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Comedian Ricky Gervais wants you to know that he’s only kidding, most of the time anyway.
“I think I’ve got a reputation as sort of like a shock jock or I don’t care what I say or, you know, I don’t care about people’s feelings, which is… that’s totally untrue,” Gervais told Conan O’Brien for Monday’s edition of the podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.
The longtime friends recorded the show in London before much of the world went on pause in an attempt to stop the coronavirus pandemic.
Gervais said he thinks people “fall for the marketing,” the idea that he’s an outrageous comic. For example, they think that if he holds a beer while he’s performing, that he’s drunk. (He swore he doesn’t preform in that condition.) People don’t always know he’s making a joke or being ironic.
The Office creator is well known for making the famous uncomfortable when he hosts the Golden Globes, as he did for the fifth time in January. But he said that version of Ricky Gervais is, to an extent, a character.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m horrible, nasty, uncaring because I’m not, that’s the reason,” Gervais told O’Brien. He doesn’t want people to think he’s “a racist, misogynist, homophobe, because they’ve got the target mixed up with the subject.”
At the same time, Gervais said now he can better handle untrue things that others say about him.
“I realized as I got older, and it took like 15, 20 years for me to realize this, is that reputation is important, but it’s what strangers think of you,” Gervais said. “Character is what your friends know you are, and that’s what counts more. And now it’s like water off a duck’s back.”
If Gervais had offended someone with a joke a decade ago, he would’ve reconsidered what he said. Not so much anymore.
“Now the people that are offended at anything have made that meaningless,” he said. “In a way, I’ve always tried to make my jokes bulletproof but now, there’s this… you’ve got to try to make them bulletproof for 10 years’ time, which is impossible.”
As Gervais and O’Brien debated comedy today, Gervais joked that celebrities of the past, including Marilyn Monroe, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill would have been “hated in six months” in today’s social media-filled world.
O’Brien riffed that Abraham Lincoln would see a TV and fall into an obsession with Love Island. The former president would be hated after eight hours, the late night talk show host said.
Gervais summed up his philosophy on what he does this way: “I’ve got to the point now where I’m like, how can I talk about the worst things in humanity and get a laugh? That’s my challenge. I deal with taboo subjects, because I do like that [gasp] that moment of fear… I want to take 10,000 people by the hand through a frightening forest and then come out the other side and it’s sunny and they went, ‘That was alright.’ And I think that’s what humor’s for, it gets us through the bad stuff. I think it does confront our fears, and it kills the beast.”
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