Ricky Gervais is a bit like a vampire, and not just because he has fangs. He also maintains an air of privacy about his personal life, while also seeming to be everywhere at once. Also, he loves to watch people bleed, with his sadistic sense of humor. Whether he’s taking bites out of fair-skinned Hollywood nobility, or displaying his wit in any of the countless unconventional BBC sitcoms he’s responsible for, one thing is for sure: no wooden stake can penetrate his titanium exoskeleton. Here are the ten best things he’s done (so far):
10. The 2011 Golden Globes
Gervais received a hefty media backlash for his hosting duties at the 2011 Golden Globes. The reason? He simply refused to hold back. Ordinarily, award ceremonies involve a whole bunch of industry insiders patting themselves on the back. The spirit is always one of endless positive reinforcement. But when Gervais was granted the ability to host, without having his script read prior, the result was a bunch of groaning and the outright inability to take a joke. Gervais targeted all the major Hollywood faces, brought up the rumors about John Travolta and Tom Cruise being gay, and left a lot of them frowning. You can find some of the highlights here:
9. Seona Dancing
Before there was Gervais comedy, there was Gervais music. He even had (minor) chart success, believe it or not. Gervais made up one-half of the eighties New Wave duo Seona Dancing–Bill Macrae was the other half– that made zero apologies for how much it was influenced by David Bowie. Just look at that eye make-up and tailored suit. Their music isn’t actually half bad, and evidence in favor of the fact that Gervais can pretty much get away with doing whatever he wants, regardless of the medium. In that way, he is a little like the Thin White Duke, but thankfully Gervais has come to realize that his place is comedy.
8. Stand-Up Specials
Gervais has proven his success behind the wheel of fully-developed sitcoms, but it seems the challenge wasn’t quite enough for him. Opting to mainline his comic styling directly to the audience, he has performed comedy specials, toured, and been the subject of three DVD releases: Animals, Politics, and Fame (which could easily have doubled as glam rock album names). Each of the specials had a tying theme: Animals was about animals having sex and morbidly obese Americans (“that’s quite a lot for a human, for what is essentially a land mammal”, he jokes). Gervais did make some negligible attempts at stand-up in the late nineties, but his first successful comedy special (which Office-co-creator and ongoing creative partner Steven Merchant was also a part of) was in 2001 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Gervais pokes fun at reality once again, in this sitcom centered around a movie extra trying to make his way in the business. In each episode, we get celebrity guest stars who play themselves, or a farce of themselves anyway, and some classic witty Gervais banter. Also starring in the show is Steven Merchant, and some other names who will go on to work with Gervais on other projects.
6. Cemetery Junction
Written and directed by Gervais and Merchant (and with hilarious bit roles for the both of them), this film feels like a vanity project, and and attempt to be meaningful and sincere (and perhaps semi-autobiographical), with flashes of comic relief that don’t come often enough. The plot, set in the seventies with a soundtrack to match, centers around a small town gang of friends stuck in a rut in a dead-end town (Cemetery Junction…get it?), with one in particular seeking to make a name for himself and be an exception to tradition. In perpetual conflict are the ideas of crude origins, which many call home, and pie-in-the-sky aspirations that seem far off and alien, and require some self-transformation. This theme boils to a point when one of the friends gets the band, at a formal function, to play Quiet Riot’s Cum On Feel the Noize, whereafter he tells an offensive bar joke that ends in the c-word (and, consequently, a bunch of wide open mouths).
5. The Invention of Lying
In this witty feature, aimed largely at an American audience– for how many star in it– Gervais, who wrote and directed the thing, plays a character in some alternate dimension where lying has yet to be “invented.” Gervais’s character, however, is the first to discover it through his own flash of genius, and he uses it to score dates and convince people he is God. Meanwhile everywhere around him, the truth is the only thing understood, and gullibility becomes inherent. Funny moments of excessive truthfulness come in the form of painfully honest women (Jennifer Garner) and Pepsi ads which bear the slogan “Pepsi: It’s famous!”
4. An Idiot Abroad
An Idiot Abroad, at its core, is Gervais’ way for the world to become familiar with Karl Pilkington. And consequently, for Karl Pilkington to become more familiar with the world. For Gervais, Pilkington is a comedy goldmine: an incredibly sheltered, simple-minded neurotic, whose estrangement from the world makes for an off-kilter, daft sort of genius (frequently in the series, we hear Gervais tell Karl that he’s “his way of giving back to society”). Karl’s…well, Karl-ness comes out all through the series, as he is confronted with unfamiliar foods and cultures, with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant phoning in intermittently to keep him on track, inform him of a “change in plans,” or just to let him vent. This show is a perfect travelogue for those with a sadistic streak.
3. Life’s Too Short
In this show, another one of Ricky Gervais’ chums (this time it’s actor and “little person” Warrick Davis) is put in the spotlight, while Gervais does all the behind the scenes work (co-writing-and-directing with Stephen Merchant), and occasionally guest stars as himself. The show is a meta-sitcom, like Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm or Gervais’ own Extras (on the set of which Gervais first met Davis); similarly, all sorts of famous guest stars play themselves, but in a much more exaggerated fashion. Among them is a deadpan Liam Neeson, an inconsiderate Helena Bonham Carter, and a hissy-fitting Johnny Depp (who confronts Gervais about his behavior at the Golden Globes).
The plot centers around Davis, who runs a talent agency for dwarves (which he actually does in real life). As everything is exaggerated for comic ends, so too we see Davis, who can’t remind people enough how he played an Ewok in Star Wars, or was the star of Willow. All this endows him with a surreal excess of pride and insecurity, not to mention a veritable Napoleon complex, as he goes to all-new lows to get back his ex-wife (not a dwarf), and find work to pay off his IRS debts. While the future is uncertain for this hilarious sitcom, the first season was way too short.
2. The Ricky Gervais Show
Currently in its third season, this appears to be Gervais’s current day job (although he always has an another iron in some fire or other); the show is based on a podcast, which, as it turns out, happens to be the number one downloaded podcast in the world. This speaks more than a little to Gervais’s influence. Also speaking to Gervais’ influence is the aforementioned Karl Pilkington who, through Gervais’ Midas touch, has become a household name, at least in England.
The show (which is animated by the way) is 100% a soapbox for Gervais’ little comic discovery, towards whom Gervais and Merchant act like complete a-holes (calling him an idiot at every possible chance, or making fun of the perfect sphere that is his head). In the first two seasons, reoccurring segments were “Monkey News,” in which Pilkington would tell some absurd, and probably untrue, monkey-related anecdote, and excerpts from Karl’s personal diary of peculiar observances, as read by Merchant and commentated by Gervais. The third season involves a less structured set-up, and a lot more cues and prompts for Karl to go on another of his famous rants (as Ricky chirps with laughter all the while).
1. The Office
This has to be the number-one source of Gervais’s international star power, crossing over into American markets with the Steve Carrell-starring adaptation. Britons easily took to this show, which only lasted two seasons (as most of Gervais’ projects seem to). For Americans who love the blunt American-ness of the latter, the original is quite similar, in the way of character development and awkward scenarios, only with a words and phrases like “bloke” and “gob” and “innit?” tossed in on the regular. They do, after all, say England and America are two countries separated by a common language; once you overcome that barrier, you soon realize how funny British comedy can be, in its subtlety and pithiness of speech.