Ricky Gervais has not used the current coronavirus crisis as an excuse to hide and remain silent. With a new season of his Netflix sitcom After life, filmed before the world closes, ready to deploy, Gervais has made a strong commitment to social media, broadcasting a series of livestreams of his day from his London office. With nearly two dozen 20-minute videos in a box, Gervais exhibited daily on subjects as diverse as Tiger king, Winston Churchill, the aliens and why celebrities should stop complaining about being isolated when they swan in luxurious mansions and swim in private pools while healthcare professionals work overtime to treat patients of COVID-19.
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Of course, Gervais has the form of putting the glitterati in their place. In January, he completed his fifth visit as host of the Golden Globes and, in his monologue, told the assembled candidates not to use the podium as a political soap dish if they won an award. “You are not able to lecture the public,” he said. “You don’t know anything about the real world. Most of you have spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So if you win, go up, accept your little reward, thank your agent and your god, and f * ck off. “
As for After life, its second season hit Netflix today, after a catchy response to the first, which struck a real chord for its sensitive, emotional and, yes, hilarious aspect, the ravages of grief, depression and guilt. These may not be obvious subjects for comedy, but Gervais saw the show become a real tonic for the audience struggling with the loss. And with the world in disarray right now, that can’t be a bad thing. The first season concluded the first part of the story of Tony, the character of Gervais, in a way that Gervais told me last year that he had integrated into his design in case it never worked beyond a single season. Now, he says, he feels there is room for a third and maybe more, which would mark the first time that one of his sitcoms will take place beyond two seasons and a special of Christmas.
DEADLINE: How do you manage this lock? Complaints?
RICKY GERVAIS: Well, it’s strangely exhausting, to do less than usual. I really don’t know why. I went to bed earlier, I even drank less and got up early to exercise before everyone else. But, you know, like I’ve said many times, you won’t hear me complaining, not when nurses are working 14-hour shifts and risking their health. All I have to do is stay home and write comedy.
DEADLINE: Indeed, you recently denounced celebrities who complained when they sat in isolation in their big houses. In the opinion of our co-editor, you deserve chivalry for this. He wants you to be the master of ceremonies for the virus.
GERVAIS: Oh, it’s adorable. I think I lost all chance of becoming a knight at this point[[[[Laughs]. I don’t think they’re giving it to talkative and swearing atheists.
DEADLINE: It probably doesn’t help that every time someone on Twitter lists your accomplishments, you say, “And still no f * cking chivalry. “
GERVAIS: True … Some people think I’m serious. They think I really want chivalry. The truth is, if I could still ride a horse and kill people, I would take it. Right? But that no longer means anything. I prefer to be a Don. Can’t I be the head of the mafia? Give me don[[[[Laughs].
DEADLINE: It would be a good way to end the mafia.
GERVAIS: They would call me, they would say, “We are losing a lot of income. I would say, “Yeah, I let him go. He said sorry, so I let him go. ” ” What do you mean? You can’t let him go! “
DEADLINE: You are also an animal rights defender, wouldn’t you want to put an end to the head of horses in people’s beds?
GERVAIS: Exactly. “It’s cruel, what has this horse ever done?” Don’t kill his horse. Put carrots in bed or something. “
DEADLINE: It’s nice to see the big ideas flow even in all of this.
It was good, really. The only big thing for me was the postponed shows, which … it happens. We will do it when everyone can enjoy it. I write, I do more public relations than usual, because it’s easier. I might as well. And they’re getting better now that everyone has discovered Zoom. It has certainly changed the way people think.
I think people are fed up with TV shows made on Zoom. I hope they will appreciate how much After life look by comparison[[[[Laughs]. The world has become YouTube.
DEADLINE: Looks like it’s been on the cards for a while. It has been the catalyst for many people to say, “Wait, why are we making it too much?”
GERVAIS: It is true. I think a lot of people who have TV shows every day realize, “Oh, everyone now knows that anyone can do it. They do it too. They are no better than ordinary people talking on their webcams. Most people don’t get a studio audience, but it’s such a level playing field now. This is what is very funny.
