Exclusive Interview with Ricky Gervais

This week saw the release of Ricky Gervais' second stand-up performance on DVD, hot on the heels of the release of The Office Christmas Specials. Matt Day recently got the chance to talk exclusively with Ricky Gervais about both of those, and many more subjects.
Readers should be aware, Ricky can have a bit of a dirty mouth, so the easily offended are rather out of luck...

[Matt Day] I read after your Animals tour that you felt almost rude having such a successful comedy tour when you were really getting it on the back of your TV fame, after a second successful tour do you feel like you’ve earned the right to be there?

[Ricky Gervais] What I said was most people slog around for 15 years doing stand up in pubs and losing ten grand a time at Edinburgh trying to get a producer to come along and maybe get a TV show, whereas I sort of swanned in and got a TV show without having done stand up, and I thought really I should have more than one string to my bow and I wanted to be an all round comedian and I wondered if I could do it. I had a go with Animals, and I stand by it, but the thing with stand up is the more you do the better you get. I did about 20 shows with Animals, and in Politics I’m a much better performer, I did twice as many shows and I’d already improved but in Politics I really became a much better performer. Even when I write the shows it’s about 80% there when I just do it in theory because I still think I’m a writer first and a performer second, but there’s nothing like experience and I think with Politics I’m a pretty good performer now.

[MD] I noticed a big difference in your style between the two, there’s a lot more of both improvisation and the obvious mock improvisation.

[RG] Well I wanted it to be anecdotal but – in a pleasant way, I’m not down on Animals – but there’s a naiveté to Animals, even though I’m 40 there’s a naiveté to it because it was my first time, and I think that I’ve probably caught up with some people on Politics, and I do feel it’s up there with anything else that’s coming out at this time. I did feel that a lot of people bought Animals because I was the bloke of The Office, whereas hopefully people that buy Politics – and I know I can’t get away from it, I’m the bloke of the telly – but I hope people that are buying it are doing that because it’s a good stand up show, and I hope when they watch it they think that it’s a proper stand up show, because with Animals I almost wrote it like a TV show, it had an introduction, it had a slideshow, it had a theme to it, it was almost like a TV special whereas Politics was stripped down, it was me and a microphone going up and down the country. Which is, well it’s not the be all and end all, but I feel that I’ve got real, I’ve got good, it’s as simple as that.

[MD] You mention the anecdotal nature of it, you got some great material from Karl Pilkington (Ricky’s XFM Producer)

[RG] Oh I know, it’s almost cheating isn’t it, it’s almost too easy. Most people will tell stories about friends and bus drivers and people they’ve seen, whereas because I know Karl Pilkington it’s like I’ve got an endless well, I’ve got a theme of comedy gold that no-one else has got and I think I should start giving him royalties.

[MD] Did you put the interview with him on the DVD [of Politics] just to prove he was a real guy?

[RG] Absolutely. Absolutely. Because I think people just won’t believe anyone thinks like that, and you can see that I just can’t believe what he’s saying and he surprises me constantly, every time I speak to him there’s something funny. Like, I saw Finding Nemo the other week, and I was on the phone to him and I said I’d just watched it and said “Brilliant innit” and it’s always good when you genuinely, without irony, see eye to eye with Karl it’s like a connection, like your child hasn’t spoken until now, you just want to nurture it. So I said it was great it was such a great story as well, and it’s beautiful how far animation has come, but it’s amazing how much it cost. And he said “Whatcha mean?” so I told him animation costs more than real films. “Rubbish. What’s the point of computers if it takes longer?” Well no Karl, it takes each animator one week to put 2 seconds on screen. And after raving about the film he said “fuck it, it’s not worth it, just a get a real fish and poke it with a stick.” [amazed] Just get a real fish and poke it with a stick?! It’s just incredible. The way he lives inside his head, it’s just a joy, so yeah I did put it on to let people know that I know the closest living thing to Homer Simpson. Of course the other thing we put on with Robin Ince, I saw one journalists write up on the internet where he said “it’s hard to believe this isn’t staged for the camera” but it isn’t, it isn’t staged at all, that’s just me with a camcorder torturing Robin Ince on tour.

