Redux: British Comic Ricky Gervais British comedian Ricky Gervais is best known to American audiences as the bumbling boss David Brent in the British version of The Office and the ever-hopeful wanna-be actor Andy Millman from Extras. We offer highlights of past interviews.

Redux: British Comic Ricky Gervais

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This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. British comedian Ricky Gervais is best known to American TV audiences as the bumbling boss David Brent in "The Office," or the ever hopeful wannabe actor Andy Millman in "Extras." He is also one of the best stand-ups around. His one-man show, "Out of England," was broadcast by HBO as a special last year. We'll have more on that in a moment.

First, during our first conversation back in 2005, just as "Extras" was hitting the air, I wanted to learn about the subtle differences between his two most famous TV characters.

(Soundbite of interview, 2005)

Mr. RICKY GERVAIS (Actor, Comedian): Andy Millman, the guy I play, is a little bit more self-aware than David Brent. He's not so much of a putz, but he's got his own demons, one of them being that he wants to be a successful actor and famous. But it's similar in its sensibility, certainly, David Brent just wanting to be popular and loved. And Andy, he's been trying to be an actor for five years. He's got the D-team around him. His agent is the worst agent in the world, absolutely useless. He's just the worst. He's got a hapless sidekick called Maggie who's his only friend in the world really. But it's a real Stan and Ollie sort of relationship. This is the blind leading the blind. She is stupid. It's just out there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: Her stupidity is out there, and it's these people rallying against the world, trying to make it.

BRAND: I want to get to that idea that you talked about earlier about this sort of ambition of your character, the ambition of your character and the strivingness of him. And there's a clip I want to play where he's at a party and he's trying to buttonhole the producer of a film he's appearing on as an extra. And they have a very funny back and forth where your character Andy is pretending that he knows all about Japanese cinema.

Mr. GERVAIS: It's way over his head. He's gotten in way over his head, but of course he has to ingratiate himself. And he just wants to agree with everything and appear intelligent and erudite, and he's not. He just wants to say, just give me the line, OK? Just give me the line. But he has to go through this whole sort of wooing process.

(Soundbite of TV show "Extras")

Unidentified Man #1: And if you say to someone, do you like Japanese cinema and they say no, can't get into it, boring.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Oh.

Unidentified Man #1: You say what do you love the "Magnificent Seven," and they say yes.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Oh I really liked that.

Unidentified Man #1: You say, well, it's a remake of the "Seven Samurai."

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Oh really, yeah, oh yeah. Of course is - well, they didn't know that.

Unidentified Man #1: No.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Seven is the clue. Didn't just make that up.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, it really upsets when everyone doesn't love the "Seven Samurai."

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) I love all the number films. Really, "Seven Samurai," "Ocean's 11," "Dirty Dozen," which is about as many as you can have onscreen at once...

BRAND: Ricky, how much of that is improvised?

Mr. GERVAIS: None.

BRAND: None?

Mr. GERVAIS: No, it's all script, same as "The Office." People think "The Office" was improvised, but it's all on the page. We do that because, what we found is that in the early days of "The Office," we went in with it sort of 80 percent scripted, and we did some things and - then we improv'ed it, you know, and it gets a laugh on the floor because it's the first time they've heard it. But when you get back into the editing suite in the cold light of day, the written stuff is better.

BRAND: And when you're doing the jokes, the sort of back and forth, your specialty that your character - both of your characters, the David Brent character from "The Office" and Andy Millman in this series, "Extras" - both of them love to push something to the point of uncomfortableness. They sort of dig themselves into a hole over and over again.

Ms. GERVAIS: I'm not a person that's easily embarrassed, but I'm embarrassed for other people.

BRAND: Mm hmm.

Mr. GERVAIS: I can't stand it. I can't stand someone being embarrassed. I don't know why. If someone slips over and the first thing they do is look around, I'll pretend I haven't seen it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: It's just - I'm mortified for them. It's just an endless well, embarrassment. It just - you can just keep getting in it worse until you have to pull back and let the audience breathe. But, yeah, I really - I really love digging.

BRAND: Let's listen to a clip where you're pretending to be a Catholic to impress a woman and she takes you to a prayer meeting.

(Soundbite of TV show "Extras")

Unidentified Woman #1: This is Andy, Father.

