Ricky Gervais bits and pieces
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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 12:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais: Grumpy middle-aged man
How would he like to die? What's happening with The Men From The Pru? And why is he wearing pyjamas in a graveyard? Our greatest comedy misery-guts reveals all
By Nigel Farndale
16 Apr 2009

Ricky Gervais's latest audiobook takes on The English
Ricky Gervais: 'To this day, in a room full of over-privileged Oxbridge graduates I feel them giving me a sideways look' As well as being a protection from the unsettling glare of his fame, the Giorgio Armani sunglasses Ricky Gervais wears are a concession, a hint at his status as the British comedian, writer and director who went to America and came back with an armful of Emmys, Golden Globes and Hollywood contracts. But at least he is not wearing them indoors. We are wandering through a dappled churchyard not far from his house (and his office) in Hampstead, and the sun is shining.

Gervais couldn't be accused of dressing like a star, though. Tramp would be closer to the mark – a 47-year-old tramp who hasn't shaved for days and is wearing trainers, a cord coat and what looks like a pair of the pyjamas they give you when you fly long haul in first class.

At the mention of these I get to hear the manic Gervais laugh that is familiar to fans of his podcasts. 'They are pyjamas! But I got them from M&S. I do wear the ones with the v-neck that you get on airlines. I walk around the house in them looking like William Shatner as he is now, not how he was in Star Trek. I always choose what to wear based on how soft and comfortable the clothes are. There's no point killing yourself.'

When we come to a bench which has a slat missing on one side, Gervais half-heartedly offers me the good side, but having just listened to him explain how important comfort is to him, I insist on taking the bad. He quickly agrees, on condition that I mention that he offered.

We sit down and contemplate the gravestones, some gothic, some lichen covered, some at strange angles, thanks to subsidence. Shelley would have approved. He was never far from a graveyard. Nothing he liked better than a memento mori.

On the subject of which, there is a photograph of Gervais taken years ago when he was the epicene singer in a new romantic band. Does he contemplate that photograph now and weep for his lost youth? 'No, but whenever it is brought out I do groan, not because I'm embarrassed at how I looked then but about how I look now. I had great cheekbones then. I removed all the mirrors from my house in about 1990.'

Gervais likes this graveyard, but not out of religious sentiment. Indeed he is a patron of the National Secular Society. 'I feel angry that I even have to say I am atheist. The alternative is so ludicrous to me. I don't want to dignify the idea of religion by saying that. The burden of proof should be on their side, not mine. I feel like saying to Richard Dawkins: "Don't bother. Not worth it." I know there is no God more than I know anything else in this world.'

Gervais became an atheist at the age of eight when Bob, his older brother by 11 years, asked him why he believed in God. 'My mother went "Bob!" and that was it. I knew she was hiding something and he was telling the truth. My tool to understanding throughout my life has been non-verbal communication, observing the minutia of human behaviour. It's in my acting and my writing and that was where it began.'

I ask if he is familiar with an Arthur Miller quote about mankind's craving for immortality – that it is as futile as scratching your name on a cube of ice on a hot July afternoon. 'No, but I like that. I would like The Office to be still considered good in 20 years' time, but after I'm dead I don't care. I don't care what it says on my gravestone.'

How will the papers report his death, does he suppose? 'It depends how I die. I might have won an Oscar and found the cure for Aids but if I die by slipping and landing on a giant spike, the headline will be "Man Dies From Spike Up A---."' He's laughing again now, as am I. 'The awful thing will be the funeral when people who haven't read the papers ask how I died and when they are told they will get the giggles.'

Gervais met his partner, Jane Fallon, when they were at University College, London. They decided not to have children but to concentrate on their careers instead (she is a television producer and a novelist).

I ask what he makes of the idea that there is a form of immortality in passing on your DNA. 'That's just scratching your name in a cube of ice in a very cold country,' he says. 'It's not real immortality. There are loads of reasons why people have children. You think it will be nice and good and worth the hassle. But in human terms, procreation hasn't been about propagating the species for years. We're safe. The human race is good.

'So I don't think the genetic legacy idea works. I don't think people on their deathbeds go: "At least half my DNA is still walking around." They say: "Can you remove this spike from my a---, please. Say it went through my head and it happened while I was saving a child from a burning building. And it wasn't even my child".'

Gervais stretches out on the bench. There is a chinking sound of coins falling on the ground. 'My money has fallen out! Now you're going to see me scrabbling around in an undignified way in case it's a pound. If it's 20p I'll leave it. That's the problem with wearing pyjamas.' He gives up looking. 'Karl says you're alright, by the way. That's high praise from him. That's like getting six out of 10 from a teacher who never normally gives more than three.'

Karl is Karl Pilkington and two and a half years ago I became the first journalist in the world to interview him. I don't imagine he has done many interviews since because he is a man completely lacking in ambition and, as Gervais regularly points out, he is 'f---ing lazy'. Pilkington acts as a deadpan muse to Gervais and his writing partner Steve Merchant. The three do podcasts together, the most listened to podcasts in podcast history, and lately they have been bringing out a series of downloadable audiobooks, too, called The Ricky Gervais Guide to…

So far they have done guides to the arts, medicine, natural history and philosophy, clocking up around three million sales per episode. The latest, available from next week, is The Ricky Gervais Guide to… The English. Later, when I email Karl to tell him how it went with Gervais, he replies: 'People always say he's nice but that's cos he doesn't try squeezing your head.'

'Me and Steve treat Karl like an experiment,' he says now. 'We're a couple of chancers going around 19th-century America with a thing in a cage.'

For all the abuse Gervais directs at Pilkington, he loves him really and the two talk on the phone several times a day. In fact, if you want to know the real Ricky Gervais you could do worse than see him through the strange prism of Karl Pilkington. 'Karl is a lovely man with unexpected talents such as dancing, editing and illustrating. He's an idiot savant who will make you see a subject in a way you have never seen it before. He's a friend first and foremost, but, well I know how to work him, get the best out of him. He's the funniest bloke I know, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.'

On the podcasts, Pilkington will say something so unexpected Gervais will lose his breath as he giggles like a hyena and says: 'I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die!' Pilkington, he reckons, inhabits a cartoon world. 'He doesn't have a malicious bone in his body. Completely unpretentious. Pretension is a concept that doesn't exist in his world. He's not comfortable when things go right. It's like he feels guilty about the audio books doing so well because he doesn't consider them a proper job. He goes down to Kent and does painting and decorating as well because that feels more like real work. He feels guilty about how easy the podcasts are. I've gone through the same thing, to an extent.'

There is nothing Pilkington wants, he adds. 'And I'm a bit like that. I didn't want fame and neither does he. And we are both creatures of habit. The only difference between us is formal education. I'm not ambitious in the sense that I will be prepared to compromise to get an extra million viewers. It's like if they say there is a red carpet event I should attend because it will help the film I refuse to go. They are saying the wrong thing to me. They are always saying the wrong thing.'

Who 'they' are is not clear but you suspect it is uncreative people, administrators, conformists. Gervais doesn't seem to hang out with other celebrities much. He prefers staying in watching television to going out. But Pilkington reckons there is more to it than that. He doesn't use the word 'misanthrope', but that is what he means. He points to the fact that Gervais can't bear hearing people chewing, for example. 'I don't know whether it's a phobia or a neurosis,' Gervais now says, 'but it's often justified. The sound of traffic, mating geese, thunderstorms, no problem. But if there is someone next door with their telly on too loud I want to go around and kill them.'

As for his other flaws, Gervais admits he has the attention span of a toddler and can be grumpy, too. 'When it comes to creativity I'm ready for war. I'll square up if someone says they have "notes" on something I've written. Steve will say: "Calm down, Rick, calm down." He's a very calm person. When Steve was 23 he was 52.'

They met in 1997 when Gervais was presenting a radio show on the music station Xfm. He needed an assistant and hired Merchant, a man 13 years younger than him, and a foot taller. Gervais would make Merchant laugh with a character he called Seedy Boss. One day Merchant filmed him for fun and, after that, they began writing a comedy around the character.

The BBC commissioned a pilot and, in 2001, it broadcast the first episode of The Office, with Seedy Boss now called David Brent. A new genre was born, the comedy of embarrassment, and… we know the rest. The Office has now been shown in 70 countries worldwide and has been remade eight times, the latest being the Israeli version. India is also planning a version and Gervais and Merchant think they might be hands on with that one, executive producing it as they did for the US version.

