only doing a Holocaust movie to win an Oscar. And it came true which was I honestly couldn’t believe my luck when that happened. I don’t think – a funny thing happened actually at the – it was the Globes before that and Tom Hanks was telling me that he was on his way to work and he was listening to the radio and he must’ve just tuned in and they were playing a clip from the Extras that Kate Winslet was in. And she was saying, “Yes. I mean, you know, do we need another Holocaust movie?” I mean – and he thought it was an interview. He didn’t realize. He hadn’t seen the show. So he thought Kate Winslet was on the radio saying she’d only done a Holocaust film to win an Oscar. And he went around telling everyone, “What is she thinking? What is she thinking?” And then his producer said, “Tom, that must’ve been a clip from the show.” And then he went, “All right. Okay.” And he’d spent the whole day going around telling people that Kate Winslet had lost her mind. It’s great, isn’t it? So will I be – I don’t think I was too bad. I don’t think I went far enough. I think people know me now and they know – I think comedy comes from a good or a bad place. And I think however cheeky or out there or, you know, taboo subjects and dark places I take them, I think they know it comes from a good place with me. The last thing I want to do is genuinely offend anyone. I couldn’t live with myself. So I want the victims of the joke to like it as well. I don’t see any victory in going out and being awful and shocking. That’s too easy. I mean it’s 5 o’clock on network TV. You don’t have to – I mean, people couldn’t believe I went out with a beer. So if that’s still shocking in this day and age, there is no victory in just being shocking. I think you’ve got to be interesting and engaging and, you know, I try and do it with a twinkle in my eye and a smile on my face. So hopefully I can go even further this year and still not be chased out of the country.
Q: As much as I love Extras, I feel that you really did it justice in the way that it ended. And so I’d like to see since you are the creator of The Office, what are the chances we could get Darren Lamb to lose his job at Carphone Warehouse, become the boss and Karl Pilkington can come in as assistant to the regional manager.
Ricky Gervais: Well they are – the chances of both of those in either order are slim to none. I don’ think – well Karl certainly wouldn’t take it. I mean it takes all of my efforts for Karl to do anything. Karl is looking forward to being old so he doesn’t have to do anything. He actually said that. He’s looking forward to being old because old people are left alone. I go, “What do you mean?” He said, “If you’re old you can sit in the street in an armchair and no one gives you a dirty look for being lazy.” So that’s ambition to be old so he doesn’t have to do anything anymore. So he certainly won’t take it. No, Steve wouldn’t do it and nor would I. The thing is me and Steve get paid for doing nothing, so why would we work for it, you know? We’ve made so much money off Steve Carell. He’s like a big goose that lays golden eggs for us. Now we need some other schmuck to come along and get up at 6 o’clock every day for seven years.
Q: How did you feel that things went last year hosting the Globes? Were there things you learned from that that you’ll apply this year?
Ricky Gervais: That’s why I’m doing it again. I had such a great time but like anything you do for the first time you go, “Oh, let me do it again. I can do it better. I can do it better.” Do you know what I mean? It’s like the first time I had a go at golf I wanted to go around again because I said, “No, I can do it now. I can do it now.” So, yes, I want to give it one more go. I think it went well. I really enjoyed myself. I think I pitched it about right but as I said I think I can go a little bit further. I don’t know I just think I can really go out and really throw away the shackles of worry. I mean I don’t mean I’m going to go out and again get drunk and, you know, have absolutely no planning or input. But I think I can certainly have more fun with it and I think I can have more fun with the room as well. I also sort of gave myself this weird restriction that I wrote it like a few days before in about an hour all my – all the lines, right. And if you noticed, that all the lines are about the people that are about to come out. And I’ve realized I can reference anyone in the room. I can look down and just go, right; I can go for anyone here. So I probably made it a little bit harder for myself than I could have. So I’m going to have even more fun with it, probably go a bit further, push the boundaries a little bit more. I think you always should. And I, you know, what’s the worst that could happen? I didn’t expect to be invited back a second time and I certainly – and I won’t do it a third. So I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve got nothing to lose. So, yes, I’m going to go for it.
