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Ricky Gervais Has An Animated Post-'Office' Life

Comedian Ricky Gervais was recognized by Guinness World Records in 2007 for having the world's most popular podcast. That podcast, called The Ricky Gervais Show, starred Gervais, along with his mates Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington, conversing about anything and everything that tickled their fancy for more than six years.

Gervais tells David Bianculli that Pilkington — described in The New York Times as "a cross between the deadpan comedian Steven Wright and Cliff Clavin of Cheers" — is the main reason for the podcast's success.

"I think that people know it's real. They're eavesdropping on a conversation between three mates," Gervais says. "But the real answer's Karl Pilkington. That's the secret. Karl Pilkington: This normal but extraordinary man. This missing link. This global village idiot. This friend that everyone's got that doesn't get airtime and recognition. And he's like crack. He's addictive on the first hit."

Recently, HBO decided to animate Gervais' self-proclaimed "pointless conversations" with Merchant and Pilkington, turning it into the new Friday night series The Ricky Gervais Show.

The show is not Gervais' first project with HBO. He created, directed and starred in the series Extras, about the people who appear in the background of film and television sets.

Unlike the original BBC comedy The Office — which Gervais and Stephen Merchant also created, wrote and directed — Extras was not filmed in a mockumentary style. The sitcom starred Gervais as Andy Millman and included guest appearances by Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and Samuel L. Jackson.

In addition to his TV work, Gervais starred in the films Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying, and hosted the 2010 Golden Globes. He has won Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Emmys and British Comedy Awards.

Interview Highlights

On creating and starring in The Office:

"It didn't feel like an acting job. It felt like I was doing an impression of someone I'd never met before, which I suppose is what acting is, really. But I was much more worried about the realism of the piece. I suppose I didn't have any good or bad habits. I wanted to keep in all the fluffs, all the mouth touching, all the things that ruffled the microphone. Just directorially — the realism, the motivation, the players — I always hated exposition ... we tried to make everything organic. We didn't want people entering during a scene and then leaving in the opposite directions ... I think that's what people connected with initially, with the realism of the piece."

On walking away from The Office after 12 episodes:

"That was always the plan. It was easier to walk away from because we thought it turned out exactly as we wanted it. Why ruin it?"

On the different stages of the creative process:

"I don't get excited about anything else as I do when I first have an idea. It's the creative process that excites me. I enjoy every aspect of it — the idea, the writing is probably my favorite. I get an adrenaline rush of just thinking of a nuanced piece of dialogue, a look. I love the directing, the problem-solving — there was a lot of it in 'The Office' ... and all of those things are exhausting. And when you get to the end and you done right, that's it. That's exactly as I want it. And then you look back 10 years in, and you're so glad you did [end it at the right time]."

On his particular style of comedy:

"I'd rather do stuff that makes a big connection with a few people than a small connection with loads. I'd rather this be a few people's favorite show, than millions and millions of people's 10th favorite show. Because what's the point otherwise? If you can't do something that's different enough and peculiarly yours, then just join a committee, really."

On doing award shows, and how people react:

"When you're doing comedy, if it's got any edge at all — or is worth anything — then as many people are going to dislike it as like it. You can't choose your sense of humor; it's like sexuality. You can't pretend to laugh at something you don't find funny. It's very peculiar; it's very personal. So you can only do stuff that you find funny. And I hope it's entertaining. With that, there are caveats. I don't want to go up there and just do safe ... stuff that everyone will find mildly amusing but they can do it themselves. Likewise, I don't want to go up there and bring the room down."

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.