There were so many journalists on a conference call with Ricky Gervais for his second time hosting the Golden Globes, I wasn’t able to buzz in with my own questions. Still, just listening to Gervais share his thoughts on comedy and work and life was profound. Here is the wisdom of Ricky Gervais, award shows or otherwise:
Ricky Gervais will be an even better host the second time:
Ricky Gervais: I don’t think I was too bad. I don’t think I went far enough. I think people know me now. I think comedy comes from a good or a bad place. The last thing I want to do is genuinely offend anyone. I couldn’t live with myself. There’s something in me that really is excited. I like the jeopardy that it’s live and there’s a quarter of a billion people watching and a room full of the most powerful people in the world. I like that jeopardy. That’s my extreme sport. That’s what gives me the adrenaline rush, thinking it could be the end of my career.
Why hosting the Golden Globes doesn’t count as work:
Ricky Gervais: There’s loads of things I do I don’t count as part of my career. I think the things I think are more timeless that I created in the beginning, I’d have had to invented the concept of awards ceremony to be as excited about them as I am about The Office or Extras.
The personal lines Ricky Gervais won’t cross:
Ricky Gervais: In my standup specials you get letters saying, “I love the show although I was a little bit disappointed with the reference to the holocaust. I know a lot of people, this is not funny.” I want to go, “But you liked the jokes about children’s cancer, AIDS, Africa’s famine, so you knew I was joking then but when it comes to your thing, because it’s so personal, you can’t treat it with the same level of irony. You can’t see that that’s also satirical.” You can’t win but you’ve got to know in your heart of hearts, if I can’t justify a joke’s okay, I don’t do the joke. I don’t want to go home and say, “That’s really awful, why did I say that? Everything is considered.”
Why it’s important to be shocking:
Ricky Gervais: I think a comedian’s job is to make people laugh and think. I’m not a love of broad comedy. I don’t see the point of saying things the audience thinks themselves or can. There’s a place for that but I also feel a responsibility. I’m playing venues with tens of thousands. People have traveled a long way, found a parking space and paid $70 so I better have something special to say. I always try to be different. I try to be challenging. I want people to laugh. I want them to gasp too. I get as much from a gasp as a laugh. I do stuff I’m proud of.
There’s enough people in the world that many of them will be Ricky Gervais fans:
Ricky Gervais: There’s six billion people in the world so if you do something that’s for you and a nice single vision, there’s enough people to go, “That’s great, I’ve never seen that before.” I want to be people’s favorite comedian, like The Office I wanted in a mob to be three people’s favorite as opposed to everyone’s one of 10 they watch. I think the size of that connection with the individual is important. You do that by being true to yourself. If you’re true to yourself, you are different to everyone else and it won’t be homogenized and watered down like 10 other acts.
It’s okay if you don’t laugh:
Ricky Gervais: People watch things I do and go, “That wasn’t very funny” and I go, “It wasn’t meant to be.” Some of my favorite things are not belly laughs. They’re just watching with a warm feeling. The Office wasn’t about comedy. We took out some jokes. We took out some big events. We took out some great plotlines because it interfered with the reality or the romance or the existential mood of the piece. You’ve got to take the whole package. Something you put in takes away from something else. Something you leave out makes it stronger.
The best comedy hurts:
Ricky Gervais: It’s no coincidence that some of the most oppressed people have the best senses of humor and create the best comedy. In the special we use it as a sword, a shield, a medicine all these reason. I love taking people on an emotional journey. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a film, a special or piece of standup. It’s to take people on a journey they haven’t been on before.
Simplicity always wins:
Ricky Gervais: I want it to resonate as well. You can see a standup and he does 1000 brilliant puns. You’ll laugh for an hour. You’ll look at your watch after half an hour. You won’t remember any of them. If someone tells you a story, there’s nothing that competes with that. Whatever happens with innovation and entertainment, there’s going to be something that makes Avatar look like Steamboat Willie someday, but it will never compete with one human being telling another what an awful day they’ve had. It won’t.
Ricky Gervais takes full responsibility for everything he creates:
Ricky Gervais: It’s my choices that count as a director/creator. You can’t cherry pick in art. You can do that with a menu but not in art. If people say, “You should have done this,” I say, “Make it yourself.” You do your own show and you can have it exactly as I watch them.
There’s still more Karl Pilkington for The Ricky Gervais Show:
Ricky Gervais: We don’t want to waste the stuff we’ve done because there’s still stuff we haven’t reached and there’s stuff we want to get out there, stuff I want to see animated. If we’re lucky enough to do season three or four, we definitely want to do new stuff. We have stuff we haven’t released yet and we’ll either do it specially for that or do some one off specials. That is the plan. We’ve got quite a backlog of work and of course animation takes so much longer than three blokes in a room talking rubbish, so it never catches up.
Karl won’t accept the spotlight:
Ricky Gervais: Well, he deserves it but he doesn’t want it so he doesn’t want it. He doesn’t want any attention. He just wants to do his thing. He doesn’t like being an entertainer. He’s embarrassed. We got offers to do this. We could get a third, fourth season. He’s doing his bathroom. He’s grouting, he’s busy. We have to have a meeting today about doing a second season of this thing on Sky One that’s being bought around the world. He says, “No, I’m having a bloke do the worktop.”