Q: This is sort of a season of sequels for you because in addition to doing the Golden Globes a second time you also have a second stand-up special airing this month and I’m wondering, did you approach that with a specific aim as well?
Ricky Gervais: Well I don’t know. I suppose you always – I’ve carried the same sensibilities with me all my life. But you evolve. I suppose I deal with trying to say something challenging and interesting. You know, I think a comedian’s job isn’t just to make people laugh, it’s to make them think. I’m not a lever of broad anodyne comedy. You know, I don’t see just going out there and saying things the audience could think themselves and often have, there’s a place for that. But I also feel a responsibility, you know, I’m playing venues where people come out and there are tens of thousands and they’ve traveled a long way and they’ve got a babysitter and they’ve found a car parking space and paid $70 or whatever and I think that I better have something special to say. So I always try and be different. As I say I always try to be quite challenging. I mean I want people to laugh and I want to gasp as well. I get as big a buzz from gasp as I do a belly laugh. But I think I do stuff that I’m proud of as well. And there’s six billion people in the world. So if you do something for you that’s a nice single vision and not like anything else, there’s enough people to go, “That was great. I haven’t seen that before.” That’s, you know, I think I want to people’s favorite comedian as opposed to in a mob. I wanted The Office to people’s favorite sitcom as opposed to, you know, watched by loads of people and their tenth favorite. So you always feel that, you know, I think that’s true of all art that originality is the most important thing and I think that makes – that will find a connection. The point of art is to make a connection with someone else, another human being that you may never meet or whatever, but I think the size of that connection with the individual is important. And I think you do that by being true to yourself. And if you’re true to yourself you are different to everyone else and I think you won’t be homogenized and watered down and, you know, like ten other acts. So and I did – I suppose I did have a revelation this time around that I did sort of think this is a privilege. I mean with stand-up it was the fourth or fifth thing I did. You know, I mean in my list of things that I consider myself, a stand-up was probably fourth, you know, and now I think it’s great. I love the fact that it’s outside the novel or something, it’s the last bastion of self-censorship. You know, what a privilege to be able to say anything you want to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people. So that’s how I approached it. And now I can’t wait for my next stand-up because I can go, “No, I know where I went wrong there. I can be even better this time.” And I think you should. It’s like, you know, every day I become conscious for the first time. I know how to improve. I know what excites me now. Every day is a new day and you want to improve. It’s like, you know, you can rub out the blackboard and start again. I mean those things still exist, right, but you can say, “Right, today I ‘m going to do my best work ever from now on.” And I say that every day. It’s also the sequel to the animation as well which starts on the 14th of January. So yes, second Globes, second special and second – and I think I’m better second time around. I genuinely think that. I do. And I think me and Stephen write things that are on their second viewing and we write them with that in mind and we were very conscious of that with The Office. We were putting in jokes that we thought people wouldn’t even see the first time around but we said, “You know what, someone will see them the fifth time they watch it.” And what a compliment people have listened to the podcasts five times or watched The Office five times or, you know, so, yes, it should be a good year. The year of the sequel.
Q: Some comedians don’t like it if they tell a joke where the audience is either hushed or mixed reaction or a little bit you could tell they didn’t like the joke. But when you tell one that’s just gets a little bit of a gasp we see like a smile on your face or something. Do you genuinely enjoy it? Do you anticipate when you do one that the audience is going to have a mixed reaction to? Do you realize they’re going to do that ahead of time?
