RICKY GERVAIS COULD well afford to rest on his laurels, with a library of awards and a fortune estimated at more than £100 million. Yet the celebrated writer and comedian says he doesn’t care about the accoutrements of success—all he wants is to push artistic boundaries.
“I don’t want to be bigger or richer or win more awards,” says Gervais, 60. “It’s all about the work. If I can be honest and as brave as I can be in comedy or drama, then I can sleep at night. I’ve never wanted to make it safe or anodyne: there’s enough of that. You know, the point of art is to make a connection and for me, the bigger the connection with each individual, the better.”
Gervais is talking over Zoom from his home in London’s swish Hampstead neighbourhood, where it looks like he’s sitting in a kind of trophy cavern, a dim space in which those dozens of awards are lined up behind his head. He’s promoting the third and final series of After Life, his smash hit Netflix comedy-drama about a grief-stricken man that he writes, directs and stars in. Gervais has a surprisingly earnest side but also regularly makes jokes at his own expense and bursts into loud cackles of mirth. He’s very easy to talk to.
Making non-anodyne TV is what Gervais has excelled at ever since he burst onto the scene with The Office in 2001, the benchmark-setting cringe comedy that catapulted him onto the world stage. He and cocreator Stephen Merchant followed it up with Extras (2005-07) and Life’s Too Short (2011-13), and Gervais’ solo projects include Derek (201214) and now After Life. He’s made Hollywood movies and continues to do stand-up comedy and podcasts. Shock has been his USP—for starters, he’s skewered A-listers as five-time host of the Golden Globes and he uses the C-word liberally on Twitter and in the scripts for After Life.
His fans lap it up. “I think as creators and broadcasters and producers and critics, we second guess people, saying things like, ‘I don’t know if they can take that’,” muses Gervais. “We cut the crusts off for them. But most people can take it. Like swearing: have you heard what people talk like in real life?! They can take swearing; they can take grief. People want to see themselves.”
They’ve seen themselves in spades in After Life. The series has become a massive hit for Netflix, its second series becoming the most-watched British comedy of the decade with over 85 million views.
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