‘I love flirtin With the pu ore'
The Office got more awards than David Brent has delusions. Now Reading’s most ungrateful son RICKY GERVAIS is playing a political comedian. James Rampton finds out why.
icky Gervais finds the whole idea of political stand-ups
hilarious. ‘I love the pomposity of comedians who think they
can change the world and make a difference.’ he smiles. ‘lt's like the idea of protest songs: “Let‘s say that we disagree with maiming and torture in the key of C. Or let‘s make it rhyme and stitch up Coca Cola in Nicaragua at the same time." Remember "War Song" by Culture Club? When would that ever change anyone’s mind about war‘.’ It‘s like all those things with a dual purpose — a radio alarm clock. a comedy juggler. a politician waitress. Forget about doubling tip: just do one thing well.”
It is just this pretentiousness that Gervais sends up in his corttscating new stand-up show. Politics. Standing in front of a banner reading ‘Vote Ricky Gervais‘. and behind a lectem festooned with balloons. he mocks the idea that self-regarding comedians could ever believe they could bring down the govemment. With great subtlety. he adopts the persona of a self-deluded. political comedian. This person is so convinced of his own rectitude that he is blind to the sheer abstrrdity he is spouting and blunders into all sorts of taboo subjects (the Holocaust. Hiroshima. Hitler. disability. famine. the gay age of consent) and spectacularly
misunderstands them. For instance. he applauds the release from jail of
Nelson Mandela; but for all the wrong reasons. ‘He‘s been out for 1-1 years now and he hasn't re-offended.‘ he pontificates. ‘I think he’s going straight. which shows you that prison works.‘
But is there a danger that audiences will get the wrong end of the stick and mistake these for Crervais' real views? ‘People realise that it’s a persona. In this show. I‘m playing the arrogance card. I love flirting with
the pub bore. What you see on stage is a character. a brasher version of
me. I never use it as a vehicle for one-upmanship or having a go at people. When I say “Stephen Hawking is pretentious: born in Kent. talks like an American.“ that’s not me slagging off Hawking: it's a jab against bigotry. There is no target apart from my own misunderstanding.‘ Gervais has long been attracted to characters like this. who fatally lack self-knowledge. After all. be sealed his reputation with the gloriously pompous boss David Brent in The ()ﬂiee. ‘I absolutely love people who are self-deluding.’ he beams. ‘The blind spot is one of the funniest things in the world. I also love the disguised boast: people
who say “it’s my own fault. I‘m too generous. I care about other
people too much." That‘s not even fishing for compliments: it‘s shooting fish in a barrel.‘
But Gervais admits that probably his favourite source of comedy is vanity. ‘lt‘s a ticking time bomb: vain people will always be destroyed by it. Look at people who crave attention and fame. those who are on the celebrity A List and then gradually work their way down to the level of a member of the public by doing four reality TV shows in a month. They‘re people who once had a chat show on Channel 4 and are now letting a TV crew film them having an enema because they think it might help them get a Pizza Hut voice-over. Their thinking seems to be. if you're not on TV. you don't exist. “Celebrity Get Hit in the l’uee With a .S'aueepun? I’ll do it." Those people don‘t distinguish between recognition and admiration. In the same way. some people value an actor from Hollyouks above someone who’s cured cancer: “What‘s he
18 THE LIST 1—15 Apr 2004
ever done then‘.’ I haven‘t seen him dancing with Strggs on Night Fever. Look at his hair: it's rubbish.”
l'nlike his most famous creation. (iervais is very self-aware. A twinkling. magnetic man. he is full of laughter and quick to make jokes at his own expense. He has a good laugh. for example. about what he would do on stage if he were merely appearing as himself. 'l'd just slump in a chair and communicate using only grunts and points. My old friends know that l mumble most of the time. Being articulate is such a chore. it‘s really tiring.~
After the phenomenal success of The ()ﬂiee. which recently won two (iolden (ilobes (which (iervais called ‘bookends'). the per'fonner now has an exceedingly hiin profile. There are. of course. down sides to this. 'l went into a hotel the other day. and straight away someone shouted "Brent!" at me. What did he think was the best that cotrld happen? That I would become his close friend'."
()n the plus side. however. (iervais now has the pick of TV and film projects. He and his ()ﬂiee co-writer and director. Stephen Merchant. are currently working on a new sitcom entitled Extras. ‘lt‘s not about massage parlours.’ (iervais jokes. almost with regret. ‘lt‘s about a group of strpporting actors who meet tip in the green room and sit around bitching about everything. My character has not achieved as mttch as wanted to. and really speaks his mind. He criticises a man for reading a Harry Potter book twice: "Did you read it again because you didn't get the wizardry subtext the first time?"
Btrt if you‘re expecting Brent 2. you may be disappointed. ‘We knew we couldn‘t do a bloke in an office with a goatee. btrt we didn‘t set ottt with a ten-point plan to do the exact opposite. All the same. the character in Iit‘il‘ux has turned out to be the opposite of Brent. lle's confident in himself. he‘s not delusional and he doesn't want to be the life and soul of the party.‘
Of all the bizarre things that have happened to (‘rervais in recent times (from the unfortunate mis-posting of the final ()ﬂir‘e scripts to the (iolden (ilobes success and the story of robbers stealing his identity in order to seize bullion worth £2()().()()()). perhaps the oddest of them all is his post-Brent cameo stateside in the hit series Alias -— he plays a terrorist. 'lt took me a day not to laugh at the serious faces of all the other actors.‘ he recalls. ‘I hoped people who don‘t know I'm a short. fat fool from Reading might be able to suspend disbelief for long enough to be convinced I'm a hardened terrorist. At least. I thought that until one evening I switched on UK (iold and saw Mel Smith being completely trnconvincing in a serious part in Minder. I thought. Jesus Christ. that's me in xl/ius.‘
(iervais has one final reassurance for those who think he may have sold out with this bizarre cameo. ‘liveryone else is in Armani suits and I‘m in a chunky-knit sweater and htrsh puppies. I look like (iyles Brandreth at a Vogue fashion shoot. So I've managed to retain my credibility as someone completely unglamorous: nothing can intentth that. I still look stupid. Phew.‘
Ricky Gervais plays at Pavilion, Glasgow, Mon 19 8. Tue 20 Apr. Call 0141 332 1846 for tickets.