DEADLINE: The pendulum may even have tilted the other way. Many YouTube creators have great production value that overshadows what late night hosts and others do with their home layouts.
GERVAIS: Yes, because they have been doing it for five years. They really know how to operate a single person and an iPhone, by modifying themselves. Yeah, I think it’s going to have an effect. The downside is that people are desperate, so now people are coming out of the woodwork and getting their own show that would not have been there two months ago. So these are swings and roundabouts, this or that[[[[Laughs].
They will find a balance. But I remember the scriptwriters’ strike of 2008 and all that terrible reality that came out of it. These things change the paradigm, and when the paradigm changes, everything changes. Everything is going back to zero now. I imagine that people who have done something and cannot do it right now are asking, how can I adapt? We have to do something. The world is different now.
I mean, I think it will last much longer than people thought. I think people thought we would stay indoors for a few weeks, and then, “I’ll see you at the pub. People always ask me if my concerts in New York will take place next week. No, they will not continue. I play for 10,000 people. It will be a gradual process. Go see your mom first, then you can go to the pub and then you can go see Ricky in an arena[[[[Laughs].
DEADLINE: However, interesting things have emerged through it all. Your raw and ready daily videos attract an audience and many titles. Then there is John Krasinski with his series of positive stories about people’s response to the virus. Not all virtuous celebrities sing “Imagine”.
GERVAIS: Well, I mean it was a start. It was probably slightly misjudged[[[[Laughs]. You know what? I have nothing against these people, but it was not a big project, as they go. But there are people who have reconstituted the group remotely, and it’s a very nice idea. They really put together a product, and you think, Wow, this is great. The musical castings have done it.
This “Imagine” video was a little, “Let’s get it out,” but I have nothing against them. I tease them, but every once in a while – and it’s not just these people – when a celebrity does something by the kindness of their heart, with some of them, you can really see it in their eyes, how they go, “I could cry how beautiful I am. “[[[[Laughs]”Oh my god, did I really do this? Am i really this incredible? Oh my word. “
As for my daily videos, I did it for fun, really, because I thought I would be bored. It’s longer than any other interview, and it’s more honest than any chat show. Because it’s really me in my house talking about bullshit for 20 minutes. I think people participate because they know I don’t care. I do not watch my Ps and Q. I am not worried about the editing. It’s like I’m talking to two drunk friends. It’s just that 100,000 people are watching.
DEADLINE: Do you think that maybe it strikes a nerve similar to After life, which is a program that deals explicitly with grief, addiction and depression? At first glance, this is not a breeding ground for comedy and public engagement, and yet …
GERVAIS: It’s a question of honesty. It’s about being real. Some of the things these characters do, a lot of people say, “Oh my god, I can’t believe he got away with it. When you look at it, you say, “Well, that’s how real people talk. They don’t put it on TV. They say, “Look at Brian’s condition [David Earl], Oh my God. You say, “No, no. You’re just used to seeing George Clooney. But that’s what most people look like. Most people are like me, Brian and I. So when you see the truth on TV, it looks different.
I think everyone who creates television starts with very good intentions. They say, “If only there was someone who is honest, brutal and courageous. I will not compromise. I will publish it and say it as is. But then someone will say, “Oh, that’s great, but if we could take out some of the words c, we could put it at 9:00 p.m. So OK, they have a couple. “If we only lose this story, because people are going to complain,” and you say, “OK, I’m going to withdraw that. Soon you are back to having a show that looks like everything else.
I think too many people guess what an audience can take. I’m going to say, “Of course, they can take it; real life is worse. It’s still just fiction. The characters of After life are faced with all of these things that people deal with in real life. And, in fact, I never had a reaction like the reaction to the first set of that. I’m not just talking about the scale of the reaction. This could be a reflection of Netflix having 170 million subscribers. But the emotional response … My agent received 300 letters. It never happens. Nobody writes more letters. It’s because we told their personal stories. Everyone came up to me on the street – when they were still allowed to – and they said, “I lost my brother three weeks before …” What makes you realize is that everyone is in mourning All the time. Because when this happens, we only know ourselves.
