Ricky Gervais is interviewed for SiriusXM’s Town Hall Series (Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Fans of Ricky Gervais certainly have no lack of outlets to catch up with The Office creator’s humor: he’s in the middle of the largely sold-out Humanity stand-up comedy tour, he just launched a weekly SiriusXM radio show, he frequently shares his thoughts with his almost 13 million Twitter followers, and he has two new TV series in the works.
Gervais talked to Yahoo Entertainment this week about the good and the bad parts of being a comedian these days, why his favorite job right now is his stand-up tour, and his favorite memories of friend — and fellow funny guy — George Michael, whose new Freedom documentary features Gervais among the celebs helping unfold the late superstar’s story.
The Emmy and Golden Globe winner also shared details on a possible reboot of the American version of The Office, his upcoming game show with Fred Savage, his next Netflix comedy, and why hosting the Golden Globes again is definitely among his future plans.
This is a big week with the new Sirius show (Ricky Gervais Is Deadly Sirius) and the stand-up tour continuing at Madison Square Garden.
Yeah, no it’s good. It probably counts as work, but it’s fun. I started in radio. Of everything I do, I think it’s probably the thing that comes most natural to me — just chatting to people. Whatever else I do, I’m good at talking. And playing records. That’s pure fun and exciting to hook up with friends and imminent guests, people like Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox. It’s probably less like a radio show and more like a podcast in many ways. I’m trying to make it timeless, things you can listen to again and again. It’s not about what was on TV last night or anything too topical; it’s more about the big issues. I always say that and then it usually descends into nonsense, but I start off with good intentions to give people a good, interesting hour of thought-provoking chat. And there’s nowhere we won’t go. It’s grown-up chat where we tackle complex issues, and I think as long as you clearly show that it was an opinion, you can discuss anything.
When you kicked off the Humanity stand-up tour, it was the first one you’d done in seven years. What’s been different about touring as a comedian now versus seven years ago?
Well, it’s good that I left it, because the world has changed more in the last seven years, I think, than during any other seven years of my life in many ways. As things moved on, there’s progress, and it’s a slow evolution with society. But the last couple of years was a bit of a quantum leap. It was a turnaround. It was a surprise, you know, with Brexit and Trump, and I talk about it in the show. I don’t get too political, particularly not party political, but I do talk about how the world’s changed a little bit. And I sort of blame social media, because that’s where it started. It was more important to be popular than right. You know, we are in a post-truth era, when people think their opinions are as valuable as fact, and it’s nonsense, you know? It’s this suppression of the truth. There’s a willful ignorance now in the world. People just stand there ignorant, arrogantly, and they don’t like an opposing view. They don’t respect the truth if it doesn’t coincide with their truth. So it is a good time to do it. And listen, I really don’t get that political. I allude to it, but I really deconstruct stupidity more in all walks of life, not just politics. So it’s all about me whining from the most privileged position imaginable, about the world and how spoiled I am. I talk about my beginnings, and it’s more personal, I talk about family.
But really, the big scene with the show is offense culture. It’s how people are so easily offended these days. They don’t look at an argument, they look at who’s saying the argument and then they decide whether it’s valid or not based on who’s saying it. Everyone picks a side. It’s tribal now. And so I look at that, I get examples on Twitter and in the world. But it’s no more political than it ever was, it just seems slightly more important now, you know? And [the show’s] better. I’m a better stand-up than I was. That shouldn’t be a revelation. It should take 15 years to become good. But I’m honest and passionate about this, and it’s a happy coincidence that it seems to be the right time to do a show called Humanity. And the audiences are better because they know me now, so I can go further. I don’t have to explain the irony or the satire anymore. You hit the ground running, because they know what I’m doing now. And that’s what’s made it my favorite tour ever, really.
You tweeted earlier this week, “Some opinions are so stupid they hurt my feelings. But that’s my problem. It’s a person’s right to hold as stupid an opinion as they like.” Are you saying a theme of both the Sirius show and your stand-up tour is not so much what is happening in the world, but the ways people are talking about those things?
Yes. Every day, I talk about this in the show, every day I explain to people what freedom of speech really means, particularly in the context of comedy, in the context of a joke. A joke about a bad thing isn’t as bad as the bad thing. It’s not necessarily condoning a bad thing. But people make a snap judgment. They look at a thing and they go, “Oh, you shouldn’t talk about that. That’s a bad subject. I don’t like that subject.” We discuss those subjects intelligently in conversation, and a joke is a fast conversation with a laugh at the end of it. So yeah, I can’t get through to people. People think, “Well, I’m allowed to say what I want, but if you come back, you’re thin-skinned, or you didn’t get it.” Well no, you are allowed to hock ridiculous views, but people are allowed to hate you for it. They’re not allowed to put you in jail or stop you talking. The other thing that people don’t realize is, if you’re being an idiot, and you block someone on Twitter because they’re being an idiot, that isn’t censorship. That’s my right not to listen to an idiot. You can still carry on being an idiot, I just can’t hear it anymore. People get confused by definitions, you know? They want it all their own way. They want to say what they want, but they don’t want to hear anything back. It’s absurd.