Extras, their follow up to The Office, explored the world of a bit-part actor, Andy Millman. It managed to be just as funny and even more moving, yet could not have been more different in approach – a testament to their confidence as writers. Now they are working on a film together, set in Seventies Reading and involving the aspirational yet ultimately frustrated lives of men working in insurance, one of whom will be played by Ralph Fiennes. It was to have been called The Men From the Pru but the real men from the Pru read the script and decided that, er, on balance they didn't want their company name used in the title. Gervais now wants to call it Cemetery Junction after a place in Reading, but Merchant has doubts, saying he thinks it sounds too depressing.

Meanwhile, Gervais has just finished This Side of the Truth, a film he has written, directed and starred in, and which is due for release in September. The cast list reads like a Who's Who of US comedy talent: Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Christopher Guest… Such is his control freakery he has the final edit – the only other directors who get away with this are Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino – and the film will not be tested on audiences.

Although he starred in last autumn's box office hit Ghost Town, Gervais did not consider that film 'his baby' because someone else wrote it, albeit with Gervais in mind. 'This one is definitely my baby,' he says. 'It's set in a world where humans haven't evolved the gene for lying. I play a loser, and when I discover I can lie it becomes like a superpower.'

A couple walk past and do a double take when they see Gervais. 'Round here people tend not to bother me,' he says. 'When I'm in the sticks, it's a bit hairier. People behave as if an alien has landed. First time people started looking at me I didn't know what they were looking at, then I remembered, "Oh yeah, I'm on the telly."

'The first time I was asked for my autograph I said: "Really?" and they looked hurt, like I had insulted them. Now I'm more polite. But my dread is missing a train because someone wants an autograph and I don't want them to think I am being rude. I can't even send my soup back now. Before I would have sent it back for being too cold but now I have to be gracious. It's exhausting.' He grins his fangy grin to show he's joking. 'It's like I had to offer you the nice seat. And now I have to pretend that I don't mind I've lost that pound coin that might only be 20p. I'm going to come back after you've gone and have a proper look for it.'

What do people normally shout when they see him then? 'Well I don't have a catchphrase so what they tend to do is the David Brent robot dance instead. What I don't like is when people take sly pictures without asking. It's just a matter of politeness. I don't mind if they ask.'

What about if they were to take a photograph of him when he was out jogging? 'I don't care. What are they going to say? That I look fat and sweaty? I'm a comedian running. I'm not a model. What bothers me is intrusion. It would give me the creeps if someone went through my rubbish, and actually my shutters are always down to avoid long lenses. I live in a giant panic room.'

If he met his 20-year-old self right now, would he find him gauche and embarrassing? 'I would. He was cocky. I've got less cocky as I've got older. But that 20-year-old me was only cocky because he found everything too easy. He felt sorry for kids who weren't as clever as him. He played his cleverness down. Up until about 25, I prided myself on getting the best mark possible without trying.'

Being seen not to try, of course, gets to the heart of Englishness. So does the class system. Gervais grew up on a council estate in Reading. His father was a labourer. 'I think class is more significant than race or sex,' he says. 'To this day, in a room full of overprivileged Oxbridge graduates I feel them giving me a sideways look.'

Meaning? 'Perhaps I'm being paranoid but I do feel that they are saying: "We know… We know that eventually you are going to let yourself down. Eventually you are going to make a faux pas at this dinner party.e_SDRq' That's awful. 'I don't care. I quite like it because I'm not going to make the faux pas at this dinner party unless I mean to – you know, using the wrong knife deliberately.'

This paranoia surprises me because I don't think I've ever come across anyone with an ego as healthy as his – anyone less insecure, I mean. But then perhaps there is a pattern here. When I interviewed Stephen Merchant a couple of years ago he told me: 'Ricky has an incredible memory and a natural intelligence but is happy for people to think he is an oik from Reading.' He also said that Gervais didn't realise his background was working class until he went to UCL to read philosophy.

'That's true,' Gervais now says. 'I don't think we even had a middle-class teacher at my school. I could read as well as I can now at three. I lost that art at the age of four. Got bored. I had better things to do. At the age of five I would be outside all the time turning over leaves to find a stag beetle.'

Did his father advise him not to become a labourer? 'No, I always knew I would move away from home at 18 and go to university and everything would be all right. Blind optimism.' A Candide figure, perhaps. But it was Mike Leigh, not Voltaire, who was the biggest influence on his formative years. 'I remember seeing Abigail's Party when I was 14. I loved it but hated it at the same time, because the mockery of working class aspiration was a mockery of my family. I'm a snob when it matters. Snobbery can be a shot at excellence. But if someone mocks people for breaches in etiquette, I hate that.'

I ask Gervais about his relationship with Merchant, who, though younger, seems to be the more mature of the two, or at least the less frivolous. 'It's us against the world. You have to be complete fascists when it comes to art. There is no room for democracy. We don't want anyone else's opinion. I don't know about Steve but I do this for the fun, for the creative process, not to see my fat face on the telly. It's about bringing something into the world. All my DNA is in the work that I've done.' He stops. Shakes his head. Looks worried. 'I ended on a pretentious note. I'd been doing well until then. F---ing hell. I also said we ended and that sounds rude, like I'm cutting the interview off… So now I'm worried about two things. I've been pretentious and I've been rude. F---! And now I've sworn again.'

'The Ricky Gervais Guide to… The English' is available for download through iTunes from Tuesday
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 8:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark Kermode - Ricky Gervais extra
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais - 'Science' at the Edinburgh Playhouse
Dominic Maxwell

Ricky Gervais has always made it his business to say the unsayable. But he pushes his luck in Science, his latest and weakest stand-up show. His three earlier efforts danced that fine line between arrogance and mock-arrogance, yet largely came up funny and fresh. Here, he aims for too many easy targets. It feels cheap.

And it all starts so promisingly. So expensively, too. The pre-show videos are all plugs, whether for charities, Gervais’s two new films or this Sunday’s The Office retrospective on BBC2. But they’re sharp and silly enough to make an art form out of ironic self-promotion all over again. And when the curtains part to reveal a Frankenstein set, with brains in bubbling vats, it makes the rest of the Edinburgh Fringe look like amateur hour.

Yet Gervais throws away his advantage with a humdrum opening routine about Britain’s Got Talent. He goes on to jokingly insult fat people, travellers, ugly autograph hunters and a mentally impaired Ken Dodd fan. However ironic his intention, the gags aren’t sharp enough to stop this from feeling mean-spirited. He gets more blatantly self-satirising - “I’m all for ending famine, as long as it doesn’t affect me in the slightest”. Yet too often the gap between what Gervais says and what he means is something we have to take on trust.

So the context isn’t there to sell his rape gag, his gay gags. He brings out a childhood picture book about Noah’s Ark, then picks holes in its simplistic assumptions. It’s fish-in-a-barrel time. Stewart Lee and Richard Herring did this kind of thing a decade ago, and did it better and with a more palpable moral sense. If the point is that such stories pollute young minds, it’s not well made.

Gervais remains a charismatic performer. There are some fine lines, some engaging physical comedy. The crowd award him a big ovation. Yet his biggest laughs come from mocking references to his podcast sidekick Karl Pilkington. The tone is troublesome, muddied still further when he softens the overweening persona for a nice pair of stories about a jogging mishap and a dinner-party faux pas.

We know Gervais means no harm. We know that because, well, he’s a brilliant man. And because he tells us so at the end in what amounts to a one-man post-match analysis. “The thing about off-colour jokes,” he explains, “is that we tell them to people who know we’re not really like that.” But when the bulk of your material points one way, you need to do more than say “only joking” to subvert it. Gervais argues that he can justify all his jokes. I would argue that he can’t grasp their cumulative effect. Science is “an investigation into the rational and the non-rational,” he suggests. Which is a pretty fancy way of defining comedy for your audience. Here, at least, the grandiloquence is for real.

Tour begins October 6 at the Portsmouth Guildhall, and runs to Dec 16. www.rickygervais.com

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2009 1:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais is comfortable finding humor in discomfort
By Scott Bowles,

LOS ANGELES — Sweating, sticky and looking for shade in the afternoon sun, Ricky Gervais examines his clothes and shakes his head. "What was I thinking?" he asks, looking down at a black T-shirt, black pants and black shoes. "It's got to be 90 degrees out here and I'm looking like this. I'm a putz."