There is a line in the first series when Matt [Tom Basden] said, “So remember, the next time you try to get a waitress fired because the soup is cold, she may have just discovered that her mother has cancer. “That’s really it. I haven’t really tried to study bereavement. It was just a starting point, you know? It was just a way of explaining this man’s behavior and the dramatic and comical antics. Then when I realized that everyone identified with it and loved it because of it, and it was special for people, I felt a responsibility. I thought I should treat it properly. I didn’t make it better, because you’re not coming out of depression. It’s an irresponsible myth.
DEADLINE: The first season came to a kind of conclusion, but here in season 2 we see the consequences.
GERVAIS: Tony is still going through the seven stages of mourning. In the first season, we saw him go through shock, denial and anger. Now it goes through negotiation. He sort of said, “OK, if I’m going to stay, what do I get? What is good? How can I be happy? “That is what he is asking. He tried violence, and it didn’t work. He tried drugs and it didn’t work. Now he’s trying to help people. He tries kindness. And it doesn’t always work, but it tries. He tries, that’s what we all do. How can I be happy? How can I not be bored? How can I be loved? How can I live with myself? How can I get out of it?
And, really, that way, the show uses a staple of comedy, and especially sitcom. An ordinary person trying to do something for which they are not equipped. He tried to make a badass verbal vigilante. He tried to make himself a psychopath so that he wouldn’t feel anymore. But he is not a psychopath, so he was overwhelmed. He wanted to kill himself, but the dog was hungry. He had responsibilities. He was kind to the new girl and the old lady. He loves his nephew.
The other place it comes from is that we are vicariously vicarious because we all want to be able to say what we meant sometimes, and we are afraid. When he’s not afraid, it’s funny. When he is assaulted and he says, “I have nothing to lose,” it’s funny. It’s also an inspiration, because we want to be able to say, “Do you know what? Let’s go. I’m not afraid of you. “
DEADLINE: There is another aspect to this second season, now that he has gone a little further the way of his sorrow, it is that he often finds himself in a happy moment. He remembers his wife and he breaks down. It certainly seems authentic to the experience of a loss that gets closer and closer every day.
GERVAIS: Yes, he has mixed emotions because sometimes he knows he is ruining the atmosphere. Sometimes he starts with good intentions, like his advice, but then he remembers what he lost. You don’t forget it. If you’re having this kind of grief when you’ve lost everything … And he’s also depressed. He has problems other than that, you know? He drinks every night. He’s in denial, so he’s screwed up. He’s really messed up. The only thing that could sort it out is not there. She is not there. Yeah, it’s not like he leaves one day and forgets that his wife is dead, you know? It just doesn’t happen.
I guess deep down, he hopes time will heal and he is thankful for his friends. They tried. It’s about a man’s struggle, but it’s also about saving you from the world. I mean, people are now realizing that they are missing things they never expected to miss, like rummaging through stores. I never did that, but I can’t wait now[[[[Laughs]. These little shit stories he has to cover are entertainment. Some of them even made him feel spoiled. He said, “Oh yeah. He realized that some people are in a worse situation, and it’s very human. We are all like that. We all think that if we haven’t been lucky, it’s the worst luck in the world. You would see a report on an earthquake and then say, “Oh, forgot to take milk? Oh, my night is ruined. “
DEADLINE: We remember moments like David Brent dancing in Officeor Patrick Stewart presenting his idea for a film in Supplements; those moments of surreal humor. For all human truth After life, there seems to be even more latitude to include these kinds of surreal comic moments. Why do you think it is?