[MD] I have to say, people I’ve watched the DVD with have a hard time believing any of the extras aren’t stage, they’re just so incredible.

[RG] [laughs] I promise, they really, really aren’t. Well they’re staged in the sense that we all knew we were being filmed, but they’re all actual things that we’d be doing anyway. I sit down and talk to Karl like that anyway, and I torture Robin every day, I phone him up every day, I leave messages every day, I mean every day of the year.

[MD] Are you amazed he still talks to you?

[RG] Yeah I am! I think I’ve always done it really, I suppose I can’t believe my luck that I’ve got these funny little friends, it’s like I live in a wood. And we just get up and run around and eat nuts all day. And then we go to sleep, and then we get up, and run around and eat nuts all day. It’s quite a joy isn't it, to have funny friends, so I thought I’d put it on tape.

[MD] The funny thing about Karl is that he’s so amazingly politically incorrect, but so are you in Politics, do you ever worry you’re going to push it too far?

[RG] Well the difference is I’m playing a slight persona, and there’s a certain amount of irony in it, the joke being that I’m confused. Obviously I don’t really think that disabled people are lazy, or that famine is funny, do you know what I mean, the comedy construct is that I’m confused. Karl… doesn’t know what irony is. He says what’s on his mind and he means it, and it’s always from a good place, he’s not cruel, he’s just honest. I mean he doesn’t carry around that book of freaks to be cruel, he just carries it around like some people carry around a bible. I can imagine him getting shot, but the bullet doesn’t enter him because he’s got that book of freaks in his pocket. Yeah…[sighs]… he’s amazing. I want to make Karl Pilkington the star, so people go up to him in the street and say “You bald little Manc twat” so if I can get people shouting at him on the street or shouting “Aaaaaaaaahh Robin” at Robin Ince, I’ve done my bit. I mean, I know how much I hate being recognised, so if I can ruin their little lives, just a little bit then… my work is done.

[MD] You’ve never seemed like someone that’s enjoyed meeting the public, do you think that it’s ironic you’ve got fame from playing someone so desperate for fame, but that should really have never gotten famous?

[RG] That’s the joke really. I’ve never understood why people let cameras into their lives, and show themselves warts and all, you know, they need the fame. I don’t know why people sell their stories to the paper, just because they want to be famous. I mean, I can’t have a go at her, I’ve never met her, I don’t know anything about her, but Rebecca Loos, with the thing with the pig. She knowingly sleeps with a married man – if it’s true – but she says she did that, sells her story to the paper and then wanks off a pig. I mean… that’s a hell of a CV isn’t it. [laughing] Most people lie on their CVs to make them sound a bit better! And the next thing is to be one of those people that go on “I’m a celebrity give me an enema” it’s like… what won’t people do to be famous?

[MD] And then there’s you, and you can’t get away from it.

[RG] Exactly, I’m sat here in an office with the blinds drawn because I’m tired of people walking past and looking in. But I think people mistake fame for success, respect, they think of it as a shortcut – which it isn’t – it’s this whole culture of thinking that being famous is a good thing. Some people think famous people are better in some way, it’s like this holy grail of, god, chasing the papers.

[MD] So do you think people are ever going to get tired of Heat magazine?

[RG] God there’s so many like Heat magazine now! There’s about ten rip-offs of heat magazine now. And you’d better get them all! Even though it’s all the same pictures, all the same things… I can’t believe it. I mean how far do you have to read on when it says “Mrs. X, My secret boob job” Well, she’s had a boob job, I don’t need to buy it now. Or, “Cameron Diaz, she’s got a spot” Has she? [deadpan] Oooh brilliant. I mean there isn’t a week that goes by I’m not spotted, I live and work in the West End, I walk past these peoples offices every day. The ones I really love are “Spotted! Johnny Depp on the set of his new movie!”

[MD] What a scoop!

