Ricky Gervais Talks "Insatiable" Fame, Jabs Trump and Teases New Sitcom
"I've got Trump hands — they haven't done a day's work in their life, they're so soft!" he joked before performing a song from his 'David Brent: Life on the Road' film.
Ricky Gervais sat down with The Hollywood Reporter's chief television critic Tim Goodman, as part of THR's TV Talks series, to discuss returning to standup comedy in his Humanity tour and playing his beloved, epically delusional character from BBC's The Office onscreen for the first time in over a decade. (He also took a few jabs at Donald Trump, performed a David Brent number, recalled his worst audition memories and even took a bathroom break in the middle of the chat.)
“I’m so glad I’ve left it this long because the world has changed,” he said of reprising his role in the Netflix film David Brent: Life on the Road as he chases rock ’n’ roll stardom with his band. “[Before], ordinary people got their 15 minutes of fame and that was it. But now, fame’s different. Now it’s insatiable; now, people live their lives like an open wound to stay famous. People do anything to be famous; people do bad things to be famous and they’re rewarded. You’ve got Internet trolls who are invited on the tele to be so-called journalists. Since the original Office, we’ve had Pop Idol, and The Apprentice where the host is now president.
“By today’s standards, our sympathies are with David Brent because he’s not as bad as we thought he was,” Gervais continued at New York City's 92nd Street Y on Saturday, the night before Humanity hit Madison Square Garden. “Those people who get on The Apprentice by saying things like, ‘I will destroy anyone who stands in my way’ — when did that become a good thing to brag about? It’s really odd.”
This time around, playing him “was like putting on an old pair of slippers,” he said, yet added a nervous laugh to show some bruises throughout the quest for fame. “I wanted to leave people with a flavor of, he doesn’t need it. He’s just not happy with himself, and once he is, he’s alright. … It’s saying, we’re all idiots, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s whether you’re an evil idiot or a nice idiot.”
Gervais, who has always been intrigued by fame, shared his personal perspective on the issue. “Twitter is like reading every toilet wall in the world at once,” he said. “Reputation is what strangers think of you, and who you are is what your friends and family think of you, and they stay forever. So I just don’t care now.”
The comedian (and failed musician) also outlined his songwriting process, explained the double album and recalled performance memories. “When I bring out a real album with my name, of Ricky Gervais Sings the Ballads, you’ve got to shoot me then, because that’s when I’ve lost it all. But it was great fun,” he said before singing the number “Slough” from the film. “I haven’t played for ages, and I’ve got Trump hands — they haven’t done a day’s work in their life, they’re so soft!”
Can audiences except more of David Brent? “I just wanted to revisit him like catching up with an old friend. Never say never,” Gervais said. “It’s a bit on the edge of sad versus comedy already, and revisiting him at 60, still trying to be a rock star, there might not be any comedy left. It might be too tragic.”
Gervais also spoke about his comedy style. “I am an optimist, and this reputation of being a shock comedian or being cruel, I’ve never seen that in myself,” he explained, unless that conclusion is based on his emcee duties at awards shows. “I was teasing some millionaires. That wasn’t a room full of wounded soldiers. And I’m one of them, but I was playing an outsider because it’s nauseating to go up there and go, ‘Alright, Brad [Pitt], hey George [Clooney], thanks for letting me use your villa.’ It’s horrible. People at home aren’t winning awards, so I try to make it more of a spectator sport.” He also clarified that the decision to discuss taboo subjects in his sets is often misunderstand: “A joke should stand on its comedic value, not if everyone agrees with it or not. … Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right.”
Gervais, who alludes to Trump throughout his Humanity set without mentioning his name, also reflected on Brexit and the U.S. presidential election. “I think democracy works when people know what they’re voting for,” he said. “The Twitter generation has made popularity more important than truth, in a way, and that was picked up by politicians.”
As for what’s next, Gervais said he’s filming behind-the-scenes footage of Humanity and is already eyeing another standup tour, but he’s also written a few pages of a new sitcom in which he’d star. “The idea is I get separated from my wife, and I have to move in with an absolute loser relative. I’ve lost everything. I haven’t got a house, I haven’t got a job because I was a bit of a kept man, and now I have to start dating again. It’s horrendous. At 55, I’ve got to start from scratch, and all I want is her back. It’s called Attached. It’s about me trying to cope without this lifelong partner, and how the real world is harsh.”
Watch the full chat below.