Exclusive - Ricky Gervais opens up in honest Sunday World interview
There are many words that have been used to describe Ricky Gervais over the last 15 years, yet humble is unlikely to be the first that springs to your mind.
His critics may chastise him for being the arrogant, brash, cocky Englishman man who delights in insulting Hollywood A-listers in his role as host of the annual Golden Globe awards, but such pointlessly negative tags are sadly misplaced for this working-class hero of comedy.
The undisputed master of uncomfortable gags, this 55-year-old genius was discovered late in his life, with his rise to the top of his profession unstoppable once his brand of humour enchanted the world at the turn of this century.
From TV hits The Office and Extras, to his ground-breaking podcasts and his roles in a host of high-profile movies, everything he has touched has turned to gold, and yet do any of us know the real Ricky?
As he sat down with the Sunday World for an exclusive interview at a London hotel, we were treated to an alternative glimpse of a man who we all think we know so well from his often outrageous on-screen persona.
This is Ricky Gervais uncut, the human side of a comedic master who has seen the second half of his life transformed by a personal fortune that now runs into the tens of millions.
Gervais with Sunday World writer Kevin Palmer
“I didn’t realise I was poor until I was 15 or 16,” begins Gervais, who is reprising his breakthrough role for a new hilarious movie, David Brent, Life On The Road.
“We didn’t have any money growing up. My dad was a labourer, my 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 BBC2 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.
“What’s great is I didn’t have to flog myself in a soap opera for ten years, or work the comedy circuit hoping to get spotted one day to get to this point.
“It just happened for me from the germ of an idea with The Office and every day I wake up and realise how lucky I am. I’ve never done a job I didn’t want to do. Not many people can say that, so I am thankful.
“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.”
They are honest words you may not associate with Gervais, yet the humour and his booming laugh that has become so familiar were never far from the surface as we chatted about the return of his most iconic character in his latest project.
It’s 13 years since The Office aired for the last time, with our desire to cringe at the unfortunate antics of social misfit David Brent as he made a fool of himself managing a paper company in Slough, turning Gervais into a star.
David Brent's band are not impressed by their lead singer
Now this unlikely hero is back and this time he is on the big screen as he fronts a superbly-polished pop band in some woefully attended gigs, with Gervais’s alter ego guiding us through his life since our last encounter, in a movie all fans of The Office will delight in.
This is a movie that has you wriggling in your seat as you struggle to comprehend the lead character’s confused vision of the world, with your empathy for his desperation to be liked taking you on a journey that makes you laugh and cry all at once.
As Brent sets out on a self-funded tour with his band, his dreams of becoming a rock star fall predictably flat, with the despair and occasional moments of joy he experiences during his tale making for an enchanting and giggle-fuelled tale.
In an era when political correctness has reached new heights of craziness, Brent’s lamentable attempts to befriend women and shed his uncertainty over mixing with ‘black folks’ have never been more out of place, but Gervais insists he is just misunderstood.
“Brent is not a racist, a homophobe or a misogynist,” he argues. “He just wants to please people and doesn’t realise that his comments can be as offensive as they are.
“He thinks an impression of a Chinese guy is being nice to the fella. Singing a song entitled ‘Don’t Makes Fun of The Disableds’ is not inappropriate to Brent.
“Making up an Irish character named Dopey O’Leary [a reference from the new movie] is not a problem to him. He can’t understand why people would be offended.
“He lives in a simple world and not the messed up place we are all in right now.
“In the world now, if a comedian says something silly as a joke and doesn’t mean it, they get into big trouble.
“Then Donald Trump says something completely ridiculous that he means and the guy could actually end up as President of America. How crazy is that?
“Social media is to blame for a lot of this because it is a platform for people to moan and to bully others.
“It’s a sad reflection of modern society that political correctness is out of control, but David Brent doesn’t understand the rules we all live by now.”
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.
“This world needs to smile a little bit more at the moment and Ireland smiles a little more than most. Long may that continue.”
David Brent: Life On The Road may well be the project that means more to Gervais than any other as this is revisiting the character who gave him everything he has today.
He can rest assured that he has triumphed once again in what is already being described as the funniest movie of 2016.
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.