[RG] Exactly. The thing is with Heat is I like it, the TV page and the film reviews and all that, they’re really good, but I’m not the sort of person to flick through nine girls wearing a green frock, I mean that’s a feature. [laughs] But not only is it successful, and probably the best of those things, there’s still ten copies so people can soak up celebrities, and it confuses me. There’s still people going into these game shows saying “That’ll change my life” First, you probably can’t remember the names of people in Big Brother, except maybe the winners, over the last five years, no-one learns from that, I just don’t know when people are going to realise that Andy Warhol was right. It’s one of the most prophetic things of the 20th Century, you know, 15 minutes, that’s it, and I think it’s probably getting shorter. And these people that really don’t see past what the fame is, it’s like, if you got a bloke that had been in a laboratory for 20 years to come up with a cure for AIDS and put him next to someone that’s been in Hollyoaks, people will still go “ooh it’s the girl from Hollyoaks” yeah, but this is the guy that discovered the cure for AIDS. “Don’t recognise him.” Well no, he’s been in a laboratory for 20 years, he’s never been in The Bill. [laughs] So yeah, I’m not having it.

[MD] Have you been trying to stay as far away from the public eye as possible after The Office, not going straight back onto TV?

[RG] Well I’m trying to stay away from celebrity for celebrity’s sake, and I’m trying to keep my private life private, but what I have to do is let people know that I’ve got a program on TV tonight, of I’ve got a DVD coming out, so what I try and do is talk about the work and then try and stay out of the papers when I haven’t got something on. Because I also think that from a career point of view everyone’s given a big pile of goodwill when they go into showbusiness, and you can either use all that up in the first year by going to everything, doing every voiceover, being on every advert, being seen on every red carpet and then begging for your career because you’ve blown that big pile of goodwill, or you could be sensible with it and take a little bit out of the bank when you actually need it. If you want longevity in this career, one you have to keep doing good stuff that’s the most important thing, and two, keep out of the public eye. I mean I’m sick of my big fat face and I think I’m brilliant. There’s not a day that goes past that my picture isn’t in the paper, but it’s nothing to do with me, you know, there’s an EEC statistic about desks being bad for the back. Picture of David Brent. Man up on sexism charge, in court today. Picture of David Brent. And that’s me not doing anything, trying to stay out of the paper. So if you’re willing to court it… they need to fill column inches, if you’re willing to walk down the street with your arse out, or dressed as a duck or punching someone in the face… you’ll be in the paper. One, it’s undignified, two, people get sick of you, three… just do something you’re proud of…

[MD] Not… wank off a pig then?

[RG] [laughs] To be fair to her she wasn’t wanking off a pig she was helping take a sample, like any farmer would do. It’s just that it was such gratuitous television and it was funny… and, well… I suppose technically she was wanking off a pig, but she wasn’t doing it for a laugh… or for the pigs pleasure. [laughs]

[MD] Now that The Office Christmas Specials have come out on DVD are you hoping that you’ll finally be able to leave David Brent behind you, and maybe keep his picture out of the paper every day?

[RG] Yeah, but I thought that a year ago, but there’s so many things. Basically our day, mine and Steve’s [Merchant] day is admin, probably four out of six hours a day, of which two hours is saying no to stuff. We get a big list and it’s no… no… no… no… no… right, let’s get on with writing. And because we do everything ourselves, meaning we conceive of the program, we write it, we cast and direct and act in it, then we edit it, then I do my press run of the city then I worry about the font for the DVD, then we make the DVD, we do everything. It takes a year, whereas some actors can do three sitcoms in a year and walk away at five thirty and don’t think about it again. Plus, now that it has taken off in America to the extent that it’s like doing a press junket for a film coming out. Most British sitcoms don’t make it in America and ours took off, particularly in the industry so not only was I getting ridiculous offers to do everything – particularly after the [Golden] Globes – but I’ve just been out there because the Christmas specials are being shown for Thanksgiving so I did Letterman and all that, and then the DVD is coming out so they want me to go and do something for that, it’s sort of never ending really. Now I’m being told Animals is one of the most downloaded bootlegs in America, because they can’t get it, so I sit around thinking what should I do, should I release that over there too, there’s just so many things I could be doing, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. The thing is I still enjoy my time off, what I’m saying is, I’m lazy, but still I’d rather do one thing properly than three things half-arsed.