People are trying to close down the conversation now, and they do it by discrediting people. Or I talk about this in the show as well — I say something like, “ban bullfighting,” and someone says, “What about the kids in Syria?” I’m not [asking them to make] giving them a choice. They could do both. It’s people just only [seeing] their way. They want to be heard — that’s the thing. They want to be heard at all costs. And that’s the other thing from Twitter to real life — people would rather be known as an idiot than not known at all. People want to be famous. It’s mind-blowing, but it does come from willful ignorance. People just want to be heard at all costs.
You shared some lovely sentiments in George Michael’s Freedom documentary, which just debuted in the U.S. on Showtime. What is your favorite memory of your friendship with him?
I knew him for a number of years, and we shared the same birthday, so there would often be a birthday party at his house. He was fantastic and was just so natural. Just so funny. The things he was willing to talk about that reflected his whole life — like cruising in the park, he’d just talk about it. And that’s what I loved about him. I liked that he was a militant gay man who wasn’t a stranger to sexuality, and it disarmed people. There were times someone accused him of something, and he’d just go straight on and say, “Yeah. I did that.” [Laughs] He just made me laugh, but he was fearless, and he was kind, and funny, and this is before we even get to what a brilliant musician and singer he was. Do you know what I mean? It’s funny that we talk about all those things, and then you have to remember, “Oh, and he was one of the biggest pop stars in the world.”
You were working on a game show for ABC earlier this year, Child Support, with Fred Savage. What’s the status of the show?
It’s all recorded. We recorded the first six, and I think it’s going out next February or March. It seems so long ago that we recorded it, but it’s all done and ready to go. The last I heard was [the network] didn’t want to put it out at Christmas, because it would get lost. I don’t know how these things work. I saw them all, and they turned out great. The kids are fantastic, really funny. I mean, you can’t lose with asking kids questions, because they’re honest, their confusion — I’m cracking up all the time.
There are lots of TV comedy reboots on, or in the works, right now (Will & Grace, Roseanne). Any thoughts for you of doing new episodes of The Office, either UK or the American version?
Definitely not UK. I did my thing, the David Brent movie [David Brent: Life on the Road] to catch up and end the saga. There is talk of another American reboot. Not going back to do the same one with Steve Carell, but a new reboot of The Office with a new cast, in a different office, I think. Again, they’ve made inquiries. They’ve asked my permission, and I’ve said yes, but that’s all I know at the moment, so we’ll have to see. But I’m not really involved in that. I did mine. I started off the American one, and then it just took off on its own. It’s almost like when someone does a cover version of your song. It’s your song, but it’s not your record, if you know what I mean. And, I just started work on a new show.
Another new series? Another comedy?
Yes. I haven’t got a title yet, but it’s a dark comedy with a six-part trajectory [for Netflix], and it’s about a guy whose wife dies, and he’s fed up. He contemplates killing himself, but the dog’s hungry. He thinks, “Oh, my wife’s dead, but I’m not. I might as well do what I want.” So he decides to say exactly what he wants from now on, because he’s got nothing to lose anymore. It’s almost like a superpower. He’s tired of biting his tongue and being nervous. He wouldn’t get into a fight before, because he was worried they would maybe hurt his family — now he’s got nothing to fear, because he doesn’t care about living anymore, so he can do exactly what he wants. It’s pure liberation of a stifled man, like a comedy Falling Down. I won’t film it ‘til next year, maybe the end of this year. And as soon as this is on Netflix, I want to start doing warm-up shows to do my next stand-up tour, because I’ve fallen in love with stand-up. It’s my favorite thing I do now.
Even more than the Sirius show? And why is that?
Well, the Sirius show is comparable, but what I love about stand-up is that there’s no one to answer to. Other than the actual laws of the land, you’re in your own morality. I book the venue, I put the tickets on sale, they sell out, people come, and I can say what I want to them. There’s no privilege like that, saying what you want. There’s just nothing like it. And I could do that every night. I could change it every night. There’s nothing as liberating, and I think that’s why I came up with this [new Netflix comedy], because I’m such a libertarian, but I want to do and say exactly what I want without restriction. And I suppose I’ve always tried to do that with my [TV] shows, but then you still have to go, “Well, when’s it going out? What’s up?” You’re not completely in control. You can’t even change it once you’ve put it out there, whereas with stand-up, you can keep molding it and doing what you want with it. It’s such freedom of expression. And I’ve tried to do that with the new radio show, too. I will say what I want, talk about what I want, and people either like it or they don’t — and that’s the only valid form of censorship, again, people’s right not to listen.
One more thing: you last hosted the Golden Globes in 2016. With the current scandals in Hollywood, and the current political and social media climates, are you happy you’re not hosting the next show, or…
Every day when something big breaks, or something crazy breaks, or the world goes mad, I think, “Oh, I wish I was hosting the Golden Globes tonight.” Oh, I would love it. I would have an absolute blast. And I will do it again. It’s very rushed. But yeah, I do really enjoy those three hours.
Ricky Gervais Is Deadly Sirius airs Tuesdays at 11 AM on SiriusXM Comedy Greats Channel 94.
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