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Interview With Ricky Gervais

Aired March 23, 2010 - 00:00:00   ET




MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Think of Ricky Gervais and for many of us, it's this hilarious dance scene which springs to mind.


FOSTER: The British comedian's performance as David Brent in "The Office" catapulted him to fame. The awarded winning TV series was such a hit, it eventually transferred to France, Germany and the United States. Ricky Gervais won over even more fans with his series, "Extras," which went on to win a Golden Globe in 2008. The comedian has seduced Hollywood with his British sense of humor, starring in several blockbusters movies, including "Night at the Museum," "Ghost Sounds" and "The Invention of Nine," a comedy which he also co-wrote and directed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm with him right now. He's nice. Sit back.


FOSTER: Proving he's still got plenty of laughs up his sleeve, the star is promoting a new HBO series called "The Ricky Gervais Show." A comedian with a host of awards to his name and an army of fans around the world, Ricky Gervais is your Connector of the Day.


FOSTER: And I caught up with Ricky Gervais here in London and began by asking about that phenomenal success story that is the TV series, "The Office".


RICKY GERVAIS, COMEDIAN: I feel that I manage the estate of "The Office" everyday, you know. If I get 100 e-mails, probably 20 or 30 of them are about "The Office," you know, can they use this clip for a quiz machine, can we do a remake in Russia? Yes. Can we do a remake in India? Definitely. There's a billion people that might end up living great with that one.

But, yes, "The Office" is shown in its original format in about 90 countries around the world and it's been remade in -- in seven now, the latest of which is Israel.

FOSTER: So I remember when it first came out in the U.K. and it seemed like a peculiarly British thing. And it really has tapped so into our sense of humor.

GERVAIS: The themes are universal. It's about boy meets girl and making a difference. It's quite existential. Everyone has to work. Everyone has a boss they might not like. Everyone's thrown together with - - with people that they probably wouldn't want to share that much time with if they had a -- had a choice.

FOSTER: You -- you came to this level of success quite late in your career, didn't you?


FOSTER: How old were you for (INAUDIBLE)?

GERVAIS: Well, no, not -- not -- late in my life, probably early in my career.


GERVAIS: I mean I didn't really even start with anything you'd -- you'd call show business until I was about 37, 38.

FOSTER: And then you did "The Office".

GERVAIS: That was the first thing, yes.

FOSTER: And then it went stratospheric. And now you're a -- you're a mega star, it has to be said, in the biggest sort of entertainment market in the world. And that -- you're going global around the world.

What on Earth is that like?

GERVAIS: That -- I don't go and walk down premiers of films I'm not in having roses thrown at me. I stay at home in my pajamas and -- and find out that so and so...


GERVAIS: Yes. Well, I made an effort today. Look at this.

FOSTER: I'm very impressed. This is CNN's breaking this?

GERVAIS: It's a high brow show. Yes, usually...

FOSTER: We're very high brow.

GERVAIS: Exactly. But I suppose I mean that I knew why I was getting in it. You know, I'm in it for the work. I'm in it for the creative process. I wasn't in it for -- for the money and the -- the awards and the fame. And, in fact, I feared the fame a little bit because I wanted people to know that I hadn't signed this strange contract with the devil that made me famous and then you can go through my bins and tell lies about me.

FOSTER: But it must have felt, coming into it late, as you said...

GERVAIS: I was in it.

FOSTER: -- that you were, you know, your personality is sort of set and you can appreciate everything you've got, I guess. And you...

GERVAIS: Oprah Winfrey said if you don't know who you are by the time you're famous, it will define you.

What does she know?

FOSTER: You were -- you were saying how "Office" got really successful when you were 40.

What were you doing before that?

GERVAIS: I worked in an office for eight years. And...

FOSTER: So you were building up all of that sort of experience for "The Office?"

GERVAIS: I suppose so. And I've always been quite a people watcher. Growing up, you know, the point was to, you know, tease people and have a laugh.

FOSTER: Right now, you're working on another TV show, which is coming out in America, right?

