Wednesday 24 January 2018

EXCLUSIVE: Ricky Gervais: 'David Brent is plastered on back of Dublin buses... he has made it right?'

Ricky Gervais and journalist Kevin Palmer.
Ricky Gervais and journalist Kevin Palmer.
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

There is nothing quite like an audience with Ricky Gervais.

For starters, he doesn’t need a team of PR people in the room with him to control the pesky journalist disturbing his day and it is clear from the off that no subject is off the agenda as this 55-year-old superstar of comedy sat down with for an exclusive interview at a London hotel.

This is the story of a working-class hero who triumphed against all the odds after filling a humorous niche in a politically correct world that was waiting to laugh at itself for displaying a desperate desire to continually say and do the right things.

Gervais has made a living out of poking fun at the modern world and it has turned him into an icon of the 21st century. What a triumph.

Some 13 years have passed since Gervais exploded into our lives with his brilliant BBC mockumentary The Office, with his unfortunate hero David Brent giving him a vehicle to promote a brand of comedy that he has made his own.

Mastering the art of making his audience joyously uncomfortable has transformed Gervais’ life and now he is back doing what he does best in the big screen movie, David Brent, Life on the Road.

In our 20-minute chat that was as funny as it was thoughtful, as provocative as it was compelling, Gervais opened up on a life that has exploded in the public eye since he was firmly installed on the celebrity A-list in this part of the world and (lucratively) also in America.

You may expect this brilliantly offensive funny man who has become famous for insulting his A-list audience of actors in his role as the host of the Golden Globe awards to merely be a diluted version of his attention-seeking alter-ego Brent. Yet he is, in fact, the polar opposite of that image, as he riles against this generation’s desperate chase to be famous.

“Fame is insatiable for so many people in the modern world,” begins Gervais, who does a great job of giving the impression that he is delighted to spend some time with me.

“People are now desperate to live their life like an open wound. They let cameras into their houses 24 hours a day. Some would rather be famous for being a terrible person rather than not be known at all and it is TV goading them into it.

“You look at Big Brother or The Apprentice and TV producers are there on the sidelines encouraging these people to do and say terrible things. They say: ‘Go on, say something horrible and we will shock everyone with how horrible you are’. People go along with it to get on TV. What is all that about? It’s madness.

“There is a career out there called fame. Just get filmed all day and eventually, someone will pay you a million pounds to sponsor a chocolate bar. It is a crazy world we live in now.

“In a way, David Brent is a product of that world. The Office was about Brent trying to make his life better through fame. He wanted his 15 minutes of adulation, but the world has changed since he came into our screens for the first time. Things have got much worse since then and social media is to blame in many ways.

“Everyone wants to tell the world what they are up to on a minute-by-minute basis. Why has this become the way we live our lives and all this at a time when political correctness has become such a massive part of our everyday lives, to a ridiculous extent.

“If a comedian says something silly as a joke and doesn’t mean it, they get into big trouble and spend days and weeks apologising. Then a politician says something ridiculous that is actually dangerous and he could end up as President of America. What has the world come to?”

Gervais is living proof that fame should be earned and not acquired.

Having worked in an office for the first half of his working life, this closet funny man saw his world transformed when the BBC commissioned his comedy drama loosely based on his own life experiences back in 2001.

The Office became a smash hit show and when an American version was aired for the first time four years later, Gervais’s brand of humour was seamlessly transported across the Atlantic with spectacular success and when he opens up on his own story, it becomes evident that this is a tale well worth celebrating.

“I didn’t realise I was poor until I was 15 or 16,” he continues. “We didn’t have any money growing up. My Dad was a labourer, by Mum was a housewife and I only realised I was working class when I went to university and the other kids all talked like the Queen.

“Quite how I have got to the point I’m at now in my life is as much a mystery to me as is it to anyone else.

“I was working in an office until I was about 38 and then I decided to write about my experiences to see if I could get it on TV. Suddenly The Office got on BBC 2 and from that moment, everything has changed.

“I have been in loads of movies, I’ve appeared on The Simpsons. I worked with David Bowie on our show Extras. He was my hero. This whole thing is just weird.

“This is not so much a career, but like I have won a competition and maybe this is all a big dream….and I will wake up one day soon and I’ll still be in an office. I hope not.”

As Brent returns for his movie debut, his views on race, women and homosexuality seem even more inappropriate than they were when we were last in his company 13 years ago, with the wannabe celebrity trying to become a pop star by funding a tour that his band are reluctant to be a part of and no-one wants to see.

It makes for comedy gold viewing once again and while Gervais clearly revels in his role as a pop star some 30 years after his first attempt to hit the charts in a new wave pop band named Seona Dancing fell horribly flat.

Brent’s eagerly awaited return cannot come soon enough for Gervais’s army of fans across the globe and he is hoping Irish audiences lap up his latest offering.

“I remember the first time I went to Ireland on a regular Saturday night and we were in this pub and it was madness. You would have thought it was New Year’s Eve,” he adds.

“Everyone was partying hard and there were police dancing with them in the streets….it was just unbelievable. I was told this was just a regular night in Ireland. How fantastic.

“I played the 3 Arena in Dublin a while back on my stand-up tour and the reaction was just amazing, just amazing. Warm, loud, funny people who wanted to have fun. I just love Dublin, what a wonderful place.

“Now I see David Brent’s image is plastered over the back of Dublin buses ahead of the release of this movie, so I guess he has made it right? Maybe he is finally famous at last.

“This world needs to smile a little bit more at the moment and Ireland smiles a little more than most. Long may that continue.”

Imagine how it feels to be in a position where everything you touch in life turns to gold.

Ricky Gervais is one of the few who can associate with that glorious claim to fame.

David Brent: Life On The Road is released in cinemas nationwide on August 19, with the album by David Brent & Foregone Conclusion out on the same day. The accompanying songbook with some brilliant images is available to buy now.

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