Ricky Gervais: Because I think comedy and drama are different branches of the same tree. You know, it doesn’t matter whether you’re watching a horror film or hearing a joke, it’s the surprise that’s the good bit. It’s the bit you didn’t expect. And as I said, I don’t consider myself just a comedian. People watch things I do and they go, “That wasn’t very funny.” And I want to go, “No, it wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t meant to be.” Some of my favorite things, they’re not belly laughs. They’re just watching with a warm feeling. You know, I – you know, The Office wasn’t just a comedy, it wasn’t (knock) about comedy. We purposely – we took out some jokes. We took out some big events. We took out some great plotlines because it interfered with the reality or it interfered with the romance or it interfered with the existential mood of the piece. You know, you’ve got to take the whole package and something you put in takes away something else, something that you take away makes something stronger. And so it’s my choices that count as a writer and a director. No one else’s. So it’s all or nothing. People can’t cherry-pick. They’re not allowed to cherry-pick, not in art, you know. You can do that with a menu but you can’t do it in art. You take it all. And if people say, “Oh, I wish you’d done this.” I say, “Well you make it yourself. You do your own show. You do your own show and you can have it exactly as you want it because that’s how my shows turn out, exactly as I want them.” And when I’m – of course I know that gasp is coming and but it’s there for a reason. It makes a point. And comedy is a release. Let’s not forget that. Comedy is a release. That’s why we do it because it’s obviously it’s the industry built out of humor and the reason we have humor is to get through. You know, the reason we have humor in our evolution is to get us through adversity. And it’s no coincidence that some of the most depressed people have the best sense of humor and create the best comedy. And I say it in the special we use it as a sword and a shield and as a medicine and all these reasons. And I love taking people on an emotional journey and it doesn’t matter if it’s a film, a TV show or a piece of stand-up. It’s to take people on a journey they hadn’t been on before. And that’s important. And I want it to resonate as well. You can see a stand-up and he does a thousand brilliant puns, great. You’ll laugh for an hour. You’ll be looking at your watch after about half an hour and you won’t remember one of them. But if someone comes out there and he tells you a story, someone shambles out on stage and tells you a story then there’s nothing can compete with that. Whatever happens with innovation in entertainment, you know, there’s going to be something that makes Avatar look like Steamboat Willy one day. But I’ll tell you, whatever that is, it will never compete with one human being telling another human being what an awful day they’ve had. It won’t. And – sorry.
Q: About the Globes, how surprised were you and how quickly afterwards did they invite you back?
Ricky Gervais: Well the strange thing was they said they, you know, during the show, “Great. We’d love you to do it again.” And I went, “Well let’s see. It’s not over yet.” And so yes, they invited me back on the way they thought it went and my performance which is nice and very flattering and the way it should be but then I saw I think the ratings went up about 18% or something so I thought it was on the cards. But yes, and I wasn’t going to do it again but then I thought, “Oh no, I could improve.” That’s what I really thought. And there’s something in me that really it’s exciting. I like the jeopardy. I like the jeopardy. It’s live and there’s a quarter of a billion people watching and a room full of the most powerful people in the world. I like that jeopardy. I love it. So that’s my extreme sport. That’s what gives me an adrenaline rush, thinking it could be the end of my career.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you wouldn’t host for a third time and I just wanted to ask you why?
Ricky Gervais: Well the truth is I’m not a host. I’m not a presenter. I don’t think I should be doing it at all. I do these things for fun. I don’t even count these things as part of my career really. Well there’s loads of things I do that I don’t count as part of my career, you know. I think the things that I’m – I think are more time lesson that I portray is in the beginning. I’d have had to invented the concept of award ceremonies to be as excited about them as I am about doing The Office or Extras or, you know, whatever. But I suppose I want this to be great and go out on a high. I think you’ve always got to think that you’re going to do a good job and it’s going to be fun and – because you’re in control. And if you’re in control and it turns out exactly as you wanted it to, then you’ve got no one else to please really and I always try and – I want to do things that I’m pleased with. And so if I’m bad, I shouldn’t do it again; and if I’m good, I shouldn’t do it again. So that’s the thinking really.
Q: You don’t think you’ll have such a good time hosting that you might be tempted or NBC might be really tempting you?
Ricky Gervais: Well no. But then, you know, I was tempted to do a third season of The Office. But hopefully I’m going to leave it just right and that’s my plan. So yes.
Q: Speaking of The Office, The Office the American version has a lot of changes coming up this season as Steve Carell exits the show and I was hoping maybe you could comment a little bit about what viewers might expect as the season wraps up.