Perhaps, but that putz has become one of Hollywood's hottest comedic commodities. And he's found stardom by picking primarily on one fall guy: himself. "I don't think of myself as a typical comedian," he says over lunch at the Four Seasons hotel, where the heat has turned his shirt into a moist rag. "I'm just a normal bloke who says things he observes. I don't even really tell jokes with punch lines. But people seem to connect."

Including some big people in Hollywood. Since Gervais left his job as a middle office manager in England a decade ago, his self-deprecating humor has lured scads of seemingly serious stars, from Kate Winslet to Patrick Stewart to David Bowie, to adopt the same tone. He persuaded Winslet to rail on his show Extras against the motion picture academy for denying her an Oscar. (It must have worked; she won it this year.) He cajoled Patrick Stewart into playing himself — with an obsession with breasts. He even got David Bowie to write a ditty about Gervais: "Pathetic little fat man," went one lyric, "no one is bloody laughing."

Actually, they are. And Gervais hopes to have them chuckling again with The Invention of Lying, which opens today. The movie, which Gervais co-directed with Matthew Robinson, portrays a world in which humans are incapable of lying, except for Gervais. Like the comedian, the movie teems with contradictions. It poses as a comedy but takes some serious looks, and swipes, at sacred cows, including the church. Gervais' first lie, which turns him into a modern-day Moses and comforts his dying mother, is that heaven exists — and he has the admission pass.

Gervais, too, can deceive. On camera, he is all cocksure ineptitude: the boss with the bad jokes, the movie extra who can't break from being Hollywood background noise. In person, he's more subdued, a 48-year-old atheist fond of talking religion or the art of comedy.

"We all need humor; it's like a shot of morphine," he says. "But I don't do things to get attention or be controversial. I just look at the world a little differently. People say drama is real life with the boring parts taken out. I like to put them in. Real life can be pretty funny."

Struggles before stardom

Not that Gervais' early years were all that humorous. Born in relative poverty in Reading, England, he worked odd jobs while he tried to break into entertainment, singing with local bands and trying to sell people on his brand of awkward humor. Few people were buying. While he landed a couple of bit parts on British shows The Comedy Lab and Spaced, it wasn't until Gervais began reflecting on his experiences as a midlevel manager for the University of London Union that The Office— the original British version — was born and his career took off. Gervais, who created the show with longtime writing partner Stephen Merchant, played clueless office manager David Brent.

Though it consisted of just 14 episodes that ran over two years, the show became a cult hit with its skewering of workplace politics and romance. (One of the show's most memorable characters, the shameless suck-up Gareth, played by Mackenzie Crook, was based on a 14-year-old childhood friend of Gervais who couldn't help but rat on misbehaving school mates.)

The Office, shot documentary style like his favorite film, This Is Spinal Tap, premiered in 2001 and would give birth to the hit American version in 2005. (David Brent became Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell; Gareth gave way to Dwight Schrute, played by Rainn Wilson.) Gervais serves as executive producer.

"I really love the American Office," Gervais says. "It's broader than our show was, but it has to be. I'm not sure anyone would have watched a show about a British paper company at 9 p.m. in America." Others aren't so sure. "The British Office was arguably the best show ever made," says comedian Mike Birbiglia, who will be touring with Gervais on the New York Comedy Festival, a five-day comedy tour through New York that begins Nov. 4. "He mixes irreverence with sincerity," Birbiglia says. "He doesn't find being fit and skinny and perfect all that funny. He describes himself as pudgy and awkward — pudward — and finds what's funny about being human and flawed."

Comedian Patton Oswalt, who also is joining Gervais on tour, compares the comedian with a giant of the 1980s. "He reminds me a lot of Steve Martin," Oswalt says. "When Steve went on stage or a talk show, you know you were going to get something original. A lot of comedians, when they make it, have a tendency to coast. Ricky asks himself how he can go deeper." The Office, Oswalt says, made a name for Gervais because "it was effortlessly new. It was like he was ripping up the entire form of comedy and starting something new."

Gervais is quick to dismiss praise, though he's not ashamed to concede he "cashed in on the notoriety" of the show to reach a bigger audience. In 2005, he and Merchant created the HBO series Extras, a comedy about struggling bit actors in which he took on the conceit of the film industry. The show drew dozens of stars, from Robert De Niro to Coldplay's Chris Martin, who were fans of the original Office.

"It was surreal," Gervais says. "These icons were coming up and saying they loved the show. It was an experiment, but I guess it worked." And then some. After The Office, Gervais had become the comedic voice of the Everyman, and offers were pouring in. "It was strange, watching how much people worshiped him," says Rob Lowe, co-star of Lying. "I think he's at the same place Woody Allen was in 1979. He's just got that touch."

He's not using it that often, though. Gervais turned down roles in Mission: Impossible III, The Da Vinci Code, Ocean's Thirteen and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. He even declined to do a British television commercial that would have paid $4 million. "I'm a bit phobic about fame, to tell you the truth," he says. "I don't want people going through my trash bins. I'm not all that interested in being an actor. I prefer writing and directing good stories."

He feels he found one in Lying, which co-stars Jennifer Garner and Lowe as a couple planning to breed genetically perfect children until Gervais' frumpy character ambles into the love triangle. He was particularly drawn to the script, and added the quasi-autobiographical scene in which Gervais lies to his dying mother.

"My mum was dying for about nine months," he says. "I told myself that if she asked me if there was a heaven, I was going to say yes. She never did, but that's a good lie. I think that's how religion started. With a beautiful lie."

He's prepared for some blowback from his views on religion but says the film is simple comedy, not political screed. "Some people are going to think it's a metaphor, but it's a piece of creative writing. They shouldn't take it so seriously." That's not a problem for Gervais, who has developed a reputation in Hollywood as an actor who can't help but crack up during scenes.

"We couldn't get through a take without him laughing," says Garner. She first met Gervais on the set of ABC's Alias (2001-2006), where she learned of his inability to keep a straight face. He had to play this villain with a bomb in his neck," Garner says of his television turn. "And he couldn't stop laughing. Finally, everyone but the cameraman had to leave the room so he could talk to sticks with names written on them to get the scene."

Sheepishly, Gervais confirms the story. "I can't help but laugh at other people's jokes. I'd rather be doing that than be the one in the room entertaining." OK, so he's not standard Hollywood material. But the life of a putz has treated him well: He's rich, been with the same girl he met in college 27 years ago and doesn't roil in scandal.

"For me, " he says. "A good night out is watching the telly with my girlfriend, cat and some good wine." Don't be surprised to see that in a movie someday, too.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 02, 2010 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais in his most 'postmodern' interview ever
The comedian talks about everything from relationships to body image
Ginny Dougary
The Times
3rd April 2010

It started pretty badly. At one point, Ricky Gervais said it was the most difficult interview he’d ever done – and he was using “difficult” in the same way that someone says a dress is “interesting” when they mean “horrible”.

The feeling, it must be said, was mutual but, fortunately, this encounter in his anonymous-looking office, above an estate agency in Hampstead – despite 60 hellish minutes which veered between awkwardness and outright bloody-mindedness – does have a happy, if somewhat unorthodox, ending.

To be frank, I had half-expected it to be tricky. It was the control thing that worried me. I’d heard stories, possibly apocryphal, about Gervais, dissatisfied with the way a photoshoot was going, simply taking over and directing himself himself. There was in addition something about the look in his eyes – cussedness tinged with anger, a lack of trust, maybe – underneath the hectic bravado that could spell trouble.

We chitchat about the pronunciation of his name – which is French-Canadian on his father’s side – “Gervaaayze” (as in haze), although his mother, from Reading, rolled it out with a rural burr: “Gerrrrrvayze.”

He remembers only fully understanding that his dad came from another, far-off country when various uncles and aunts came to visit and “of course, they were real Canadians and had check jackets on”. He’s been to Canada but not to visit his relatives: “Obviously, I’m interested in my immediate family [he has three much older siblings] but, no, I’ve never worried about where I came from. I don’t see the point, really.”

