As his stand-up special Humanity hits Netflix, we got UK comedy royalty Ricky Gervais in a room in a posh hotel to talk about the comedy of offence, the future of David Brent and what he’d have said at the last Golden Globes, had he been picked to host. He’d definitely pre-written at least one joke, just in case. Click above to watch, and read an edited version below.
So, Humanity has jokes about AIDS, rape, cancer, air crashes, living as a transgender person, dead babies and the holocaust. What did you decide not to include?
“Well, it’s a good point, but I do deal in taboo subjects for a reason, particularly in this show, because it’s about free speech and offence. I don’t go for things that are personal tragedies, I don’t really go for things that people can’t help. It’s not like I sit around laughing at famine or AIDS.”
Piers Morgan said the show is about ‘the modern malaise of absurdly over-sensitive snowflakes that wallow in a permanent offence and victimhood fuelled by PC-crazed social media.’ Has he missed the point or hit the nail on the head?
“That is a part of it, and I’ve always been a champion of free speech. But I don’t want to be lumped in with those people that say it’s PC gone mad. Political correctness, per se, is a good thing. I would say I am a lefty, liberal, snowflake, politically correct person. I don’t like the fact that the right [wing] have been the champions of free speech for the last couple of years.”
It’s been about seven years since your last stand up show. You didn’t start out as a stand-up; is it something you’ve got better at?
“Yeah, I think I’m more mature, and because the audience know me they get the irony now and the satire. Among friends, when you’re saying naughty things, you don’t keep saying, ‘I’m joking’. I’ve got those sort of rights now.”
It’s been 20 years since your TV debut on Channel 4’s The 11 O’Clock Show, which launched your career and those of Sacha Baron Cohen, Mackenzie Crook and more. The host, Iain Lee, spoke recently about how it was quite a tough time for him because he felt like he was the one left out…
“Yeah, I saw that and tweeted him a couple of times. I never knew he felt like that, he was just being very honest. But he’s doing great now and I always thought he was fantastic on The 11 O’Clock Show. The funny thing about that show was that it was like the lunatics had taken over the asylum, like these 20-somethings doing what they wanted and the producers just going, ‘Yeah, alright’.”
David Brent: Life On The Road is on Netflix at the moment too. Is that the last we’ll see of David Brent?
“I think so. I think Brent at 60 being a tampon rep, still trying to be a pop star might just be too much.”
It’s just been announced that The Office is being remade in India…
“Looking for big ratings there [Makes gesture of money in hand]! A billion people, baby! I said ratings but then did that [repeats gesture] – a real Freudian slip.”
Does it surprise you that the universality of working in an office is such that you can sell that show anywhere in the world?
“The success surprises me, obviously, but in retrospect I sort of know why it worked, because the themes were universal: boy meets girl, bad boss trying to make a difference. It was a show about fame and comedy, too. I watched a lot of those docusoups of the 1990s where a ordinary person would get their 15 minutes.”
Do you watch Love Island?
“I don’t, but I have watched those things. I still tune in to Big Brother.”
Would you ever be a housemate?
“No, of course not.”
How low would you have to go to resort to that?
“I don’t know what they’d have to do. It would have to cure a country of cancer for me to do it. And it’ll have to be a big country. A big country that I like visiting on holiday.”
You didn’t host the Golden Globes this time, but how would you have approached the Weinstein/MeToo issue?
“Oh I would have had an absolute field day. It would’ve been great. There’s something tantalising about the elephant in the room – even though he wasn’t there this year.”
The scandal that’s rocked Hollywood recently, was there anyone you were partially sad about or surprised about? Do you know Louis CK?
“Yeah, and the answer is I was surprised about all of them, but what can you do? They shouldn’t have done it.”
You talk about Hampstead quite a lot in Humanity. Have you ever bumped into Liam Gallagher on one of his morning jogs?
“Yeah, I’ve bumped into him a few times and yeah, he’s always fun.”
Who’d win in a race on the Heath?
“I think he’d win, what’s he got, like, ten years on me and longer legs?
You’re quite unapologetic about living in one of the most expensive parts of London. In the show, you say journalists are always trying to trip you up by asking how much a pint of milk is, and that the next time you get asked you’ll give them a grand and send them to the shop. So: how much is a pint of milk?
“You know what, you’re not getting a grand but I still don’t know! How much is a pint of milk from where? I only get my milk from Ocado and I don’t do the order so my milk just appears.”
What’s guaranteed to make you laugh?
“Family Guy. I mean, if you’re sitting at home laughing out loud there’s probably something wrong with you, but Family Guy does get me. And obviously the odd fat bloke falling over.”
On internet chat boards there’s always talk of you falling out with your old podcast and writing partners Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington. Any truth in that?
“I purposely don’t answer them because it annoys them, but no no no, I haven’t, I’ve always been doing my own thing, and now they are as well. It’s not a divorce thing.”
Who would keep Karl in the divorce?
“Oh, I would. In a little cupboard.”