Ricky Gervais: Well I won’t give anything away about the show but I think viewers can expect if The Office carries on it could be as good. And there’s a lot of talk about who’s going to replace Steve Carell. You should never think like that. You shouldn’t think who’s replacing Steve Carell. Steve Carell is an actor. You should think who’s creating – who’s replacing Michael Scott. You know, you’ve got to suspend your disbelief. It’s meant to be a fake documentary and it’s all about the story. Even though we talk about what’s going on behind the scenes and we know Steve Carell is an actor and he’s not really working in a paper merchant in Scranton, it’s what’s good for the show that counts. And so the replacement should be a credible replacement within the story, within the piece of work, not is he going to be a big a star. You know, because when we did The Office, we were all unknowns which was perfect for the show. It wouldn’t have worked if we were famous people. And of course now we’re famous as are all of them from the American Office but I think you’ve got to do the show the service. It mustn’t be about the politics and the business and, you know, what people write about it. It’s got to stand alone one day. You’ve got to discover this in a thousand years in a cave and put it on a player and enjoy it for what it is, not know anything about what was happening behind the scenes or on the day. And I just think there’s too much of this peaking behind the curtain and everyone worrying about what everyone gets paid or where they’re going to – you know, it just, you know, you should love it for the work. And that should be a surprise. So I’m not saying anything.
Q: I’m hoping you can tell us more about the second season of the Ricky Gervais Show?
Ricky Gervais: Oh, yes, with my pleasure. It is I think the most fun thing I do and I remember back when I just did it for a laugh to sit in a room with Karl Pilkington and try and expose his beautiful mind to the world. It’s better than the first. I mean the first got better and better I think. And this sort of started with it left off but it’s much better. We’ve really hit the ground running. And we’ve taken a lot more liberties with the direction of the piece. It really adds to the audio now. In the first one we were quite cautious that we didn’t want to take away from the audio but now we know what adds and subtracts and everything we’ve done really adds to it. It’s – the first episode will straightaway show you the difference with the ambition of the animation let alone the things we’ve chosen. And we’ve gone everywhere with all the stuff we’ve ever done. The first one we sort of did it in order of the first season. Now we have just picked best chunks and woven it in and it’s great. We’re very proud of it. So, yes, I hope it goes down even better than the first season.
Q: Would you ever use new material or is it always going to be straight from the podcast?
Ricky Gervais: Yes. No, we will, yes. I mean we don’t want to waste the stuff we’ve done because there’s still stuff we haven’t reached and we want to get out there because there’s stuff that I want to see animated. But, you know, if we were lucky enough to do Season 3 or 4, we certainly want to do some bespoke stuff. And we’ve got some stuff that we haven’t released it yet and we (all do) it especially for that, yes, do some one-off specials. But yes that is the plan. But we’ve got quite a backlog of work and of course animations take so much longer than three blokes in a room talking rubbish. So they never catch us up. But it’s (specialist). The great thing about Episode 1 is when Karl, a film company called him in, they’d heard him on the radio and they called him in for any ideas. I mean how desperate this film company was I can’t imagine. They’re asking Karl Pilkington for movie ideas. And it’s where he comes up with the worst idea for a movie I’ve ever heard. It’s the man who puts half of his brain in his wife’s head and he casts in the movie Rebecca De Mornay who Steve says we haven’t seen her for 15 years and Clive Warren who doesn’t even exist, he meant Clive Owen. And you actually get to see the movie because as he’s describing it they’ve made the movie. It’s honestly it’s great. It’s really, really great.
Q: Does it include the scene of him eating cereal?
Ricky Gervais: Oh, yes, Weetabix. Yes. Yes. Oh, you’ve obviously done your homework. Oh, that was great. Yes. Oh, great. Honestly it’s the most fun thing I do. I mean it really doesn’t count as work. It’s very strange that this is now, you know, a multimillion dollar animation around the world on its second season and it’s three blokes in my office just talking rubbish that we didn’t even know if anyone would hear let alone – so it just goes to show that all the best things are always, you know, labors of love. Everything I’ve done is a passion project, you know, from Flanimals being me trying to make my nephew laugh to the podcasts just hanging out with mates to I worked in an office for seven years and I used to people watch, stand-up you just talk about things that interest you. And I think it shows that those things, those little surprise, are just great and special. But I still know how lucky we are to be part of that particularly with such a great channel as HBO. So, yes, it’s – I never get bored with that. And like The Office and Extras and, you know, most other things I do, I do want this one to run and run because I just – we just never run out of Karl. We never run out of Karl.