So you won’t be doing that Who Do You Think You Are? genealogy show any time soon? “No. Who cares who the f*** you are? Oh God, I love it when they cry when they find out their great-great-grandmother was a prostitute. Really? I mean, really, do you care? It’s all come flooding back now, hasn’t it? Oh, the terrible memories of 150 years ago.”

He is close to his two brothers, Larry and Bob, and his sister, Marsha: “I like them and I get on with them. We’ve shared a life together. So that’s why I care about them, because they’re nice and loyal and, you know, if they were all adopted I’d feel the same. That’s what caring about someone is, not someone saying, ‘By the way, you share 99 per cent genetic material.’ Do I? Oh that makes it different, then.”

We’ve barely started and already we’re into the heavy sarcasm and belligerence. I happen to agree with Gervais that those shows featuring an endless parade of weeping celebrities are a bit suspect, but there’s also something absurd about his toxic snideness. It would probably be funny on the stage, but close up it’s faintly alarming; a bit like being trapped in the back of a cab with an irate driver who’s sounding off.

My next mistake is to comment (innocuously, I think) on why he always puts his feet on his desk – does he have a lower-back problem? “It feels comfortable,” he says, looking faintly uncomfortable. “I wouldn’t do it in your house. I do it because it feels nice and relaxed.”

Later, when we sort of kiss and make up, it transpires that this was a turning point for him – ie, when things really started to go wrong – and his reasons reveal a lot about his rather complicated personality, as well as his uneasy accommodation with fame.

His comedy – and writing, in general – works because it is true to life, and full of acute observation. There’s no lumbering exposition and he follows the good writer’s rule of “Show, don’t tell.” His creation and portrayal of David Brent, The Office’s boss, resonates because his character is totally recognisable, whether the audience lives in Slough or Poughkeepsie. We all have a little bit of Brent inside us – an executive friend of mine confessed she feels herself to be cringingly like him whenever she tries to chum up to her staff.

There are discernible overlaps between Gervais himself and his most famous character, particularly his mannerisms. After our interview, I talked to half-a-dozen people about the feet-on-table business, and most of them said either that it was something Brent actually did or, at the very least, it was a quintessentially Brentian thing to do. What is intriguing is that Gervais intuited my discomfort with him sticking his trainers under my nose before I was even really aware of it. It was only afterwards that I thought, “Well, what if I were an elderly, genteel lady – would he still think it was OK to do that?” It also struck me how much it was a distancing device; with his body stretched out in an L-shape, his face could not have been further away from mine.

I ask him if he is sentimental, and he says that he is. So, I wonder, what is the stronger element in him: sentiment or ironic detachment. “I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t understand the question because it doesn’t make sense. I don’t think you can break it down to a percentage, because there’s lots of overlap as well. I’m 100 per cent human so I’m a logical person with all the attributes of being human…”

Perhaps you find me asking for a percentage a bit off-putting but… “I’ll take every question you ask very seriously.” OK, let’s try it another way: some people are completely sentimental without a trace of cruel wit in them and... “I never lose one when the other one’s happening. I don’t understand the question. You’ve gotta start again.”

Well, you have answered the question in a way... “I couldn’t have. If I did, I did it by mistake because I don’t understand the question.”

Oh dear, I sigh. The reason I’m asking the question, partly, is because your new film, Cemetery Junction – which you’ve said is very autobiographical (a coming-of-age story of three lads trapped in Nowheresville, plotting their escape) – has got a lot of warmth and heart, and feels quite different in tone to, say, The Office (or, certainly, from the one episode I saw, Extras).

Now we’re talking about “the work”, Gervais is back in his comfort zone; he knows where he’s going, he has control and there is a momentary ceasefire in hostilities. “[The new film] is more an out-and-out drama so there’s no veil of irony in it, like some of the other works. In The Office, we were laughing at the people who were delusional and un-cool, and now we’ve found people who are cool and, you know, we’re going, ‘This bloke is cool and his feathers are going to fall out one day but not this summer, and isn’t it excitin’?’

“I suppose it was quite dangerous in The Office to expect people to go from laughing at a bit of slapstick with a middle-aged man having a breakdown and then going, ‘But, really, no, he’s a real person and he’s got real emotions.’”

That’s what made it so interesting. “Of course and I think we’ve always done that.

As long as your characters are real and they resonate and there’s some sort of basis in reality and empathy to the piece, as opposed to just crazy slapstick, then I think you can shift gears.

“But it’s all in how you set up your wares, you know. We drip-fed the boy-meets-girl thing, which sometimes doesn’t work in sitcoms because they’re either plonked in or they’re cynical or they forget the jokes, so it’s quite hard to have it all.”

His accent weaves in and out of the Reading burr and a more sloppy urban-teenager-speak – “re-uh” for real; “resonaigh” for resonate; “re-a-li-ee” for reality.

When Tim, the world-weary sales rep, finally gets his girl, Dawn, the gorgeous blonde receptionist, I tell him that I felt like cheering. There had been more misunderstandings, missed opportunities and silent yearning than in a Jane Austen novel. “As soon as you realise that Tim and Dawn can’t say what they want to say because the cameras are watching them...” He snaps his fingers in a very Brent way, “...takes on a whole new level... It’s like, seething and Victorian. So all Tim had to do was look at Dawn and for her not to be looking back or look at Dawn and then get caught. It was all body language because people don’t blow up what they’re thinking anyway.”

It’s time for some more questions and, feeling flushed and anxious, I fan myself with some papers on his desk and then totally freak him out by mentioning the menopause. Do you think people are frightened of you? “Erm – um – in what way?” Frightened of your brightness or that you will lampoon them or put them down?

“Er, I think that, yes, some people are intimidated by a famous person and if they knew how, you know, how idiotic... Well, I think it’s the same percentage of idiots that are famous as not, probably more, I would have thought. So... er… I hope I’m not intimidating in a bad way. I mean, taking this example – um – you know, it’s not nice when it’s combative.”

At this point, I almost fall off my chair as it swings backwards alarmingly – practically to the ground – and I gasp, “Is this a joke seat?” (to dispatch pesky interviewers, I’m thinking.) “No, it’s Stephen Merchant’s – so it’s got a very long back.”

Well, I’m leading up to a question that I’m worried is going to make you angry but, anyway, let’s go. “I won’t be angry,” he says. “I won’t answer it if I don’t like it.” So I want to talk to you about your looks. When you were a pop star (in an Eighties Spandau Ballet-ish duo, all cheekbones, dusky eye make-up and earrings, called Seona Dancing) – “Failed pop star,” he interjects – you were an incredibly pretty boy. Do you ever look at those old videos or pictures of yourself? “No, they’re too depressing.”

Why this interests me is that, in practically every single interview he’s ever done, Gervais refers to himself, in some way, as “fat” or “ugly” or both (as in “ugly, fat git”). Is that really the way you see yourself?

“Well, I don’t think I am a fat git, looking at the national average... and certainly the world average. But I’m a fat git compared to what I was, I suppose. I went from 9 stone to, you know – and then you hit 30 and those were my eating years...” (He’s now 48.)

Do you feel any nostalgia for that pretty boy you once were? “No, of course not.” Do you not care about your looks? “Er… I don’t know. I’m not vain in that way. I don’t preen. I’ve started working out for other reasons.” Health? “Yeah, health – and because I don’t want to get fatter.

“You know. It went far enough. And it was laziness because no one gets fat behind their back. If you burn off less calories than you eat, you put on weight – it’s not a shock to anyone. The people who eat too much must be happy with that or they’d do something about it.

“And I’m eating as much as I ever did because I enjoy it, but I’ve decided to work out more. I run over the Heath and I’ve got a gym at the house, so no excuses at all – not that there was an excuse before... The only reason to live longer is to drink more wine and eat more cheese.”

He and his TV producer partner, Jane Fallon (This Life, Teachers) – the couple have been together since they met at University College London in 1982 – live in a big pile in Hampstead but have also bought a flat in New York. They don’t have children, so no schools to worry about, and what with Gervais’s burgeoning Hollywood career (Ghost Town, The Invention of Lying), it wouldn’t be all that surprising if they spend more time in the States. If so, will he feel pressurised to submit to the American beautification process?

“I think you mean, Los Angeles. New Yorkers are more...” Normal?