GERVAIS: Yes, "The Ricky Gervais Show," which is based on our -- our pod casts. I started pod casting for a laugh a few years ago and I think because it was such in its infancy and I was probably the first high profile actor or comedian to -- to pod cast. And they've animated that. It's halfway through. It's running on HBO in the U.S. It's coming to Channel 4...

FOSTER: In the U.K.?

GERVAIS: In the U.K. on the 23rd of April, St. George's Day, easy to remember.

FOSTER: Now, we're talking about with -- yes.

GERVAIS: Actually, now I remember, St. George's Day.

FOSTER: St. George's, but I know. (INAUDIBLE).


GERVAIS: Anywhere you are in the world, you have to have a Guinness. St. George's Day.

What's that?

FOSTER: But you've got to know these things now you're traveling the world. You've got to -- don't you get more patriotic when you travel the world?

GERVAIS: I do. I -- I -- I am -- I travel anywhere on a horse in a - - in armor just to let them know...


FOSTER: Like a Sherlock Holmes book (INAUDIBLE).

GERVAIS: Exactly. Yes.

FOSTER: Katie from Plainville, Texas asks: "What advice would you give to an aspiring comedian in today's society?"

GERVAIS: Find your own voice. Talk about what you know about. Talk about what you know. Don't try and be something else. Don't -- don't try and create an actor or a character for the sake of it. Go out there and tell people what is funny about you, why are you different.

FOSTER: I want to ask you a question from Keira in New York, because you're huge in America now, as well as the U.K. and other parts.

"But what is the difference between American humor and British humor, if any?," because people in this country were fascinated to see you translate to the U.S. market, because, as I said, they see you as a real British comedian?

GERVAIS: There's a myth that goes around in Britain that Americans don't get irony, which is totally untrue. I mean you just have to look at "The Simpsons" and "The Daily Show." They get irony.

I think what that comes from is the fact that Americans don't use irony as much as we do.

We -- if two Brits meet, it's the first one to get out a dark, sarcastic comment, you know?

And that -- that comes from our upbringing. I think in general, Americans are more optimistic, more down the line people than -- than Brits. And we have this -- this dark underbelly of pessimism that comes out. And, you know, that -- Americans are brought up to believe they can be the next president of the United States. Brits are told it won't happen to you. And -- and that comes out in -- in all art, I think.

And I think a big difference in sitcom is probably that Americans celebrate a winner and we like an underdog until he's not an underdog anymore.


FOSTER: Yes. Well, this interview was too big to do in just one part. So for the first time, there's more of our Connector of the Day just ahead.

His job may be to make people laugh, but which comedians make Ricky Gervais laugh?

That's next.


FOSTER: Well, we promised you more of Ricky Gervais and here it is, the second part of my interview with the British comedian.

I started with a question from a viewer in Switzerland called Smudge.

He asked: "Out of money, fame or sense of humor, which of these would he miss the most?"

GERVAIS: The obvious answer is -- is sense of humor, that if you didn't have one, you'd be in that -- that blind spot like David Brent and you probably wouldn't mind. I mean everyone thinks they've got a great sense of humor. And they can't all be right.


GERVAIS: And no, it's -- it is very subjective. And if someone says I'm not funny, then they're right. If they say I am funny, they're also right.

FOSTER: Well, some people say that...

GERVAIS: You can't...

FOSTER: -- in a funny way, don't they?

GERVAIS: Well, exactly. Yes. I mean yes. There was a survey that just came out recently that humor can't really be taught, it -- it -- it's innate, you know?

You're sort of hard -- hard-wired to -- to be funny, you've got funny bones or not. Jerry Seinfeld said that a sense of humor is like a sexuality, you can't choose it, which is -- which is great. And I think that's probably true.

FOSTER: What is it -- who -- is there sort of a scene or a comedian or something that you remember, a specific moment that really made you laugh and, you know, you sort of look up to as like the comedy moment for you?