Q: Aside from the animated show, what’s it going to take to get Karl the attention he deserves in America?
Ricky Gervais: Well he deserves it but he doesn’t want it. So he doesn’t want it. He doesn’t want any attention. He just wants to do his thing. He doesn’t even want – he doesn’t like being an entertainer. He’s embarrassed. So this – we got offers to do this, you know, we can get a third, fourth season. He’s doing his bathroom, he’s grouting and he’s busy. It’s like we had to have a meeting today about doing the second season of this thing called An Idiot Abroad on Sky One that’s being bought around the world and he’s going, “No.” He said, “I’m helping the bloke do the new work top.” I mean it’s remarkable. It’s remarkable. As I said he’s looking forward to being old.
Q: How do you prepare for the Globes?
Ricky Gervais: Well I actually as I say the last one I wrote it by myself. I got the list of people that were present and just came up – I did them all in an hour. But I don’t know. I suppose – hopefully there’s going to be more – I mean my favorite things I said were probably, you know, the introduction or the bespoke one-liners about the people there, you know, the Mel Gibson gag, the Paul McCartney gag, the Colin Farrell gag, the Jennifer Aniston gag. So if I can get more of that type of thing that’s cheeky and, you know, a little bit naughty and risqué but again not nasty, then I’ll be happy. But I think I can take it a bit further. I think people sort of know where I’m coming from now. I’ve done enough of these award things like the Emmys and the Globes where they know what I’m doing and hopefully I won’t blow that either way by saying something that’s so horrendous I’ll never work again. And even worse, doing something that’s so anodyne I’ll never work again. You only – you have these dark thoughts and you go, “Well why did that come into my brain?” But as I said before there is a constant fight in my head with what will go down well and what won’t. But as I said it comes from a good or a bad place and if people know where you’re coming from and what the target really is, you know, you can get away with murder, queue O.J. Simpson joke. But as I say, I’m not – I don’t use it as a platform to, you know, get political or get my own back on the world. I’m hosting a party. You know, it’s a televised industry party. So you’ve got to keep it light. But as I say that’s not to say you can go out there and just do awfully flat, broad, anodyne, homogenized, reworked material. I think you can be original and push the boundaries a little bit and still come in line with taste and decency. That’s my plan. But you can’t win because, you know, everyone has got their own little cause. Everyone has got what they find offensive. You know, in my stand-up specials you get letters saying, “I love the show although I was a little bit disappointed with the reference to, I don’t know, the Holocaust,” you know. “I know a lot of people that it’s just not funny.” And I want to go, “But you like the jokes about children with cancer. You liked the jokes about AIDS, African famine, disability. So you knew I was joking then but when it comes onto your thing because it’s so personal you can’t see that – you can’t treat it with the same distance, the same level of irony. You know, you can’t realize that that’s also satirical.” But you can’t win. So in your heart of hearts you’ve got to know you meant it in good faith and you have to be able to justify it. I have a simple rule. If I can’t justify why a joke’s okay, I don’t do it. I don’t go out there – I’m not one of these comedians that go – (comedy is) your conscience taking a day off. My conscience never takes a day off. I can justify everything I do and I can stand up and I could argue the point on a right-to-reply show. I could actually say why this joke was okay to do. And I’ll never lose that because I don’t want to go home and go, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that. That’s really awful. Why would I say that?” So, you know, everything’s considered.
Q: You know, one of the shows getting a lot of awards the latest sort of take The Office style is Modern Family. What do you think of shows that have sort of adopted that style of mockumentary that have succeeded?