“Absolutely.” They’re still far more high-maintenance in the looks department in Manhattan than we are. “It’s probably more to do with what you do... The Hollywood pressure is that you do have to be of a certain standard or a certain type. I see everyone doing it, even good character actors. I think, ‘Why are you starving yourself?’ The pressure is there to have white, straight teeth...”

Would you ever do your teeth? “No, they’re clean and they’re real – it’s so strange to me that anyone would ever think I would. If I haven’t done them now, why would I do them?”

And, boom, off he goes... “What is in America? Who gives a f*** what anyone thinks? I don’t give a f*** what they think and if I don’t get a film role because my teeth are crooked, then f*** them, I don’t want it. I just go, ‘It’s ridiculous.’ And if I don’t get a film role because I’m not thin enough, then, ‘F*** you.Why would I f****** do that, you f****** shallow c****!’ I hate them, and I hate that people think that I would. It makes me angry. I remember when a newspaper said, ‘He’s lost three stone for Hollywood.’ I went, ‘No [his voice veers upwards], I haven’t lost three stone and I would never f****** do it for Hollywood. I did it ’cos I work out and I wanna be fit.’ And that annoys me. Someone said, ‘I saw him in The Ivy and he was having a salad.’ ‘Yeah, I had a salad. I also had f****** deep-fried scampi and followed it with ravioli, you lying f****** c***!’ So the answer is, ‘No.’”

This is a splendid rant and hugely entertaining, although Gervais is genuinely angry and not performing it for laughs. But even in Hollywood, he is now calling the shots. The Invention of Lying – in which he plays an unsuccessful film writer who is told by everyone that he’s a fat loser and, guess what, he still gets the girl – was written, directed, produced, narrated by and stars Ricky Gervais. As he says, “I create my own labour. I write my own roles and I write fat little putz roles, and now I write slightly less fat little putz roles. I don’t go for roles which demand a 28-year-old model. Why would I do that?”

The reason, I think, that he is quite often misunderstood is because his humour hinges on playing with taboos. The danger being that while the audience accepts when is on stage, his offensiveness is a parody of other people’s prejudices (made more piquant by our worry that, at some level, we battle with equally unattractive knee-jerk reactions), that comic tension doesn’t always come across in interviews. So something that he intends to be humorous – even though it may be, as Gervais says in another context (calling his friend, Stephen Fry, “a f****** bent c***”), possibly “a joke that went wrong” or “ironic humour that fell flat” – it can be reported as what he really believes.

A case in point, are his recent remarks – asked for the umpteenth time about why he and Jane haven’t had children – when he went off on a sort of sub-Loaded riff that fat chain-smoking impoverished slags in leggings should be compulsorily sterilised. As he says, coming from his background (his father, Jerry, was a labourer, and his mother, Eva, a housewife with a salty tongue; they were not well off), “it’s fundamentally the opposite of what I believe”. The thing is, he should have known better. He should have been sufficiently media-savvy to realise how bad that would look in print and, actually, if anything qualifies as “a joke that went wrong”, that hits the jackpot.

Gervais has said, in the past, that he shouldn’t need to wear a “Billy Bigot” T-shirt in order to flag up to people that he’s only joking. But when I try to get him to talk about the way we all have thoughts that pop in our head that we’re ashamed of, don’t we, he comes over all arsey again.

First of all, he says that this is a subject he talks about on his latest tour. “I love to examine it. I look at middle-class angst all the time.

“When David Brent goes up to the black guy in the office and says, ‘I love Sidney Poitier’, that was him trying to tell him he’s not a racist. I love looking at those taboo subjects that make us feel uncomfortable. If you’re brought up in an environment where people are saying, ‘Black people are lazy’, for instance, you hit an age, if you’re an intelligent person, when you go, ‘That’s just not true.’ It’s like why I became an atheist at the age of 8. Until that point I’d never questioned it and when I did, it was, ‘Of course, it’s bulls***’, because the evidence – just like the evidence of racism – is overwhelmingly wrong.”

Still, I wonder, are there any thoughts he has now that occasionally make him ashamed of himself? “That doesn’t make sense. How can you go, ‘I know that’s wrong but I like it’?” And then, “You can’t help what pops into your head. It’s how you act on those things, rationally.” Are you sometimes shocked by the things that pop into your head? “No.”

You’re frowning at me as though I’m saying something very stupid. “No, it doesn’t make sense is what I’m saying. I think you’ve made a category mistake in what the mind is, is my high-falutin’ answer. You can’t be ashamed of…” Yes, you can. “No, you can’t.” More wrangling ensues... At one point, he insists that my suggestion that there is a gap between an unbidden thought leaping into your head, and the way you believe you should think and behave, is schizophrenia. No, it’s not, I say, pretty cross and exasperated myself by now. “I dabble with those things in comedy...” Precisely. “I dabble with the worst thing to say and then I deal with it – but I haven’t got this strange sort of man with two brains sort of syndrome.” Oh God! “I’m sorry if it’s uncomfortable, but I think you’ve got to realise that this is important to me. I don’t want to be misinterpreted, so I don’t want you to be unclear. This is as much for you as it is for me. So if you mean, ‘Have I ever had a belief that I’m ashamed of?’, the answer’s, ‘Yes.’”

I wonder if this verbal torture is something to do with Gervais having studied philosophy for three years; perhaps he took courses in semantics and semiology while he was at it. “It’s difficult because we can’t even get our interpersonal frames of reference correct to answer the question,” he says. “But also what’s good about it is that it seems to be about how you portray yourself and how you perceive yourself. Are you worried about your press persona; are you worried about the press, in general?”

Actually, it wasn’t really about that in my mind but it clearly was in his... As I’m considering this, we have a breakthrough. He mentions a recent, not altogether friendly, interview and tells me that, despite it giving the impression that the two had met face to face (details about his body language and facial expression and so on), they had only spoken on the phone. When he sees that I am shocked and disappointed, the whole mood changes dramatically.

He goes to the next room for a glass of water, I follow him and when we resume our conversation, it’s like talking to a different person. All the aggro has dissipated and everything about him has changed: his feet are nowhere to be seen, he leans across the desk to engage more fully; even his face opens up, his eyes widen and one catches a glimpse of that younger, unhardened self.

Bizarrely, we start to discuss why the interview has been so difficult to that point. He says that the reason he does interviews is that there’s a responsibility to the backers of his various projects. Was it the directness of my questions that bothered you? “No, I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, she thinks I’m such a horrible, nasty power freak… She thinks I’m intimidating, she thinks I’m combative.’

“Because on the face of it, that’s how I was being. And what I should have done is sat you down and said, ‘Listen, once bitten twice shy, and I’m really worried about things being taken out of context.’” But maybe I did irritate you, anyway? “No, the situation does. Straightaway I go, ‘Why am I swimming with sharks again?’ And I’m so conscious that anything can be… So when you said, ‘You like putting your feet up’, I suppose I was on the defensive. And straightaway we got off on the wrong foot.” He’s so earnestly in the moment, he doesn’t hear what he’s just said. “I thought, ‘F***, she could think that’s an affectation or that I’m rude; she could think I’m doing a power play, like I’ve read that in a book, you know.’ And so I tried to make it clear in a weird, like honesty-type Tourette’s-type of way that I just felt comfortable because it was my place – and I said in such a weird way, ‘I wouldn’t do it in your house.’

“I feel really bad now. It must have been like walking into someone who’d just come from a harrowing experience in Vietnam and didn’t want to talk about it!” This, in case there is any doubt about it, is a joke.

Complicated, isn’t it? “I’ve never done an interview when in the interview you analyse the interview. This is the most postmodern, deconstructed interview I’ve ever done. I wish we could do the post mortem.

“Of course, you do that in your head. I’ll go home to Jane and go, ‘Oh my God, I said this… and I know the headline.’ But you can’t get a headline out of this.”

Earlier, before our détente, I had wondered whether Gervais fell into the Englishman’s retreat of making a joke in order to avoid talking in an honest way about his feelings. He gives an answer to a different question – one that has been on his mind, not mine – about the perils of being famous. “I suppose I came to fame a bit cynically. I wanted people to know fame was an upshot of what I did, as opposed to the driving force because, fundamentally, I probably do want to be considered above the people who do anything to be famous and live their life like an open wound.”

I ask him if he’s self-analytical; again, his thoughts wander back to fame, and at first he becomes spectacularly tongue-tied. “Er, probably no more than I ever was... I mean fame makes you – um – more… um, self-analytical I suppose because… now you’re worried about not how people perceive you but how people who don’t know you perceive you, which seems unfair because your reputation is everything.

