Ricky Gervais defends mocking celebrities: 'Think of the f***ing terrible things I could have joked about'

Ricky Gervais (at the 2016 Golden Globes) on why he won't
Ricky Gervais (at the 2016 Golden Globes) on why he won't "pander" to celebrities. (Photo: REUTERS/Paul Drinkwater/NBC Universal/Handout)

He's done The Office, Extras, Derek and After Life — the latter of which will release its third and final season on Netflix next month — but Ricky Gervais is arguably just as well-known for his work ribbing A-listers as a constant, and controversial, award show emcee.

In his five stints as host of the Golden Globes — most recently in 2020 — the British comedian has carved out a reputation for cracking jokes many consider to be off-limits and often at the expense of the stars sitting before him. But in a new interview with the Guardian, the 60-year-old explained why it's important to not "pander" to celebrities — and why, if anything, he's letting them off easy.

“Do I pander to the 200 billionaires in the room or the 200 million people at home sitting in their [underwear] drinking beer who aren’t winning awards, who aren’t billionaires?" he mused. "It’s a no-brainer for a comedian. I’m a jester. I play to the other peasants in the mud. I wasn’t going in terrible. Think of the things I could have said... Think of the f*****g terrible things I could have joked about. It’s off the charts — It’s. Off. The. Charts — the terrible things I could say.”

While he's ruffled feathers and dented some egos — he noted Kim Cattrall calling one Sex and the City dig ageist — Gervais claimed to have found a fan in Robert De Niro.

"Robert De Niro was just crying with laughter when I made a joke about Hugh Hefner and his young bride," Gervais said. "He called me after a week and said: ‘I wanna say you did a great job.’ ‘Oh man,’ I said, ‘I annoyed some people.’ He said: ‘F*** ’em, they were jokes.’”

While he's far from precious about causing offense — "You have to provoke!" — Gervais admitted being wary of the debates constantly raging on social media.

“Nowadays you hear everyone’s opinions," he told the U.K. paper. "If you go on Twitter for a day, you think there is a war going on, then you go outside for a walk and nothing’s changed. Twenty years ago, if you saw something on TV you didn’t like, you’d pick up a pen and go: ‘Dear BBC, I’m absolutely horrified … [and then not bother sending the letter]. Now you fire off a tweet and it makes the news. Twitter is like road rage.”

Though he appreciates Twitter as a marketing tool and insight into other people's opinions, he added, "Twitter enables narcissism because it allows people to put in print and to publish alongside scientists and politicians their deeply held opinion. Like, I do a thing about save the rhino, and someone always goes: ‘What about the kids in Syria?’ And I want to go back: ‘What are you doing about the kids in Syria?’”

Gervais has long defended his habit of taking celebrities down a peg, though there's one target he regrets mocking: Tim Allen.

“I think he took it wrong,” Gervais told The Hollywood Reporter last year of introducing Allen and his Toy Story co-star at the Globes in 2011. “The joke was [about] him and Tom Hanks. I came out and said, ‘Our next two presenters, the first has won five Oscars, combined box office of five billion dollars. And the other [is] Tim Allen.’ It’s a fine joke. But anyone standing next to Tom Hanks [would’ve been a target of such a swipe], unless it’s Dustin Hoffman or Robert Redford or Robert De Niro.

“I have nothing against Tim Allen,” Gervais explained. “He’s a good actor. He’s probably a nice bloke. So even though there’s no malice and I can justify it comedically and everyone laughed, I didn’t want Tim Allen to think, ‘Oh, that was written for me. Why me?’ Well, because you were standing next to Tom Hanks.”