Ricky Gervais: Well I mean any show that people say was influence by your work is honestly flattering. On the other side is there – you know, I didn’t invent that genre. You know, I stood on the shoulders of giants. And The Office wasn’t the first fake documentary. It wasn’t the first sitcom without a laughter track. It wasn’t the first sitcom to cast unknowns. It wasn’t the first sitcom to have flawed characters. It wasn’t the first sitcom to look at the minutiae of life but it was the first to probably have all of them in one sitcom. You know, a big influence the fake documentary is Spinal Tap. They’re a fake documentary where everyone’s hilarious but acting very naturalistically. Larry Sanders a wonderful ensemble cast of people of flawed characters in a sitcom, nonetheless, a family, really, a family unit just disguised with a backdrop of media and nice and deconstructive as well. You know, these – all of the aspects that we put into The Office have been touched on before. And in a weird way we sort of stole from American and sold it back you because British sitcoms didn’t really have anything other than a central character that bumbled around and was a fool and ended back at square one. Whereas Americans had characters, they had nearly soap opera elements to their sitcoms you know, from the 50s and 60s through to the ultimate one of Friends which was nearly a romantic sitcom with jokes. And so I don’t know if we invented anything but we just – we – I suppose the realism I don’t think anything had been such a slave to the realism as us and we probably cheated less than real documentaries. But we wanted to resonate. And also we had the luxury of knowing we were going to stop. So we put everything into it. It was very dense, our version of The Office. You know, it’s meaty. It’s made of lead. There’s a lot in it. But you can’t keep that. We couldn’t have done 100 episodes with that – with the intensity – I mean we – because we wrote it we did it all ourselves as well. But it’s nice that we’re even getting the credit for creating a recognizable style or genre. Someone said today that we reinvented the sitcom which I’m very happy with that rumor going around. Yes. But again, it’s a double-edge sword because I remember when The Office came out one journalist said, “This is as good as Chekhov.” And I thought, “Oh, no. Well now we’re in real trouble.” And sure enough the next year when the special went on television one journalist said, “This is sub-Dickens.” I’m like, “Really? Like we’re not as good as Dickens. No we’re not. They were surprised this sitcom isn’t as good as the greatest storyteller over the last 300 years.” It’s like you can’t win. So you have to take the rough with the smooth. For every five-star review, anything I’ve ever got it got a one-star review too and everything in between. For everyone who thinks the sitcom is the greatest most important sitcom of all time, there’s someone who thinks it’s the worst sitcom they’ve ever seen and they want to gouge their eyes out rather than watch it. For everyone thinks that I’m a funny man, some people want to run me over in a tractor. So and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like I say, I’ll take the laugh or the gasp. Both is good to me because I caused a reaction and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Q: Now that Steven Carell is leaving and as you look back on the American version, what are your thoughts about working with Steven, working in the American version of The Office and working on American television?