“I’m more conscious in public than I ever was. I’m probably less of an extrovert than I was. Fame has made me a bit more of a recluse.

“I go to restaurants but they’re safe environments. People don’t bat any eyelid in the Ivy but I probably wouldn’t go to Nando’s on a Friday night in Birmingham, and I don’t go to pubs. I’ve had no bad experiences, everyone’s very polite, but you can get phobic. It’s about feeling trapped. If you walk into a shop and you see someone go [he whispers behind his hand], then you walk out again. Walking down the street with someone going, ‘Love the show’ – nothing wrong with that at all. But being plonked somewhere where there’s loads of people who you don’t know but think they know you – that’s a bit weird. We’re not really meant to be famous.”

He was walking down the street once and there were a couple of kids, about 12 or 13, and one went: “‘Hey, man, it’s you, innit? Office man.’ I went, ‘Yeah’, and I kept walking. And heard them going, ‘Who is it?’ And I kept walking and I was about 20 yards away and this kid shouted, ‘What’s your name?’ And I had to shout, ‘I’m Ricky Gervais.’”

The idea of him doing this, it must be said, is snortingly funny. “’Cos I don’t want to be impolite. They don’t know. And I never want to be that bloke – you know, when they go, ‘I asked for his autograph when I was 14 and he told me to f*** off.’ I hate that.”

It’s at times like this that you catch a glimpse of the nicer side of Gervais, and understand why his friendships are long, and why a smart-sounding woman like Fallon would still be at his side, 25-plus years on. He’s unforthcoming, which is unsurprising, on the secret of sustaining a relationship over three decades: “There is no secret.

It’s all the obvious things. Things in common. Respect. I suppose – um – you’re soul mates. You see eye to eye on everything.”

But his romanticism comes out when we talk about his idea of the perfect endings to films. When I say that Cemetery Junction has the same sort of grit-with-a-heart feeling as British films like The Full Monty and Brassed Off, Gervais says he hasn’t seen them. He only catches new films – about three a year – when he’s on the plane. At home, he watches the same DVDs again and again and rattles off a list: The Godfather, Casablanca, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Play It Again, Sam, Tootsie, Raging Bull. “It’s like taking a drug because it gives me the same emotion as it did the first time, and some things are made better the second time round. I’m better the second time round.”

With his new film, “We wanted to do Hollywood does gritty. It had to be glorious and glamorous in its blue-collar degradation, like Saturday Night Fever. When you watch that – he’s walking down the street, he’s looking good but he works in a paint shop and he lives for Saturday night. But most people who watched that weren’t going, ‘How sad, this fellow’s gonna fall’; they’re going, ‘Oh, look at that! He’s f****** cool.’”

The Apartment (directed by Billy Wilder) has had the biggest influence on his and Merchant’s work. When I say that two of the young guys (Christian Cooke and Tom Hughes) in Cemetery Junction are pretty gorgeous, he says “Who wants to see fat ugly people?” Oh no, don’t start that again. “No, Billy Wilder said that when he cast Marilyn Monroe alongside Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis [in Some Like It Hot], and he said, ‘No one wants to look at ugly people.’”

He says Cemetery Junction is autobiographical in that “all the women in that film are women from my family – my mum and my nan – and all the men are the men in my family and different friends growing up. There’s a line in it that my Mum actually said to me. [Gervais plays the character based on his father, in a white vest, always being undermined by his crabby mother-in-law.] When I was 18, I said, ‘I’m going to France’, and she said, ‘What do you want to go there for? There’s parts of Reading you ain’t seen.’ Which is very sweet.”

It was the death of his mother, nine years ago, in particular, which made a profound impact on her son: “It’s devastating when you see someone dying of lung cancer – it’s f****** horrible, dreadful. My dad died a couple of years after. He was pottering around the garden with a few cans and sort of went, just like that. When your parents die, you’re sad because you miss someone who bore you and shaped you and cared for you, and it does make you think about other things, like your health. I went to the doctor, and dragged Steve along once, and said, ‘I’ve found a lump – I’ve got cancer.’ It happened twice.”

We move away from intimations of mortality to those romantic endings.While his humour is graphic, his romances are oblique. “It’s so much more powerful when they don’t kiss. ’Cos in Hollywood they go, ‘Da da da, kiss, happy ever after.’ What do you mean, ‘Happy ever after’? What blew me away about The Apartment was the ending – he says, ‘I love you’ and she’s sort of shuffling the cards, ’cos when they were friends they used to play, and he says, ‘Did you hear what I said? I absolutely adore you.’ And she says, ‘Shut up and deal.’ Beautiful – soul mates – they’ve got things in common, they’ve already built it on a friendship.”

There is one especially moving moment in Cemetery Junction, when the father and son reconcile, in a tiny gesture, and Gervais – who co-wrote it with Merchant, their first feature film together – would burst into tears every time he shot it. “Yeah, it was, like, ‘Wheew’ [blows his nose], ‘That was brilliant’ [another honk], ‘Ok, let’s go again’ [clears his throat with emotion].’’

By now I am emboldened to ask him directly if he’s a romantic.

“Of course,” he says. “As an atheist, that’s all that matters. You don’t get rewarded for being nice in Heaven, you get rewarded for it on earth. So be nice to people. Make a connection – because, you know, what else is there except making a connection with someone?”

It was lucky for both of us that there were two parts to this interview and, I would agree with him – Gervais is definitely better the second time round.

Cemetery Junction is released on April 14
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 15, 2010 9:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant talk 'Cemetery Junction'
The directors and writers of 'The Office' and 'Extras' discuss 'Cemetery Junction', the first movie they've made together
Tim Arthur

One of the first things that strikes you about Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s office just off the main drag of Hampstead High Street is how remarkably unremarkable it is. The sparse, utilitarian space proclaims that this is a location for serious business. If it weren’t for the Simpsonised standee of Ricky in one corner, box-sets of ‘The Office’ and ‘Extras’ sitting on some bare shelves and a mini podcast studio, you could easily mistake it for the workplace of a pair of moderately successful accountants. Between them they have accumulated enough awards to fill an impressively large trophy cabinet – including seven Baftas, five British Comedy Awards, three Golden Globes and two Emmys – but these are notable by their absence. Instead, propped on the windowsill is an old-fashioned railway sign bearing the embossed words, ‘Cemetery Junction’. It’s this, the duo’s latest collaboration, that I’ve come to talk to them about.

Your new film, ‘Cemetery Junction’, is the first movie you’ve written and directed together. We hear it’s a lot more serious than people may be expecting. Are you at all concerned that it might not be the Gervais/Merchant production people have been waiting for?
Ricky Gervais ‘I think you should always blow expectations away.You should never pander or do what’s expected, particularly with comedy and drama. It’s always about misdirection; it should always be a surprise.’

Stephen Merchant ‘I wonder what people’s perception of us is, anyway. Is it just Ricky doing a funny dance and me wanking over a pen, rather than all the other stuff?’

RG ‘We’ve never actually done broad comedy. Our shows may have appealed to a broad audience but that was never what we set out to do. Our work should just have stayed at cult level.’

SM ‘People also don’t see the work we do behind the scenes for years on something like this film. They just see you on a chat show and go, “Well, hang on, I thought the last time I saw them they were dicking around. Why are they doing this serious stuff?”’

RG ‘But we’ve always tried sneaking stuff in. Like we always knew “The Office” was meant to be nearly a soap opera with laughs, but actually the themes were more ambitious than the average sitcom. It was quite existential. That’s what excites me. I remember the buzz I got when we finished “The Office”. I still get a buzz when I write a joke. An adrenaline rush. Nothing else does that: watching it on telly, winning an award, money – these don’t give me an adrenaline rush. But the artistic process – having the idea all the way through to finishing it with no one interfering, that gives me an adrenaline rush. I hope every film I sit down and watch changes my life in some way. That’s the truth of it. And that’s what we wanted from this film.’

‘Cemetery Junction’ is the story of three young men trying to escape their stifling lives in a small town during the 1970s. How autobiographical is it for both of you?
RG ‘It’s definitely taking us back to our roots. I grew up in a place exactly like the one in the movie. I knew all of those people, so did Steve.’