GERVAIS: No, but it's -- you know, my -- my heroes are probably Laurel and Hardy, because they taught me that comedy is about empathy. It's not just about being funny. It's not just about gags. It's not just about puns and word play and saying funny lines. It's about a relationship and it's about being precarious. And I think you've got to like someone to laugh at them. And Laurel and Hardy nailed that 100 years ago.

FOSTER: Danielle Syned from Toronto in Canada: "My family and I are loyal fans," you'll be glad to hear. "My husband and son constantly quote your shows. My question is, what makes Ricky laugh?"

GERVAIS: People not trying to be funny, really. I think that the least funny thing is someone desperately, desperately trying to be funny, like a clown.

FOSTER: I want to ask you if you (INAUDIBLE)...

GERVAIS: Is there anything...

FOSTER: -- but you're not going to tell me, are you?

GERVAIS: Is there anything less funny than a clown?

FOSTER: I find them a bit scary.

GERVAIS: I know. Just -- just stop behind the carpool between, I think, Louis C.K. is probably the best standup in the world at the moment. You know, the -- the funniest person you know isn't a comedian. It's a -- it's a friend of yours, it's a family member, because of your investment with that person.

FOSTER: Matthew from Gibraltar: "What actor or actress would you most like to work with?"

GERVAIS: The big obvious ones, you know, Clint. Oh...

FOSTER: Have you been sort of taken aback by an actor coming up to you and being interested in you?

GERVAIS: Yes, well -- well, always. It's funny, every time I go to like the -- an awards show like the Golden Globes or the Emmys, the people that come up to me and say, oh, I would have loved to have been in "Extras." And I call Steve and go, "Why did we stop? We -- we've got these people."

FOSTER: You feel like you've been (INAUDIBLE).

GERVAIS: I know. No, I -- I'm -- I'm really blown away by that. But as much as you do this for yourself, you do want to be respected by your peers. And that has nothing to do with being a famous actor or a comedian. I'd want my -- if I was a research scientist, I'd want people to go, he's a good research scientist, he takes data and he's -- he's really, really good, conscientious. And -- and certainly, as an artist, there is a thrill that people like Christopher Guest and -- and Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Connolly and those heroes of yours think that what you do is -- is good.

FOSTER: Mark Paton asks: "After all the awards and successes you've achieved in the last 10 years, do you feel you'd be happy to give up and retire now or is there still more you'd be able to say -- you want to be able to say that you've done with your life?"

GERVAIS: I -- I feel every day that I haven't got started. Do you even prove you get -- you have, you know, different things make you angry. Different -- your perspectives change. You know, my standup isn't now talking about, you know, being on the tube and whispering points of (INAUDIBLE).

No, I feel I'm just getting started. Also, it doesn't feel like I'm retiring from anything. Winston Churchill said if you find a job you really love, you'll never work again. And that's what it feels like. I feel so privileged to get up in the morning and have an idea and -- and try to put that into practice. It's -- it -- it's still fun. It's still fun. And it's exciting. And I know how lucky I am, as well.

FOSTER: And when you compare TV, which is what first made you famous, to film, is that hard or is it easier to...


FOSTER: Which do you prefer?

GERVAIS: It's twins and roundabouts (ph), you know?

You think that a film is more timeless, maybe, and, you know, it's a - - it's a higher art form and you -- it costs a lot more money and, you know. But then TV, in the last 10 years, took on film, and -- and won, in many cases. Things like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" are audacious. They're amazing.

FOSTER: Yes, yes.

GERVAIS: There's not many films that could compete with those.

And I do like the common consciousness of TV, people watching -- that's changing now with -- with TiVo and everything. So I don't want to - - I want to do it all. I want to do film, TV, radio, pod casting. I'll -- I'll probably do some out and out fighting. No, I won't.


FOSTER: Luckily I didn't have to face that.

You can see the full interview with Ricky Gervais on our Web site. That's And while you're there, you can check out tomorrow's Connector of the Day. We heard from him a little earlier in the show. That's the man charged with running Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. He's creating quite a stir on our Web site. You can join in the discussion there. Head to