Ricky Gervais: Well, you know, I came to America the first time in 2004 to the Golden Globes and there we’d done our little version of this English sitcom which we were so proud of. We couldn’t have been prouder of it because, you know, personally I had never tried my hardest at anything in my life as writing The Office. And it’s like I had a revelation at 39, 40 that this is the greatest feeling in the world to do something you’ve tried your hardest at and it turned out exactly as you wanted. And I sound like some sort of strange born-again artist, right, but that’s the way I felt. I couldn’t believe it. And then we went over and we thought we were making up the numbers. And you’ve got to remember that America is my Mecca in terms of entertainment. Everything I’ve ever loved on TV and film has come out of America from Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers through Woody Allen who I think brought modern comedy to the movie screen, great works of art in film and in TV. And the last 10, 15 years TV took on film and beat it on many levels. There is nothing as audacious in TV as The Wire and The Sopranos. And it even beat it as an art form because with the pressure of movies to make their money back in the first three hours of opening, you know, they don’t give it time to evolve and it’s these focus groups and begging people just to come out and just like it enough to do it again. Whereas things like The Wire, if The Wire had been based on ratings it would have been canceled. And it’s amazing and they kept that up. It’s like an art factory those things, like Sopranos and The Wire and so TV had that to give us. It had to give us – there was no pressure. It was much more about the work of art itself as opposed to the industry. And so to come to America and then win the Golden Globes and then to be asked to do a remake was ridiculous. I didn’t even think about it at the time because I thought, “Well nothing’s going to come of this.” That’s me being British. That’s how we think. Nothing will come of this. And then we cast Steve Carell who by the way I must say joking aside, I always joke about him, I always tease him, I hope people know that I think he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met genuinely. There’s no one like him. He’s untouched by Hollywood. He’s untouched by his fame, his (cachet). He’s just a lovely family man who loves comedy and the work and he’s done an amazing job above and beyond the call of duty. We never knew the remake was going to be this successful. I mean it’s the first successful British remake of a sitcom for 30-odd years, Sanford and Son or All in the Family or something. And they made it happen, that team made it happen. So honestly I don’t think anyone has a bad word to say about Steve Carell. And it’s a great ensemble cast. They’ve kept the level up for, you know, 100-odd episodes. It’s a success story commercially and in terms of an art form. And there’s difference in this one. It had to be. It’s not so steeped in that the realism, it’s slightly broader. It hasn’t got that existential quality. It’s sort lighter. You know, people are better at their jobs and more fun and all that but that’s true. That’s the difference between English and Americans really. It has to be that way. It really shows the difference between our two nations I think that the English and the American Office. Americans are told they can be the next President of the United States. British people are told, “It won’t happen to you.” And it did happen to me. And so it’s strange that I’ve come full circle. It started with The Office and the Golden Globes and it’s just great. So looking back it’s been ridiculous. It’s been like a dream. I’m going to wake up and I’m still – I’m 36 still working in my old job. I’m still working in the office where I got the idea from and I’m going to wake up and go, “I just had the best 12-year dream I’ve ever had.”
Q: You mentioned before that you don’t like to do comedy that’s very safe or anodyne. What comedians do you enjoy?
Ricky Gervais: Oh, I can give you a list. The best – the most exciting stand-up in the world at that moment is Louis C.K. The bravest most honest comedian out there. He made me look at myself harder. I want to tap into that. Lack of fear. He’s got no fear, man. Chris Rock, just incredible. Jerry Seinfeld, you know, the master. And I should say I just did a – I did a special – this is the perk of being famous, okay, there’s not many actually. But this is one of them. I just did a special, myself, Louis C.K., Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock. We sat in a room for 4-1/2 hours and I’m just editing it down now to an hour for a special and we just talked about comedy. We talked about what we hate, what we love, how we approached it, our first bit we ever did, why we wanted to be a comedian. And I think it will fascinating for anyone in comedy but it’s not in, it’s not really an exclusive club and it’s nice to just – it was great. I mean it was a great experience and I think it will be interesting to watch because it’s never been done before quite like that. So I’d have to site those three straightaway. So, yes. That’s stand-up though, you know. Larry David I think along with Seinfeld has created some of the best TV comedy. Mitch Hurwitz and, you know, I love Arrested Development. Yes. Christopher Guest has never let me down. A God amongst comedians I think.