SM ‘We’ve romanticised it to a degree. We’ve done that deliberately to make it feel a little bit like a dream of the past, rather than the tough, gritty realism of Britain in 1970.’

RG ‘Even so, my dad was a labourer, my mum was a housewife and we lived on a really working-class estate, but it didn’t seem grim; there was nobility in that life.’

SM ‘I never felt I was escaping an inner-city, drug-fuelled estate. It was quite a pleasant life. But I still felt personally very constrained.’

RG ‘Exactly. It was more about the mindset of the people there. There’s a line that my mum said to me when I was 18 that sums it up. I said, “I’m going to France,” and she said, “What do you want to go there for? There are parts of Reading you haven’t seen yet.” And that’s not a quintessentially English mindset either; it’s exactly the same in Middle America now.’

Having had a lot of international success while you were writing it, did you ever consider how this very ‘English’ story would be received across the Pond?
RG ‘Not really, but then we didn’t make “The Office” for a global market, and it’s gone everywhere. The themes are universal: boy meets girl, man fears wasting his life and wants to make a mark in the world. The same themes that we have in this film.’

SM ‘Funnily enough, one of the main inspirations for “Cemetery Junction” was a line from “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen, which couldn’t be more American: “A town full of losers and we’re pulling out of here to win…” ’

You’ve had so much success with your past projects. Are you at all nervous about how successful this one will be?
RG ‘It’s a success already because it’s exactly how we wanted it to be. If you start trying to do things to please other people – public, critics or peers – and they don’t like it, you’ve failed. If you don’t give a fuck about what they think and you’re trying to please yourself, you can’t fail.’

SM ‘Yeah, but we’d still like people to go to the cinema. However, in the end you have to think of the long-term picture. What’s our body of work going to be…’

RG ‘… in 25 years’ time.’

SM ‘It’s got to be work we’re proud of. Not four sequels in which, yet again, Ricky is mistaken for a Bolivian dictator who looks exactly like him and has to masquerade…’

RG ‘Hold on, let me get a pen… Ultimately, though, you do it for yourself and likeminded people. Bob Dylan had a great quote, he said: “A man can consider himself a success if he wakes up in the morning, goes to bed at night and in between did exactly what he wanted.” That is success and that’s precisely what we do.’

SM ‘The problem is it sounds conceited.’

RG ‘It always does. But it’s true, we do what we do primarily to please ourselves.’

So does criticism have no effect on you?
RG ‘The thing is there are some good critics, there are some bad critics, and then there are some critics that aren’t really critics, they’re gossip-mongers; they’re fed up and they’re jealous: “We’ve won! We’ve won! Their life didn’t turn out like they wanted it! We’ve won!” You mustn’t worry about those ones. But ultimately to complain about critics is like complaining about waves. They are there whether you like it or not.’

SM ‘I don’t want to read reviews even if they’re glowing; it’s not useful to me. Our own self-doubt and anxiety about if we’ve done something right or not is far more important and gnawing than anything some bloke I’ve never met could say.’

Hollywood appears to have embraced you. When you’re over there do you still have the feeling of being outsiders, or are you now very much on the inside?
SM ‘I still feel kind of privileged that they would let me in the country club to have a walk around and have a quiet drink in the corner, but I don’t feel like we’ll ever be real members.’

How did you get away with the comments you made at the Golden Globes about stars like Mel Gibson and Angelina Jolie?
RG ‘Because it’s with their blessing. They get the joke. It’s often a relief that someone will talk normally to them again. I bet they miss that.’

SM ‘I think Ricky still isn’t really one of them. He’s just a Brit coming on, a beer in hand, kind of roasting the celebs.’

RG ‘I had to play it as the outsider. I had to be the wrong person for the job. That way I could say whatever I liked because I’m not a threat in any way at all.’

Do you see this film as being the first of a large body of work that you’d like to look back on in later life?
RG ‘No. I’d like to look back on a perfect body of work. But I don’t care how large it is. The point of art is to make a connection, and I don’t care how many people I connect with but I want every connection to be a big one.’

SM ‘Yeah, it’s not the volume of work, it’s being able to say there was some good stuff. There weren’t endless bad sequels. We weren’t chasing celebrity and money. You know what I mean? We simply created some good shit.’
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais' Guide To The English

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 19, 2010 6:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thinner on the ground
Kylie Northover
November 20, 2010

WHEN Ricky Gervais toured his Animals stand-up show in 2003, he was "that bloke from The Office". The award-winning comedy, first shown in Britain in 2001, was only just gaining cult status after the second series and subsequent DVD releases. Since then, of course, Gervais has become a global star, The Office shown in 80 countries.

But between his television series, his numerous film roles and guest appearances from the Golden Globes to The Simpsons, Gervais returns intermittently to the stage. Last year he embarked on the latest in his "themed" live shows, with Science, having previously covered animals, politics and fame, all of which were recorded for DVD release. Science is released in Australia this month but Gervais advises against expecting much actual science.

"As I say in the show, if you've come along to revise as part of your thesis then you're pretty much f--ked," Gervais says on the phone from London. "I started doing these one-word academic titles as a sort of swipe at the pomposity of comedians who think they can do a 'study' of something . . . I've never been one of these comedians who would rather be applauded than laughed at."

His Politics show, he says, was the most explicit spoof of worthy comics. "I pretended to be one of these comedians motivated by altruism and trying to bring down the bad guys, but, of course, I kept getting it wrong and I always came down on the wrong side — my targets, far from being George W. Bush and banks and corporations were actually soft targets like Gandhi and Mother Teresa," he says.

"All my stuff is really, on the face of it, the targets of a right-wing pub bore, bigot type. But actually, the real target is our own beliefs and expectations — the audience's and mine. I think audiences are clever enough to know when I'm being satirical and getting the facts wrong for their amusement, and when I actually mean something. Like when I deconstruct the Bible or Noah, they know I'm an atheist and I'm properly deconstructing it in a scientific, logical way for their amusement. Whereas when I'm saying things like, 'Nelson Mandela has been out now for 30 years and hasn't re-offended, and that shows prison works', I think they know . . ."

Perhaps the only truly science-based bit in Gervais's new show is his atheism rant. "It's a hot topic now, but I've been an atheist since the age of eight. I deconstructed the Bible on my very first show, but I wasn't rallying, I'm not trying to change the world. My real motivation was that it was funny," he says.

"If I went out there without jokes and said, 'This is ridiculous, look at this,' the audience would start thinking I'd gone mad and start asking each other, 'Why is he trying to disprove the existence of God? Make us laugh, you idiot.' I am a comedian, not a philosopher, not a scientist, not a politician." Not yet, anyway. "Yeah, that's right, not yet," Gervais retorts, laughing maniacally.

Gervais toured Britain and America with Science over a year and says that only now has he honed his stand-up skills. "It really clicked this year, through this tour, how much I really enjoy doing stand-up. It's taken me this long to be a good stand-up. I think this is the best I've ever been," he says.

Meanwhile, Gervais's phenomenally popular podcast, The Ricky Gervais Show, has had more than 260 million downloads. Gervais, with writing partner Stephen Merchant and long-time friend and radio producer Karl Pilkington, began podcasting in 2005; within a year the show had made it into Guinness World Records as the most downloaded podcast of all time. "The podcast is the most fun I can have. We've just done a day in the life of Karl Pilkington, just him going through what he does every day," Gervais says.

Explaining Pilkington's daily ritual, such as how he doesn't kiss his girlfriend goodbye, but rather pats her on the head before leaving, causes Gervais to collapse into his trademark infectious laughter. "It's just things like that, that's all it is — me and Steve just die laughing."

Creating something you're genuinely passionate about, Gervais says, leads to success. "I think if you go all out to dominate, thinking what do people want, what do they need, you might be very successful but you probably won't do anything original," he says. "The Office, Extras, the podcast, they've all been passion projects."

Among the accolades, the records and the fame, though, Gervais counts his appearance earlier this year on Sesame Street as a career highlight. "I was blown away with Elmo. I couldn't get enough of him," he says. "I didn't care that there was a middle-aged man lying down under the chair — I was just speaking to Elmo. He was great."