American TV is deeper than we thought:
Ricky Gervais: In a weird way, we sort of stole from America and sold it back to you because British sitcoms didn’t really have anything other than a central character who bumbled around, had a fall and was back at square one. American had nearly soap opera aspects to their sitcoms. Friends was nearly a romantic sitcom with jokes. I don’t know if we invented anything but I suppose the realism, I don’t think anything had been such a slave to realism as us and we probably cheated less than real documentaries. We wanted to resonate and we had the luxury of knowing we were going to stop, so we put everything in. it’s dense, it’s meaty, it’s made of lead. There’s a lot in it but you can’t keep that. We couldn’t have done 100 episodes with the intensity. We did it all ourselves as well.
Ricky Gervais loves American comedy:
Ricky Gervais: America is my Mecca of entertainment. Everything I’ve loved on TV or Film has come out of America: Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Bros., Woody Allen who I think brought modern comedy to the movie screen. In the last 10-15 years, TV took on film and beat it on many levels. There was nothing as audacious as The Wire or Sopranos. It even beat movies as an art form, because with the pressure of movies to make their money back in the first three hours of opening, they don’t give it time to evolve. If The Wire had been based on ratings it would’ve been cancelled. It’s amazing, they kept that up, it’s like an art factory those things. So TV had that to give us.
Ricky Gervais really likes Steve Carell in real life:
Ricky Gervais: Joking aside, I always tease him, I hope people know I think he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He’s untouched by Hollywood, untouched by his fame. He’s just a lovely family man who loves his work, loves comedy. We had no idea this remake would be successful. They made it happen. That team made it happen. Honestly, I don’t think anyone has, but I haven’t got a bad word to say about Steve Carell. It’s a great ensemble cast. They’ve kept the level up for 100 odd episodes. It’s a success story in terms of commercially and art form.
Ricky Gervais’ favorite comedians:
Ricky Gervais: I could give you a list. The best, the most exciting standup in the world at the moment is Louis C.K., the bravest most honest comedian out there. He made me look at myself harder. I want to tap into that lack of fear. He’s got no fear, man. Chris Rock is just incredible. Jerry Seinfeld, the master. I should say I did a special, this is the perk of being famous, there’s not many actually but this is one of them. I just did a special, myself, Louis C.K., Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock. We sat in a room for four and a half hours and I just edited down to an hour. We talked about comedy, talked about what we hate, what we love, how we approach it, our first bits. It’s fascinating for anyone in comedy but it’s not an exclusive club. I think it’ll be interesting to watch because it’s never been done before quite like that. I’d have to cite those three straight away. Larry David along with Seinfeld has created some of the best TV comedy. Mitch Hurwitz, I love Arrested Development. Christopher Guest has never let me down. A god amongst comedians I think.
The defining moments of Ricky Gervais’ life:
Ricky Gervais: I’d have to say meeting Stephen Merchant. If this were a film, if this were a biopic, you know when they do that and it’s like, “Hey son, what’s your name?” “It’s Clay, Cassius.” It would have to be meeting Stephen Merchant. But then how far back do you go? I worked in an office. It would have to be people watching. I grew up in a funny family where humor was the most important thing. If you paid your way, then having a laugh. If it’s career, it’s clearly making The Office. Whatever specific question it was related to, there’d be a different specific answer. I think if you take for granted you are a product of your entire upbringing from being born to friends to education through I think obviously a defining moment was meeting and working with Steve. The Office was a breakthrough. Career highs would be things like winning the Golden Globes in 2004.
Ricky Gervais gets metaphysical:
Ricky Gervais: Everything’s joined to something else. Everything’s inextricably linked. There’s no defining moment really. It’s just luck, keeping a cool head. I think it happening to me relatively late in life was important. All these things. Knowing why you’re doing it everyday, knowing you’re lucky and privileged and then working really hard at it.
Ricky Gervais’ work ethic:
Ricky Gervais: My dad was a laborer all his life. He used to get up at 5:30 every morning five or six days a week until he was 70 and he never complained. I live a strange rarified life. The least I could do is try my hardest and take it seriously. Sometimes I come across as smug and pompous and taking comedy too seriously. It’s the only way I can do it to get through. I know it doesn’t matter, none of this matters. There are some people who hate their job, hate everything they do and they do it because they’ve got to feed a kid. The least I can do is try my hardest at something and know I’m going to be proud of everything I do.
Ricky Gervais would do this for free:
Ricky Gervais: I felt guilty the first time. When I did The Office it was a revelation. I couldn’t have been prouder. Then it was success. Then the first checks started coming in and it ruined it a little bit. I thought oh, I didn’t do it for that. People don’t understand that. I did a corporate gig in the early days and for doing 40 minutes I earned as much as my father’s salary for a year. I felt guilty. I thought just do things you love. You’re here to fill time with stuff you love before you die.
He won’t apologize for calling it art:
Ricky Gervais: For the first 2-3 years of being famous I was scared of using the word art. I thought it was pretentious. It’s not for me to say. Now I think it’s my responsibility to consider myself an artist. That’s why I’m doing it. It’s being honest. I can’t apologize for that so it’s really nice and flattering. I really haven’t changed my views other than my work ethic. Doing it is the reward. Doing it itself is the reward and I wish there was more of it. I just wish there was more f it, people going, “I don’t care what happens. I don’t care about the box office, the ratings, the awards or reviews. I just think this is the best thing I’ve ever done.” If we had that it would be amazing. That can’t happen because by definition, most things are rubbish. That’s true of any genre, not just art. Art, TV, furniture making. Most tables are rubbish but when you see a brilliant table that some guy spend four years making and he’s a master craftsman, you want to cry. It brings a lump to your throat. I want to bring a lump to your throat. That quote taken out of context looks really bad.