Q: Looking back at the history of your career, everything you’ve done from the British Office to the new animated series to Extras, can you even pinpoint just one moment where you would say, “This is the defining moment. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Ricky Gervais: Defining moment, it’s difficult. I mean you’d have to say – I’d have to say meeting Stephen Merchant. If this was a film – if this was a biopic it would be – you know when they do like and it’s like “Hey son, what’s your name?” My name’s Clay, Cassius, sir.” You know what I mean. They go, “My name is actually Dundee and I think you’ve got a great (lefter).” It would have to be meeting Stephen Merchant. But then how far back do you go, you know? I worked in an office. It would have to be people watching. I grew up in a funny family. I grew up in a family where humor was the most important thing. If you paid your way, then you know having a laugh. If it’s career, it’s clearly making The Office. If it’s – I don’t know what else to base it on. The only answer is there’s whatever specific question it was related to there’d be a different specific answer. I mean I think if you take for granted you are a product of your entire upbringing from being born to friends to education and through obviously I think a defining moment was meeting and working with Steve. The Office was the breakthrough. Career highs would be things like winning the Golden Globes in 2004. And that was a strange week because let me tell you this is what happened, okay. So as I said before we went over there and I didn’t even think that we should go. I thought we got a long way to go and lose. And people said, “You’re mad. It’s an experience. It will be great.” So we won the Globes. I did – my first acting job I had written for myself on Alias because J.J. Abrams was a fan. I haven’t watched it. I have never watched the episode. It was me being cool. I can’t watch that. I dread it. It sends a chill down my spine, me trying to be cool. But I hear it’s okay. And then I was called for an audience for Matt Groening and Al Jean and the Simpsons lot that their favorite show was The Office which is weird because they created the best show ever. And they said, “Do you want to write one and being one?” Yes. And that was the same week we started working on the American Office. That was one week in January 2004. So if you are to pinpoint a week, it would be that. It would be January – the last week of January 2004. But, you know, everything is joined to something else. Everything inextricably mixed. There’s no defining moment really. It’s just, you know, luck and keeping a cool head. I think it happening to me relatively in life was important, you know. All these things, knowing why you’re doing it every day, knowing that you’re lucky and privileged but then really working hard. And, you know, my dad was a laborer all his life. He used to get up at 5:30 every morning five or six days a week until he was 70 and he never complained. I live a strange rarified life. The least I can do is try my hardest and take it seriously. I think sometimes I come across as smug and pompous and, you know, just taking comedy too seriously but it’s the only way I can do it to get through. I know it doesn’t matter. I know none of this matters. We’re all going to be dead soon. But there are some people that hate their job and they hate everything they do and they do it because they’ve got to feed a kid or – and the least I can do is try my hardest and something and know that I’m going to be proud of everything I do and have a legacy. I felt guilty the first time when I did The Office. It was as I say a revelation. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t have been prouder of it, okay. And then it was success and I was still just proud of The Office but I was glad it was a success and then the first checks started coming in and it was (silly) money and it ruined it a little bit because I thought, “Oh, I didn’t do it for that.” And people don’t understand that. They don’t understand that. I did a corporate gig in the early days because it was the same – for doing 40 minutes was the same as my dad’s wages for a year and I did it because I felt guilty and I thought it was irresponsible not to. And then I thought, “No, it’s not. Just do things you’re proud of. Just do things you can stand by. You’re not here to collect money or awards. You’re here to just fill your time with stuff that you like before you die.” And so that’s why I do it.
Q: I just have to tell you back in 2004 when The Office won that was such a victory not necessarily because it was an award or a trophy but because of the fact that it was art and it was something different and there were so many people here that were just like, “I’ve never even heard of this show,” and it won. And then they went and kind of discovered it and it turned their mind onto something new.
Ricky Gervais: Well that’s really nice and it’s so funny you say art now and I bandy the word around. But for the first two or three years of being famous I was scared of using the word “art” because I thought it was pretentious. And I didn’t want to put myself – I never thought it was for me to say I was an artist. I thought that was like some sort of honor that’s bestowed on me. But now I think it’s my responsibility to consider myself an artist because that’s why I’m doing it and it’s being honest and, you know, I can’t apologize for that. So that’s really nice and flattering. And I really haven’t changed my views other than my work ethic. You know, doing it is the reward. Doing it itself is the reward and I wish there was more of it. I just wish there was more of it just people going, “I don’t care what happens. I don’t care about the box office. I don’t care about the ratings. I don’t care about the reviews or the awards. I did this and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” And I think if we had that, it would just be amazing. It would be incredible. But it can’t happen because by definition most things are rubbish and that’s true of any genre, not just art. Art, TV, furniture making, most tables are rubbish. But when you see a really brilliant table that the guy spent four years making and he was a master craftsman and it’s lasted 700 years, you want to cry. It brings a lump to your throat. And, yes. I want to bring a lump to your throat. See, that quote taken out of context looks really bad.