Ricky Gervais talks God, bringing back David Brent and teasing Johnny Depp
Ricky Gervais (Getty Images)
It’s been over seven years since Ricky Gervais’ last standup tour. But don’t expect to hear any Trump jokes when he hits the stage at Toronto’s Massey Hall for the first show of a three-night stand Friday, July 14.
“I do that on my own time and I do that on Twitter,” he says down the line from London.
Instead, Gervais’ Humanity show will poke fun at the man on the stage and everyone in the crowd.
“The whole show is a little bit about offence,” he says. “The last seven years have been the age of offence. How people think they can just say, ‘I’m offended, so I don’t want to hear that ever again.’ People don’t cope with their own emotions well. If they hear something they don’t like, they think they can shut another person down rather than dealing with their own emotions.”
Humanity also touches on Gervais’ brush with fame – his BBC series The Office was adapted for an American audience with Steve Carell as the lead and the comedian has hosted the Golden Globes on four occasions.
“It’s me whinging from the most privileged position imaginable,” he laughs. “It’s like, I’ve got everything, but the tiniest things annoy me... so it’s me, ranting and raging, and the audience are laughing all the way through.”
Before he heads across the pond to Canada, Gervais rang up to talk about God, The Office’s David Brent and tell us why Bruce Willis will save us all.
Why was now the right time for you to do a full-scale tour?
I suppose over the last 15 years, I thought of standup as my second or maybe even my third job behind writing, directing and acting. But I think I’m good at standup for the first time — I know that sounds odd since this is my fourth or fifth tour — but I’m older. I’ve got more to talk about. More has happened in the world in the last seven years.
What’s the overall theme of Humanity and do you draw any lines in the show?
It’s about taboo subjects, outrage, social media and people thinking their opinion is worth more than actual facts. But you’ll still recognize that it’s very me. One of the good things about being away for so long and being more well known than ever is people get what I’m doing now. They know me so well that I don’t have to try so hard to do this persona. I can be myself and when I do a joke that’s in bad taste, they know I’m joking, they understand the satire, when I tackle taboo subjects and discuss them — they get it.
You love poking fun at Trump on Twitter, will that figure into your act?
The problem with laying out your wares in a comedy show is, it doesn’t matter whose side you’re on, you’re just as bad as the other side. A comedy show isn’t really the platform for you to get your political agenda across. If only half of the audience is laughing because they agree with you and the other half isn’t laughing because they don’t agree with you, then the joke’s failed. I think the things I talk about, whichever side you’re on, you can laugh at it. It’s more about human behaviour. People have to be able to look at me and say, ‘He laughed at himself. I can laugh at myself too.’ I try and keep it fair and be an equal opportunity offender. The butt of the joke is usually me, or us as a whole. We’re all idiots and let’s get on with it.
You brought back The Office’s David Brent in the recent Netflix film Life on the Road. What was it like catching up with him after all these years?
It was like meeting up with an old friend you haven’t seen in 15 years and you’ve found out from Facebook that now he’s in a band. How funny would that be? Your stupid, boring old boss is now in a rock band? When I wrote The Office, I watched a lot of docusoaps from the ‘90s where an ordinary person would be followed at work and get 15 minutes of fame. But since then, fame has become a much more ruthless and demanding profession. People would rather be known as an idiot than not known at all. We’ve had things like Big Brother and The Apprentice, the host of which is the President of the United States [laughs]. Trump has more in common with David Brent than he does with JFK. He’s a man who wanted to be famous, who wanted to be loved.
Could you see yourself revisiting Brent in another five or 10 years?
You know what, I’d love to. But, it was already getting sadder than The Office, and The Office was pretty sad. [Brent] was cringeworthy when he was 39 at the top of his game. He was the boss at this little office. Now he’s a tampon rep and he’s 55. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to laugh at him when he’s 65. It might just be too sad.
You’re an avowed atheist, but what if you’re wrong and there is an afterlife. What’s the first thing you’d say to God?
I’d say to God, ‘I’ve got some questions.’ I’d say, ‘Listen, I thought you didn’t exist. But since you do, you are responsible for all this s—. One, why did you make chocolate kill dogs? Two, why don’t you kill Satan? What’s up with that? Three, why do you let earthquakes and famine kill randomly? Tell me about these mysterious ways.’ [laughs]
When you hosted the Golden Globes, you really ripped into some of Hollywood’s most famous stars. They seem to smile and laugh, but are they OK with you taking the piss out of them?
Listen, no one likes to be the butt of the joke. But if you analyze all those jokes, they’re not about things those people can’t help. I didn’t have a go at their height or their race or their sex. I teased them about their public behaviours. Like Mel Gibson, that was public. When I made fun of Johnny Depp’s movie [The Tourist] and I asked him, ‘Have you watched the Tourist?’ and he said ‘No’, the crowd loved it. So I think they’re in on it.
The problem is, it’s not really a spectator sport. There are 200 million people watching the Golden Globes and there’s nothing in it for them. They’re not winning awards, they’re not millionaires, so why are they watching? I play that outsider where a guy sitting at home drinking a beer can laugh. I’m friends with a lot of them, but if I go out there and start saying, ‘Hey, George Clooney,’ it would be nauseating. Who cares? I tease my mates and family more than I tease those people in that room.
Would you host the Oscars?
Under one condition, and it’s the same condition I do the Golden Globes — I’ll do it if I can say what I want and that will never happen with the Oscars.
Being as the show is called Humanity, is the human race doomed?
This is what I think, whatever happens. If there’s a meteor coming towards earth, five billion people will kneel down and pray to their God, and a few scientists will work out how to get Bruce Willis up there to stop it.
I think we’re always going to produce a genius that saves the rest of the morons. [laughs]