Unidentified Man #2: How are you son? You don't have to do that. I'm not a pope.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) No, old habits die hard. My old priest used to make me kiss him, on the ring. I did on his thing - and there was none of that going on. And that makes me sick, as well, people saying priests are pedophiles and kiddy fiddlers. It's probably - I mean, they probably are. I mean, you probably know some, but there's no - no higher percentage of perverts in - but, you know, they're all in walks of life, aren't they? It's not - there are nonces everywhere. But let's not exaggerate the issue, is what I'm saying. I've never been touched by a priest, I've been touched by God, not in that way - in the heart, but, you know, or...

BRAND: (Laughing) It just gets more and more uncomfortable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: It's really funny. It's just really, really...

Mr. GERVAIS: It's just - that's what being nervous and so out of your comfort zone does. It's the same in "The Office" when a black guy comes to the office. And all he thinks is I'd better show this guy I'm not a racist. So what does he do? Only talks about black issues, and it's, you know, because he's comfortable with himself, same with Andy sometimes. Now Andy is a lot cooler but, you know, we all stumble. You know, none of us can just, Oh, forget it, I'm walking out. For a split second we think we can get away with this and of course, you know, when you're caught your caught, but that wouldn't be the comedy in the drama if we let him off. We've got to make him squirm.

BRAND: That's Ricky Gervais back in 2005. I spoke with him again in November of last year. It was right before the broadcast of his HBO show "Out of England"

Mr. GERVAIS: I go on about how everything we learn as a child is, you know, charged with morality and they sneak and learn and whenever they can, and politics from an early age and I deconstruct some those sayings and fables and then I get to Humpty Dumpy and I admit I can't see the moral.

(Soundbite of show "Out of England")

Mr. GERVAIS: Humpty Dumpy sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpy had a great a fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again. All I can think is, don't sit on a wall if you're an egg.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: But again, how is that applicable to a five-year-old human? I mean, you tell that to a group of five-year-olds, So don't sit on a wall, if you're an egg. What do you mean, if I'm an egg? I'm not an egg.

Mr. GERVAIS: That bit start it off about a minute and then by the end of the gigs it was like 10 minutes long when I start to think of it more and more - don't send horses to perform medical procedure. It's ridiculous. They haven't got fingers. It's going to be chaos.

BRAND: What it is like during your act? It is called "Out of England" and in that it does have a lot of Briticisms in it, what is it doing it in America? Do you get a different reaction to the jokes than you do at home?

Mr. GERVAIS: It was great. I mean, I just think - I don't think it could have gone down better. When I first - the first time I tried it at the Kodak in L.A., it was just - it was great. It was one of the - I mean, it was my new favorite venue in the world and then ...

BRAND: I have to say I was in that audience. I saw it.

Mr. GERVAIS: Oh, wow, thank you very much.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: You were one louder. It was absolutely great. And, also I must say that America was my mecca for entertainment. Everything I've ever loved has come out of America. From Laurel and Hardy and Groucho Marx, early Woody Allen, even like wisecrackers like Groucho Marx, Bob Hope again, they were cracking jokes. They were cracking wise in the face of adversity. They were still the losers. No one wants to see unfeasibly handsome clever people doing things brilliantly. They want to see a punt struggling and falling over and the important thing is getting back up again. And that's David Brent, and that's Andy Millman. And that's, you know, every character I'll ever play. I just enjoyed myself more than I ever did before and I want to keep that feeling now. You know, it's like I hit the ball perfectly for the first time. I felt that racket and now I know where to hit the ball every time. And I can't wait till my next show.

BRAND: Do you like doing the live shows the best over doing TV or movies?

Mr. GERVAIS: That was a bad metaphor wasn't it? Hitting a tennis ball I lost people there. What does he mean hitting the tennis ball? Has he played tennis on stage? What, is he an idiot? He'll have someone's eye out. Sorry, what did you say?

BRAND: (Laughing) I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: I'll answer anyway.

BRAND: Answer it anyway. Keep going.

Mr. GERVAIS: I like ducks. I like ducks most than owls than penguins in that order.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: If you question was name your three favorite birds at a time.

BRAND: It was. How did you know?

Mr. GERVAIS: I didn't realize - good, yeah, duck, owl, penguin.

BRAND: And where's the comedy in the penguin?

Mr. GERVAIS: Oh, come on. It's upright. It mates once a year. They have to shuffle around with little short legs to keep the egg there. When a plane goes over they looked up and they fall on their back. They lived on either rock, right? Or they have to take their chance in the sea where everything is trying to eat it. It's intrinsically funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GERVAIS: A duck's funny because the quack. An owl is probably the only bird that can see blue.

BRAND: Really?

Mr. GERVAIS: Yeah. So, if you're going to catch an owl don't wear denim jacket.

BRAND: Comedian Ricky Gervais, we spoke last fall. There is more to come after this.

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