[MD] So how’s the American remake of The Office going?

[RG] We’re not really involved.

[MD] Word is the pilot didn’t go down to well and it may have stalled the project.

[RG] I think it got the lowest score on the focus group for NBC, which is a bit of a coincidence really because so did the English version here for BBC2. We got the lowest focus group score ever, joint bottom with women’s bowls. But the BBC said, fuck it put it out anyway. So NBC have bought six anyway and it’s going out next January or February I think, and again they want me to go out there to launch that for them. I could probably tour for the next three years just doing bits and pieces for The Office.

[MD] Even though you have nothing to do with the remake.

[RG] Exactly! I’d be like George Lucas just protecting my assets. And then do Office IV with David Brent vs. Jar Jar Binks. I mean there are very exciting things happening from it, but I could have been in seven movies this year but then I’d be in a Winnebego for six weeks at a time just to pop up in film. Whereas when I’m in England I’m writing Extras, which is what I do, I’m a writer director, I don’t want to go around waving.

[MD] So you’re not tempted to move into film, because most of the principle cast of The Office have done already.

[RG] Well I would be tempted to move into film, but obviously British films are out of the question because they’re all shit.

[MD] Well Lucy Davis did rather well with Shaun of the Dead.

[RG] Good point, I’ll change that then, to few and far between.

[MD] But you’re still not tempted, to try and be one of the few and far between?

[RG] No not at all because most British films could be a TV movie or a series, most people go “ooh we’ve got 2 million pounds to spend on a film.” [deadpan] Brilliant. Let’s get a TV comedian and a seventy year old actor that was big once and do a film and advertise it on the sides of buses for a week and then it can go straight to video. Let’s do that. Or, we could wait and either write a film or build up the power so the first thing you do is really, really good. There are films that I really consider sometimes but it comes down to that I could take six weeks off and do the film, or I could write another series, and I know which one wins.

[MD] So you’re writing Extras at the moment, I heard about the series quite a while ago?

[RG] Well we take so long over the writing, I mean, if it’s going to be around forever it’s better to put a year into it.

[MD] So is it close to production now?

[RG] Yeah we’ll be filming it after Christmas, probably February/March and get it out for a summer release I think at the earliest. I play a supporting actor, an extra, who’s just desperate to get a line, I’m desperate to try and make it because I think I deserve it. But I’m a bit misanthropic, I sit around and slag everyone off and I’ve chosen the worst job in the world because I have to spend 8 hours a day in a green room sitting around with people whittering about how much they like Harry fucking Potter. So it’s about my exploits and the quest for fame.

[MD] So you’re playing another character desperate for fame, but you’re still hoping to stay out of the public eye.

[RG] Yeah, but as long as I’m taking the piss out of it, it makes me feel better, it’s like an exorcism [laughs] and we really slag off actors and the industry and everything. As my English teacher always said, write about what you know, so The Office was based on eight years of me working in an office and for the past seven or eight years I’ve been in media. But it’s still a naturalistic comedy about relationships and human behaviour, it’s not a big spoof about show business, that’s just a backdrop. The same way Wernam Hogg and selling paper was just a backdrop for The Office, it’s still about relationships and character.

[MD] So it won’t be full of movie homáges and spoofs then?

[RG] Oh no, spoofs are the easiest thing in the world. Why do people do spoofs? It’s such an easy thing, it’s such route one comedy. If you’re thinking let’s do a spoof then say let’s not do a fucking spoof, let’s do something original.

[MD] So you’re not going to be working with French and Saunders any time soon?

{RG] [laughs] I’m not going to slag anyone off, um, my slaggings are general… I don’t think you should wank off any pigs [laughs]

[MD] I’ve heard you say you never wanted to try and write popular comedy, that aiming to please a huge audience was a bad thing.

[RG] I never wanted to write broad comedy, there’s nothing wrong with getting 10 million viewers but if you aim for that you’re probably writing something pretty anodyne, that doesn’t change anything, that doesn’t make people think, it isn’t particularly challenging or original, and isn’t particularly good really. I won’t aim at getting 20 million, I’ll aim at being as subtle and indifferent about a particular audience as I can be and if everyone likes it, that’s brilliant.

