ON THE OFFENSIVE
Ricky Gervais says he stands by jokes about deaf, dumb and blind children
Ricky Gervais is more offensive than ever in his new show and he knows it. ‘They laugh at everything, they get everything, but any one of those lines out of context would make me look like the most evil psychopath in the world.’
He’s not kidding. The creator and star of The Office, Extras and movies such as Ghost Town and Life On The
Road pushes the boundaries of taste further than he has ever pushed them before with his Humanity tour – and that’s very far indeed.
There are jokes about ‘the good old days’ of terrorists like the IRA (who he says at least gave bomb warnings before they blew up innocent people) and serial killers like Dr Harold Shipman (who served a nice cup of tea with the poison), and how he’d rather have dinner with Hitler than someone with a nut allergy.
There’s the sight of him kicking an imaginary dead baby around the stage, which made one recently bereaved woman walk out in distress and complain to the press. And there are gags he says he thought too tasteless to use in public before, one of them a particularly brutal joke about a deaf, dumb and blind child.
And yet here is the same Ricky Gervais at his office in north London, talking frankly about his life and work, saying he feels a responsibility towards his audience and would never want to hurt any one of them, personally. ‘They know me. Hopefully they know I’m a good person.’
It’s hard to reconcile the savage performer – who boasted on Twitter of writing his ‘most offensive standup routine ever’ – with the friendly chap here in the grey slacks and black T-shirt who wants to be liked. ‘All my life I’ve tried to be a nice guy and do the right thing and be honourable, and then you hear these horror stories. “Oh, I heard he’s awful. I heard he punched a girl in a wheelchair when he wouldn’t give her an autograph.” That didn’t happen!’ He laughs, baring wolfish teeth.
We’re at the top-floor office on Hampstead High Street where Gervais writes and organises all his stuff, just a short walk from the eight-bedroom £11 million mansion he shares with his long-term partner, the novelist Jane Fallon. It’s all very spartan, tidy and bare with modernist black furniture. The only bit of fun is a life-size cut-out from The Simpsons, which I think is meant to be him. He looks tired in the flesh, the goatee a little grown-out and shadows under his eyes, but then Gervais is midway through the tour, his first in seven years. He has fallen in love with stand-up comedy again and says it is a privilege to do it.
‘Tens of thousands of people coming out, finding a parking space, finding a babysitter, often spending 200 quid on [touted tickets] eBay, which breaks my heart but I am aware of it. I’d better say something they haven’t heard before. It had better be special.’
This milder, real-life Gervais claims he never sends the soup back in a restaurant and tries never to refuse a selfie because he is ‘terrified’ of leaving fans feeling jilted. ‘I don’t want to be that guy. You do feel a responsibility. I didn’t try to be a role model – and I don’t think I have the same responsibility or power as a policeman or a priest or a teacher or a parent, but I still don’t want to think that I’ve hurt one person’s feelings.’
And yet he tells breathtaking jokes like the one about the dead baby. Gervais imagines having a child, looking down into the cot and finding it lifeless. He mimes picking