Such appearances are one of the few "celebrity" perks Gervais buys into. "I fear playing celebrity and I despise it in a way, but the pros are that you get to meet your heroes — I've worked with Sesame Street, The Simpsons, I've worked with Bowie and De Niro and I've just done Curb Your Enthusiasm. I can't complain at the access it's given me," he says. "But I think they're all diversions . . . Even hosting the Golden Globes — that was fun and a privilege, and lovely, but it's not tangibly mine, if you know what I mean?"

Gervais's next few projects are decidedly his own. Next he's working on an animated version of his children's book Flanimals, in which he plays the lead — as the fattest animal. Brilliantly timed, as Gervais has recently lost a considerable amount of weight. "It's funny, people think I've lost weight for Hollywood, but the next two roles I have are in animations," he says. "I still sound fat, though, luckily."

He and his girlfriend took up running earlier this year and Gervais has lost nine kilograms. "It's so funny because people come up to me and say, 'Wow, you look great, you're so tiny,' and I'm thinking, well no, you just mean I was fat before and you didn't tell me, did you? That's what I needed. I needed waiters to come over and go to me, 'Fuck off, you've had enough.' But they didn't."

So does this mean he'll lose jokes at the expense of fatties in future politically incorrect routines? "I think so — when I was fat myself it was allowed. Now I'm not I don't want people to think I'm actually having a go. I've never had a go at fat people, I've only pointed out that you'll get fat if you eat too much," he says. "I got fat because I ate too much and didn't exercise. As soon as I stopped eating too much and started doing exercise, I got thin. That's pure science."
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 04, 2010 7:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's a couple of recent radio interviews with Ricky Gervais

2010-11-23 - Steve Wright - 9mb
2010-11-30 - Front Row - 10mb
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 08, 2010 1:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington - 2010-11-25 - The One Show
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 8:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais - Front Row - 2011-11-29
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais - 2012-01-11 - MSNBC Today
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 10:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2012 6:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais' Life's Too Short: An Aggressively Unfunny Comedy Failure
Maureen Ryan
16th Feb 2012

There's something sour and awful about Ricky Gervais' comedy these days. He used to be a sly, cheeky observer of human behavior, but his current status as a smug, self-absorbed blowhard finds its clearest expression in his new HBO show, "Life's Too Short" (premieres Sun., Feb. 19, 10:30 p.m. EST).

In the two episodes I watched, there was exactly one funny scene: If you must sample the show, fast-forward through the first episode to get to the scene of Liam Neeson demanding to do improv with Gervais and his writing partner, Stephen Merchant. Neeson's terrible comedy instincts are not just hilarious but endearing in their innocence; "Life's Too Short's" version of the actor really wants to do comedy but has no idea how.

Gervais used to know how to be funny on a consistent basis, way back when he and Merchant created the original British version of "The Office" more than a decade ago. That much-copied show begat the current craze for the "mockumentary" comedy format, in which vast arenas of awkwardness and cluelessness are mined for laughs. There is awkwardness and idiocy on display in "Life's Too Short," which stars actor Warwick Davis as a hopefully inaccurate version of himself, but almost none of it is funny, much of it is off-putting and all of it is pointless.

In their previous series, "Extras," Merchant and Gervais explored a series of ideas about fame and what people will do to have it or be near it. That's also the theme of "Life's Too Short," but the new show merely makes Davis, a little person who has appeared in "Willow," the "Star Wars" movies and the Harry Potter films, the mouthpiece for Gervais' threadbare, self-serving ideas about celebrity. In "Extras," Gervais played a man so desperate to become an actor that he was willing to spend weeks as a bored background performer; Davis plays an actor past his prime who is willing to trade on his status as a semi-famous actor and his stature to hustle all manner of undignified gigs.

There are a lot of things that are off-putting about "Life's Too Short," starting with the fact that the Davis character does not resemble a real person; he's just a mishmash of traits that haphazardly change based on the needs of the show (i.e., Davis is smart in one scene, stupid in the next; he's secure in one moment and then desperately insecure in the next; he's kind one moment and cruel seconds later, etc). But the most unpleasant thing about the show is that one gets the sense that Gervais and Merchant made Davis the star because it would be easier to garner sympathy for the character based on his size.

In a scene set at a sci-fi convention, for instance, Davis is interviewed by a moronic journalist who has no idea who he is and who asks that Davis stand on a chair to make the interview easier to film. Davis is uncomfortable, understandably; the reporter is so rude that it's impossible not to have sympathy for the actor. Yet moments earlier, Davis spent several minutes berating the mother of a sick kid who wanted a free autograph for her son.

The whole convention sequence was unfunny and predictable (news flash: Nerds can't get girls!), but it was hard not to feel, in the scene with the reporter and elsewhere, that the show was regularly attempting to manipulate the audience into having sympathy for a character who is selfish and petulant most of the time.

David Brent, the spectacularly clueless lead character of the U.K. "Office," was something of an oddity when he first arrived on the TV scene, but by this point, the comedy dynamics of characters who have no self-awareness or social skills are well established. The rhythms of "a nice statement followed by a clueless/mean statement" are every bit as predictable as the setup-punchline rhythms of a traditional, three-camera sitcom. Because these kinds of tin-eared comedy types are everywhere now, execution is everything; the comedy has to be fresh and inventive and the characters have to have a few redeeming traits for the jokes to work.

Nothing about "Life's Too Short" feels fresh; the entire enterprise feels like yet another excuse for Gervais to go through his Rolodex and appear on screen with the famous people he likes to "mock." When Davis and other celebrities appear in Gervais' office for no real reason, it feels forced, and when Davis makes a statement about how his wife had to diet to fit into her wedding dress, you just know it's going to be followed by a crack about how she didn't lose as much weight as he would have liked.

The fact is, Ricky Gervais' TV shows and attempts at stand-up comedy keep repeating the same ideas over and over again, with increasingly unfunny and predictable returns. As was the case with "The Office" and "Extras," "Life's Too Short" features an alternately cruel and clueless character who has a particularly dumb sidekick (Davis has an assistant whose main contributions are blank, vacant looks), and whatever Gervais and Merchant try to do with their characters these days, their tiresome arrogance is all that is really memorable.

You could watch the second episode to see Johnny Depp's guest turn, but it just reinforces a concept that Gervais has promoted in his Golden Globes appearances and self-congratulatory interviews: The idea is that he has the upper hand over celebrities because he dares to ruffle their giant egos. The fact that Gervais' quips are often hacky and cliched apparently never occurs to him, and the idea that his characters have no other purpose than to act as his smarmy mouthpieces must not bother him.

In "Life's Too Short," Depp is made to seem like a thin-skinned crazy person (he humiliates Davis' character by making him dance and having him get into a toilet), and the smirk on Gervais' face when Depp rants about those Golden Globes gibes tells you everything you need to know about Gervais' priorities. He wants the famous people to notice him and to tacitly acknowledge that he's not just "edgy" and "daring" but more powerful than they are, because they're willing to come on his show and act silly for the cameras. If that's what passes for artistic courage, it's weak sauce.

A couple of minutes from the end of the second installment, I turned the episode off. I just could not take the show's sloppy inconsistencies any more. Davis' character had agreed to make an appearance at a fan's wedding (for a price, of course), and as soon as a member of the wedding party made a speech about a much-loved older relative who had died, I was sure Davis would take the microphone and say tasteless things about the dead woman.

He did exactly that, and then, for good measure, Davis added a foul joke about the bride, whom he'd barely met. Not only was the "joke" unfunny, Davis' behavior just made no sense. There's no way a character who is moderately intelligent in other contexts -- and who is, by the way, desperate for money -- would have insulted people he barely knew on their wedding day, before getting paid. But it would seem his characters' humanity, consistency and reality don't matter in the slightest to Gervais. It's both shocking and sad that a man who helped create "The Office's" Tim and Dawn -- characters who became iconic for their depth and humanity -- has essentially created, as Newsweek/The Daily Beast's Jace Lacob accurately wrote, "a little-person minstrel show."

I loved the U.K. "Office" and I think certain episodes of Season 2 of "Extras" are very funny, but this new program goes a long way toward proving that Gervais has turned into David Brent. The writer/comedian/Golden Globes host's bullying tendencies and abrasive self-regard are increasingly off-putting, and he displays none of Brent's skewed naivete or desire to be liked.

Gervais may think he's bold, but at this stage, he's just a bore.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ricky Gervais - 2012-11-22 - Richard Bacon

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