[MD] So you don’t think that the ending of The Office Christmas Specials was appeasing the popular audience?

[RG] I don’t think so. By the end of the first one there was a man close to suicide.

[MD] But what about Tim and Dawn finally getting together, isn’t that what the audience wanted?

[RG] Well you say finally, we don’t know that they are together, I didn’t tie it up and now they’re married with kids, there’s just a bit of hope. If that had been halfway through the series they’d have probably fallen apart again and she’d have gotten back together with Lee, you don’t know. That’s sort of fourth time lucky as well, so that’s still 3:1 in favour of not being happy in a way, it just felt like we left them on a high, but I didn’t want to tie it up and say ten years later and they’re married and living in a little cottage. We don’t know if that woman ever called Brent back, but there’s hope, we don’t know that Gareth is still in charge, but theres hope. We don’t know that I didn’t go back and say sorry to Finchy for when I told him to fuck off, but there’s hope. We left a flavour of where they might be now.

[MD] It was something I always enjoyed with The Office, that you didn’t take the easy route. It would have been so easy at the end of series one, not knowing if you were going to get a second series, to get Tim and Dawn together then. Really, I’m a fan of miserable endings.

[RG] Yeah, well I’m a fan of good endings, miserable or happy. I think it’s different in a film, films have to have closure whereas in something like The Office you can leave things open ended because it’s a snapshot of life, it wasn’t a traditional sitcom as such, you couldn’t watch them in any order, and there was that kind of romantic theme. All those things sound new in England, but not in America, they’ve been doing that for a while, and all my influences are American. But I’m a fan of a good romantic comedy film, some of my favorite films are romantic comedies, The Apartment, early Woody Allen, and even knockabout comedies like Arthur. They’re nice uplifting Hollywood type movies, but they’re very good. I think I do need something more than just knee-jerk reaction laughs, I don’t just want clowning or pies in faces, I do want a bit of a connection and I do want an investment in the character, so that’s why we bothered a little bit more.

[MD] So who are those influences?

[RG] Well, the beginning and ending of comedy, Laurel and Hardy – my favourites – Spinal Tap – a direct influence on The OfficeLarry Sanders, Seinfeld, Cheers, The Simpsons – greatest TV show on at the moment – not my influences but my favourite programs at the moment – Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, you know... the Americans are pissing on us.

[MD] So are those always in your DVD player then?

[RG] Yeah exactly, and I’ve got Sky+ now, don’t need to miss anything. The producer of Arrested Development actually called me the other night, he wants me to be in one of them, which is very exciting. Got to find a time when I can fly to America for a couple of days, because there’s a few things you just don’t turn down. The Simpsons is one of them.

[MD] I heard they never called you back.

[RG] They haven’t yet no, I’ve spoken to the since [their well publicised meeting] but I think they’re a little behind now because they had a strike so they’re about a year behind. This might not be true! But there’s a bit of a backlog, so we’re still getting the new stuff and I think their writing the next series so if they decide to do it I’ll be in the next batch.

[MD] Is there anything you’re waiting for to come to DVD?

[RG] I want to get the Seinfeld DVDs although I know them all off by heart, the producer is sending me Arrested Development on DVD, just one of the perks of fame, that’s saved me twenty quid you see.

[MD] I know what you mean, I got The Office specials and Politics for free so I could do this.

[RG] There you go see, waste not want not [laughs] I don’t know really, I don’t think anyone sits at home and waits for a DVD. That’s a mistake a lot of comedians make, they think you’ll be sitting at home waiting for their next project and they can’t really relax until they get the new stuff!

[MD] You’d be surprised, you should read our forums some time!

[RG] Well I think that comedians that read things about themselves on a forum are getting a global view of about nine people. The_Chocolate_Munchie says “I think you’re shit” “oh piss of Chocolate_Munchie, love Ali3nSp4c3L0v3r” I mean, for fuck’s sake…for fuck’s sake.[laughs]

Last updated: 19/04/2018 11:04:56

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