‘We’re all po­lit­i­cal: the only side I take is clever ver­sus stupid’

As his new stand-up show reaches the UK, Ricky Ger­vais talks to Bruce Des­sau about Don­ald Trump, his ideas for a Net­flix com­edy and why he adores Lon­don

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

‘Even I can’t talk about my­self for an hour,” says Ricky Ger­vais as he sits down in his Hamp­stead of­fice to talk about him­self for an hour. This is the new, im­proved Ger­vais, whose world tour of his lat­est show, Hu­man­ity, reaches Lon­don this week. More ma­ture, more thought­ful, still opin­ion­ated and, of course, still talk­a­tive.

When I ar­rive, the pho­to­shoot has just fin­ished, which is a shame be­cause I was go­ing to sug­gest that Ger­vais, not averse to com­ment­ing on Trump, as you will read, take a knee in the pic­tures. Though I did ex­press con­cern that, at 56, he might not be able to get up again. This prompts the first of many out­bursts of his trade­mark hyena laugh be­fore he gets more se­ri­ous.

“Peo­ple tak­ing a knee de­serve a round of ap­plause. They are brave enough and they might get into trou­ble, but I think that’s what a real hero is. If you think you won’t get into trou­ble, there’s noth­ing heroic about it. I don’t know what Trump has to do to lose his sup­port­ers. It’s like a re­li­gion. He’s a school bully. The last six months have been crazy. He has said so many things that we can’t keep an eye on them all. He’s like he’s an em­peror — he does what he wants.”

Hu­man­ity finds Ger­vais tack­ling top­ics in­clud­ing Trump, Brexit, cancer, blas­phemy, his fam­ily and how laugh­ter was so vi­tal grow­ing up in Read­ing. It is his most per­sonal set yet.

A mem­o­rable anec­dote about his brother, Bob, 11 years older, al­most makes you won­der if he is the truly tal­ented Ger­vais sib­ling. “I re­alised what an in­flu­ence Bob was on me grow­ing up. The point of life was to have a laugh, that was the men... the women car­ried on work­ing! I wanted to be clever, but be­ing funny came first. That’s how you know some­one is clever. They don’t come out and tell you Pi to 13 places — they tell you a joke.”

Both of his par­ents were funny. “My dad was very dry. He didn’t say much, he’d hide be­hind his pa­per. Mum was funny be­cause she told the truth. I re­mem­ber when I was 12 I asked her why my brothers were so much older than me and she just went ‘Be­cause you were a mis­take’.”

He tweeted his sup­port for Labour at the last elec­tion but keeps party pol­i­tics off-stage. “I think ev­ery­one is po­lit­i­cal th­ese days, but I don’t come down on one side. The only side I take is clever ver­sus stupid. Any line taken out of the con­text of the show would be hor­ren­dous, but now I don’t care.”

He has no time for peo­ple who say they are of­fended. “Say­ing ‘I’m of­fended’ is mean­ing­less to me. It’s like say­ing, ‘I’ve got a pain in my leg’. What’s that got to do with me?”

The self-styled “god­less ape” re­sponds to Mel Brooks’ re­cent re­mark that po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness is suf­fo­cat­ing com­edy. “I’m a fan of the kind of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness that is about not pro­mot­ing prejudice, but some peo­ple in Amer­ica are of­fended by equal­ity be­cause when you’ve had priv­i­lege for so long, equal­ity feels like op­pres­sion.

“There is a vast dif­fer­ence be­tween a gov­ern­ment pol­icy of op­pres­sion and some fat bloke in a club do­ing a naughty joke. When a co­me­dian says some­thing and he doesn’t mean it, he gets in trou­ble. When a politi­cian says some­thing and he does mean it, he doesn’t get in trou­ble be­cause that’s his so-called job.” Talk in­evitably re­turns to Trump. “He is a poster boy for those peo­ple who think they are dis­en­fran­chised. They are not op­pressed. How naive is it that he has some­how told them that Ge­orge Clooney is the en­emy? Whereas this guy is lit­er­ally in a gold-plated lift?” Dur­ing our chat I in­ter­mit­tently look over his shoul­der, try­ing to de­ci­pher a mo­saic of pink Post-it notes on the wall. I can see that one says, “Heck­les at a com­edy gig”, so I as­sume th­ese are notes about his live show. They turn out to be some­thing much more in­ter­est­ing.

They are ideas for his new Net­flix com­edy drama. This is the first time he has spo­ken about it. The se­ries had a work­ing ti­tle of Roll On Death, but he dropped it be­cause it sounded too com­i­cal. “I don’t know whether it’s a com­edy or more of a six-part story. It’s like a se­ries that’s adapted from a novel, I just haven’t writ­ten the novel.”

Ger­vais will play the “mid­dle-aged, grumpy” lead role. “It’s a guy whose wife has died and he is in the depths of de­pres­sion and he nearly kills him­self. But the rea­son he doesn’t is that the dog is hun­gry, so that saves him for a while. He thinks about his crappy job, he works for a free news­pa­per.”

He reads out some of the Post-it notes: “Wakes up... rude to the boss... dad’s in Alzheimer’s hos­pice...”

It’s early days for cast­ing but two peo­ple in it will be Tony Way, who played Don­tos Hol­lard in Game of Thrones, and Tom Bas­den. Both ap­peared in Life on the Road, 2016’s David Brent movie.

Ger­vais is un­sure if Brent will sur­face again. “I think we might have seen the last of him,” he sug­gests. Al­though he hints that he might do some­thing as Brent with his fic­tional band, Fore­gone Con­clu­sion.

Ger­vais and his part­ner, Jane Fal­lon, di­vide their time be­tween the UK and New York, but he is still very much a Lon­doner. Per­haps, un­sur­pris­ingly, he voted Re­main. “Lon­don isn’t Eng­land and New York isn’t Amer­ica. A Lon­doner has more in com­mon with some­one in New York than some­one in Corn­wall.”

The Hu­man­ity show con­cludes with an hon­est, hi­lar­i­ous ac­count of a fam­ily fu­neral. “I’m try­ing to make peo­ple laugh about things they didn’t know they could. Ta­boo sub­jects such as death get you there quicker. I’ve taken them by the hand through a scary for­est, they’ve come out in the sun­light and they re­alise it wasn’t so bad.”

COURT­ING CON­TRO­VERSY: Ricky Ger­vais, and (be­low) with part­ner Jane Fal­lon

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