GERVAIS: I think it’s because there are surreal things in the world. I have not broken the laws of nature here. For example, the woman who made her rice sausages with breast milk is based on a true story. Vaginal yeast bread, which is based on something I read. Sloppy surgery is a very real thing. The guy who posts his letters in a dog bin is a true story. It was an old man who did it for two years.
All these things that seem surreal, they happened or could happen. It’s just the way they are treated. It’s just the way people treat these people. It can be hard to believe that someone like Brian exists, but there are loads of hoarders. To be strange is what is normal. And so, again, when people see these things, they say, “Oh my god, what a crazy city,” but that’s because they’re used to seeing George Clooney playing a doctor and Michelle Pfeiffer a lawyer. It is not normal.
DEADLINE: I think everyone is watching Tiger king right now comes to a similar conclusion.
GERVAIS: I mean, everyone is crazier than the last one. You may not meet these people, but they are there. There are millions of them. The thing about this is, when the first person says, “Can I keep a tiger? The answer should have been, “No, of course you can’t, it’s mental. It’s 500 pounds and it eats people, of course, you can’t keep a f * cking tiger. So how the hell did they get to where there were more captive tigers in America than in the wild? This is how many people are like that.
There was another documentary that I watched some time ago, The impostor, about the guy who claimed to be someone’s missing son. He told the FBI that he was tortured, and that’s why his eye color changed, and they believed it. You want to go, “But … You are the FBI! It’s not a thing! “
When I became famous, I found my Wikipedia page, and 50% of the things there were not at all true. You say, “Well, everything is a lie, then. They wouldn’t just be wrong on mine. Everything is 50% wrong. “
And it’s growing, now. Now people are using it. They use it as they tell the truth in power. People say blatant lies, and they know they are lies, but they know people will believe them because they agree with them. They own the libraries, or they own the law. It has become this ridiculous game.
People think the psychiatrist [Paul Kaye] in After life sounds surreal, but when you realize that everyone in the world is a bit narcissistic, you might think that a psychiatrist might be. And I usurped this before, of course, in Supplements, or the Golden Globes, because the actors are supposed to be narcissists. We accept it. But I thought to myself, “Well, every profession probably has its narcissists, and what is the worst profession to be narcissistic? Someone who should be talking about you and not about themselves, and they’re angry, that can’t be more about them.
I always go for the belly of the company, really, and I’m always looking for blind spots. I always look at the difference between how people perceive themselves and how we perceive them. The great things – before the pandemic – in the world are still narcissism and stardom and truth and lies and acceptance and power. I have always loved making the ordinary extraordinary. I always liked to get into these little, little things. It is asking the big questions, but ordinary people are asking the big questions.
DEADLINE: You’ve always had only two seasons and a Christmas special with your shows. Do you see After life following the same trajectory?
GERVAIS: I saw myself doing a third season for the first time, because I love the world. There are so many strong characters. I would say there are six characters who could have their own sitcom; that could be lead in a sitcom. Even the place is a character, I think. We only saw five hours from all these people. It’s nothing. How well do you know someone in five hours? You know, it’s only half a season of an American sitcom, if you can both seasons.
But it must be a callback requested. It must go down a storm again. Netflix must say, “We really want you to do a third season.” So I’m going to do it. I will not do it for fun. I will not do it to get paid. I won’t do it because they need an extra two and a half hours on their platform, you know? I need to know that this is a pleasure for many people, and then I will do it. If not, I will do something else.
I’m not short of ideas, because we haven’t gone into a lot of these characters. You can continue to twist the knife. This is the tip of the iceberg. It’s like, imagine that you moved to a city and met a few people. You spent five hours there. You’re not going, “I think I know everything about this town. “
I always hated this thing in comedies where they kiss and they live happily ever after. Well, do they do it? How do we know this? I like the end of The apartment, where in the end she just says “Shut up and treat yourself”, and you realize that they are soul mates and that they have a chance, but you cannot know what will happen next. I don’t want to tie everything into a little knot and everyone gets married and lives to old age. You know, things happen. Life is not easy, but it’s about making the most of it. That’s what I like.