Ricky Gervais

He writes, he acts, he's a comedian-and he's a baby killer.

Illustration: Rob Kelly

The Office cocreator Ricky Gervais can be serious—he’s an outspoken opponent of animal cruelty and a frank atheist—but as his Extras character puts it, he’s almost always “having a laugh.” If you’ve heard the Ricky Gervais Show podcasts he created with long-suffering friend and punching bag Karl Pilkington, you’re familiar with Gervais’s guffaw: loud and frequent. Then again, the 47-year-old Brit has reason to be happy.

The Office cocreator Ricky Gervais can be serious—he’s an outspoken opponent of animal cruelty and a frank atheist—but as his Extras character puts it, he’s almost always “having a laugh.” If you’ve heard the Ricky Gervais Show podcasts he created with long-suffering friend and punching bag Karl Pilkington, you’re familiar with Gervais’s guffaw: loud and frequent. Then again, the 47-year-old Brit has reason to be happy. He’s starring in in the film Ghost Town (opening next month), and he’s shooting This Side of the Truth, a feature he also cowrote and codirects. His fourth stand-up tour—a showcase for favorite jokes from the first three tours, plus some new material—brings him to Madison Square Garden this week.

Time Out New York: Do you appreciate stand-up more now that you’ve been making films?
Ricky Gervais: The more I do it, the more I like it. Also, I’ve started exploiting the things that attracted me to it in the first place—it’s the last bastion of self-censorship.

TONY: You certainly don’t censor how much you mock yourself.
Ricky Gervais: Yeah, I always get something in about how fat and stupid I look. In my head I look like a young David Bowie. Then I catch a glimpse in the window and I go, “Who’s Fatty looking at? Oh…”

TONY: Do you like playing New York?
Ricky Gervais: Yes. It makes me feel funny; it smells good. When I get here, I just feel strangely at home. It’s an organism. Um, it’s like coming home to a pet—amazing. And I only hope one day America likes me as much as I like her—is it a her? England is. But Germany’s a he. Who decides? Maybe someone lifts them up and checks for a little winkle.

TONY: Why are you drawn to uncomfortable situations?
Ricky Gervais: I’m a white, middle-class, successful bloke. The only bad things that happen to me are social faux pas. I haven’t got an ism. And comedy shouldn’t be a platform. The thing I usually have a go at is bad comedy. The Office was a show about comedy.

TONY: But over here Jim and Pam are a couple! Isn’t that going to ruin the American show?
Ricky Gervais: I don’t know. I would never have done it. But we had completely different ambitions. Ours was finite. They’ve got to string their show out.

TONY: The audience loves the characters. Is it frustrating when people confuse you for the losers you play?
Ricky Gervais: Often it’s because of lazy journalism. Apparently I’m just like [Office character] David Brent—the thing is, I slip in and out of character, that’s my shtick. I do always play a man who comes from Reading. If I played Genghis Khan, he would talk like me and have this haircut.

TONY: So David, what’s funnier: someone falling or a fart sound?
Ricky Gervais: [Laughs] It depends on context. At a funeral, if it was the vicar: the second one. What would be the first? [Pauses] A fireman has just caught a baby from a burning building and everyone’s cheering and he gets so carried away that he just trips. And the baby falls under a bus.

TONY: What?!? Why does the baby…?
Ricky Gervais: You’re right. Cut that last bit.

TONY: >So what’s on your wish list?
Ricky Gervais: A God. From what I’ve heard, he’s all-powerful, so he’d sort a few things out.

TONY: Wow: a lamenting atheist?
Ricky Gervais: Well, yeah: A God would be great. But it’s just not true. So, let’s see. An individual jet pack.

TONY: The jet pack would burn your feet.
Ricky Gervais: Okay, my biggest wish? That everyone died in their sleep, and nothing would matter.

TONY: People would stop sleeping.
Ricky Gervais: No! You sound like Karl Pilkington! What I mean is, people die peacefully in their sleep so there’s no pain.

TONY: I know what you mean, but people would try to find a way to cheat it.
Ricky Gervais: Oh, you’ve ruined it now. You ruined the jet pack and the sleeping. All right…world peace. No: a jet pack.

Thanks for your time.
Ricky Gervais: No, thank you very much. I’m going to spend the next hour going, “Why did I say that?” Or, “That came across wrong.” “Oh God, did she think I was insulting journalists?” “Oh no, why did I put the baby under the bus?!?”

Ricky Gervais: Live happens Mon 14–Wed 16.