Ricky Gervais At Home: God-Hating, Dinners with Seinfeld and a 'Kind' New Netflix Show
"Derek," his new series for the streaming service, reveals a softer side of a man who hates people who believe in God, fears fame and says of his friendship with Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld: "They tease me about being poor."
Although Gervais' brand of comedy can venture into offensive places, as many suggested it did at the Globes -- "It wasn't a room full of wounded soldiers," he quips of the star-studded audience he attacked -- those close to Gervais insist he lacks the darkness that defines most comics. "Unlike the stereotype of the comedian who is crying on the inside and laughing on the outside, Ricky is laughing on the inside and laughing on the outside all of the time," says Sarandos, one of many who shares tales of three-hour dinners in which Gervais has the table in hysterics.
Guest says he and Gervais had hoped to collaborate on a project, but after renting a hotel suite in New York for a week to brainstorm ideas, they found they had made little progress. "It was like 10-year-olds working and ordering room service. We did nothing at all except make each other laugh," he says. When they're not together, the two observational comics will take pictures of people on the street and e-mail them to each other. (Gervais says they're often drawn to the sensible person being confused by the bizarre person: "If there's a crazy person doing a jig, and we look over and see a businessman looking confused, that's the picture.") Gervais also sends shots of himself playing different characters to Guest, who sheepishly admits he has more pictures of his friend on his iPad than he does of his children.
When asked to describe what time with Seinfeld and David entails, Gervais says: "They tease me about being poor. They have me in the middle, and they throw money above my head for me to jump up and try to catch." He waits a beat before confessing, through his famed cackle, that that couldn't be further from the truth: "They'd both be horrified to hear I even joked about that." Horrified, perhaps, but given Gervais' humor, it's hard to imagine anyone would be surprised.
Like many comics, Gervais developed his persona as a way to get noticed in a large family. Born the youngest of four to a laborer father and housewife mother in a working-class home 40 miles west of London, Gervais found that being funny got him attention. Although his parents since have died, he has remained close to his siblings, along with their children and grandchildren. "It's like Honey Boo Boo during Christmas," he jokes of the boisterous brood that has inspired the Flanimals children's books he writes and the film adaptation in the works. "I open the door, and they come out of everywhere and go through my bag looking for money. I enjoy them, but then I get to go home." Press Gervais on why he and Fallon haven't married or had kids, and he deflects: "I see people walking around with 12 kids with no shoes. The question should be: Why are they allowed to have children?"
Gervais' early adulthood was marked by a short-lived stint as one-half of a new wave pop group, Seona Dancing, followed by years in radio. "We lived in terrible places," says Fallon, who met Gervais while they were studying at University College London. "There was one studio apartment above a dodgy sauna that had no heat, but it was the only place we could afford. I was focused on finding work, but Ricky was unsure about what he wanted to do." It would be well over a decade before he and Merchant would launch The Office. By the time he became a star, Gervais already was 40.
"When the first check came through for The Office, it ruined it a bit. I thought, 'I didn't do it for that,' " he notes of his guilt, before snickering, "I got over it." Those checks have grown larger, allowing the couple to split time between London and New York, but Gervais suggests their day-to-day lacks Hollywood glamour. Most evenings, he and Fallon are parked in front of the TV with a bottle of wine and their cat, Ollie, as they watch the Scandinavian versions of The Bridge and The Killing. (Other Gervais favorites: Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Wire.)
Although Gervais' onstage persona would suggest otherwise, he insists he's yet to fully come to terms with the effects of his own notoriety. Shuddering at the mere mention of the term "celebrity," he disdains fame for its own sake, a topic that has informed much of his work, from Office to Extras to Life's Too Short. "I didn't want to be lumped into those people who are living their life like an open wound, anything to be famous," he says, as repulsed by the "stars" as he is by the population that props them up. "It's like they see no difference between Kim Kardashian and Robert De Niro. They're people with money on red carpets or on their telly, and they don't distinguish."
Ask him what he'd like to be remembered for, and he'll say only those projects for which he entirely was responsible. That leaves out acting gigs in films like Ghost Town and March 2014's Muppets Most Wanted, in which Gervais, an avid fan of the franchise, stars opposite Tina Fey as a villain. "Ricky's got this ability to straddle the line very seamlessly between acting in something and acting slightly outside of it," says Muppets producer Todd Lieberman, revealing that Gervais will sing and dance in the film. "He's kind of winking and nodding to you that he's doing this thing that's funny, but you're in on the joke with him." Adds Disney studio chairman Alan Horn: "It's hard to find that elusive balance between being irreverent, a little cheeky and sardonic and still being warm and vulnerable, but there's something about his delivery that does both."
Though he's not prepared to give up acting in other people's movies, Gervais is at a point where it only makes sense if he can do so without it interfering with his day job, which he jokingly refers to as "downloading" his brain. He begins churning out ideas when he wakes up, usually around 9, often hitting fever pitch during his daily half-hour runs. And he suggests he's platform-agnostic with regard to where they land, as happy to create videos for his YouTube channel as he is to launch TV shows. (He's similarly agnostic when it comes to how they're consumed: "I don't care about bootlegging. I just want people to see what I do, and chances are I've been paid for it already," he adds with a smirk.)
"I just want to get inside of people's heads and make them think. There's nothing better than hearing, 'I listen to your podcast every night before I go to sleep,' or 'I've watched Derek 10 times, and I've cried every time.' That's better than any award I could get," he says, as a grin washes over his face. Suddenly, Gervais the provocateur has re-emerged: "The next time I win one, I want to go: 'This isn't for my fans. This is for those that don't like me. Eat that.' " He pauses again, pleased with the idea. "I've got to do that. That would be good, wouldn't it? Yeah, I'll do that."