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Nobody who loves Ricky Gervais expected or even wanted an apology when the comedian went on Piers Morgan‘s CNN talk show Thursday night. And they didn’t get one. What viewers got was a good glimpse of a man who knows who he is, how he wants to remain and something above and beyond discussions of whether his humor crossed the line at Sunday night’s Golden Globes. (Watch video of the interview at the end of this post.)
All really great comedians are smart. And if you’ve followed Gervais even just a little bit through podcasts or how he approaches life, you know he’s thoughtful, introspective and straight-forward. He delivered all of that on an entertaining hour with Morgan. Naturally, he didn’t think he was offensive. He believes he’s still an outsider and needs to play that role when making jokes that adhere to the truth. Gervais adamantly denied hurting anyone’s feelings in ways that they couldn’t take (the implication being that if you’re Charlie Sheen or Mel Gibson, well, what do you expect).
Not surprisingly, he doesn’t care what people think of him (and for his part, Morgan poking fun at his ’80s pop days, his weight and his current place in the pecking order of fame didn’t phase Gervais one bit). Perhaps better than all of the screaming headlines and post-show analysis, Gervais understands that most people in Hollywood thought he was funny and most of his fans did, too. In many ways, this “controversy” over Gervais’ performance is manufactured. Did he poke fun at people and did his jabs dig in deep? Sure. Were some stars offended — sure, but very few of them really cried foul. Most went on the record as saying they laughed hard and were happy it wasn’t directed at them.
Once Morgan — who seems more relaxed as the week goes on — moved past that part, the show picked up. Gervais talking about being an atheist and about his longtime love, Jane, was intriguing. Him dissecting his very late rise to fame and how that makes him feel, since he’s always seen himself as the ultimate outsider, also makes for excellent television. And, of course, any time he talks about the original Office or Extras or Karl Pilkington, it’s time well spent.
Gervais seemed a bit annoyed that producers on the American version of The Office leaked his cameo later this season (as David Brent). And when he talked about Steve Carell stepping away from The Office, it’s revealing that he says the show can go on without him, but whether it should or not is debatable. A little more honesty right there would have been nice — perhaps joking that it’s nice to have the gravy train still rolling but, come on, keeping it going is a big mistake. If you doubt that sentiment, rewatch Extras. It’s all there.
All in all, an engaging hour. And Morgan came across as less cocky and more likable, which is essential to his success in America. Morgan still tends to interrupt too often — and in all the wrong places. Yes, he’s trying to seize on comments and guide the interview, but too often he jumps in and talks over part of the conversation that’s just about to take off in interesting directions. But this was easily Morgan’s best night in the chair.
Although he might want to watch the Brit speak. He joked about the old “chunky, chubby Ricky” and then asked Gervais how much he weighed at his highest in the past. Gervais said, “14 stone.” Because Morgan knew precisely what that was, when most of America did not, he didn’t translate it to pounds. With the number of British actors who could conceivably end up on Morgan’s show talking about their work in the States, Morgan is going to have to realize that not everybody in this country is an Anglophile.
In any case, it was a job well done, meters better than his chat with Oprah.
Email Tim Goodman at Tim.Goodman@THR.com
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