Ricky Gervais started this decade on the fringes of British radio. He'll start the next one hosting a major awards show (the Golden Globes, airing Jan. 17, 8PM ET, NBC). In between, among many other considerable achievements, he co-created and starred in what many would consider to be not only one of the best television shows of the decade, but of all time: The Office, seven and a half hours of perfectly calibrated, sometimes agonizing, dark comedy. As his opportunity to reach his biggest viewing audience to date approaches, Gervais spoke to us and other media outlets about his ground-breaking show, its U.S. version and his favorite American programming.
Nowadays, it's become common to see sitcoms with the mockumentary style that seemed so fresh when you used it in The Office beginning back in 2001. Is the conceit played out now?
Well I - firstly I can't claim that. I stole. I stood on the shoulders of giants... Spinal Tap, a direct influence -- you know, the mockumentary style. Larry Sanders, where it was all about the ensemble piece -- no laughter track. And I stole from Laurel and Hardy. I got empathy from Laurel and Hardy and relationships. And that's in The Office. And I stole from The Simpsons. I think an artist should steal. I think it was Rousseau who said it's not where something comes from, it's where you take it. I don't think I can claim any innovation except that we put it all into one show. I think if there was one thing that was different about The Office it's that we were a slave to the realism... the way people acted and spoke was much more about nonverbal, it was much more about body language. And it was the first comedy about comedy I think and that was hidden... But all those other things I stole from greats.
You've written one episode of NBC's The Office. Any chance you'll do something for the show again, whether it's writing, directing or guest-starring?
I think that after 100 shows, it's really found its own feet. It's its own show now. It's certainly gotten out of the shadow of the UK version and found its own feet. So I think maybe I could pop up for a bit of fun -- maybe a little cameo, maybe David Brent bumps into Steve Carell at a world conference, I don't know. But, yeah, it would be fun. But I'm enjoying its success from a distance to be honest. I love the fact that it's probably the only successful UK remake for about 30 years. I think the last one that really worked in comedy was probably Sanford and Son or All in the Family, so I'm very proud of it. But, you know, it's their hard work. The idea came from me -- and I won't let Steve Carell ever forget that -- but they've all done an amazing job from Greg Daniels down to every member of the cast. So I never want it to end because I get paid for every episode. I don't want Steve Carell ever to take a holiday. I'm working him like an old shire horse. He's going to collapse before I end that show.
Besides the U.S. Office, are there any other shows you'll be secretly rooting for at the Globes?
Well, I'm not sure of the nominations, but the shows I've been enjoying -- I mean, nearly obsessed with -- are Damages and Dexter. I think they're both audacious shows. I've never seen anything quite like Dexter. It's funny, it's exciting, it's one of the best ensemble pieces I've ever seen and the acting is great. The writing is great. The excellence in American TV just gets better and better. Damages in a very different way [is] just... audacious.
Many critics are putting your original Office on their decade-best lists, but which TV shows and films come to mind when you think about the best of the past ten years?
I think The Sopranos, The Wire, Damages, Dexter, the American Office. Films... oh my word, that's difficult. I loved This Is England, a little British movie. I liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; I thought that was a very interesting film. What else? Recent ones: I thought The Wrestler was a great surprise because that was really, really nice and it sort of fused Hollywood with art house. It reminded me sort of Rocky I in a way... Oh, I love lists. I'm a man, I love lists... "Hurt" by Johnny Cash is the best song of the Noughties...
Sopranos I think [is] probably still the greatest TV drama of all time. I'm halfway through The Wire. I got into that late. I watched the last episode of Season 2 last night. I've been a fool for not having that in my life earlier. But then all of my favorite things were an acquired taste. The Simpsons... I thought it wasn't for me and then I saw an episode and I just thought, well, this was made for me; this is my show. And I think that's exciting as well. I think people want to discover something for themselves on their own terms. I don't think they want to feel they're manipulated or watch a program because it follows another big program or watch a program because they can't avoid billboards about it or because it's got someone trendy in it or because it's got someone who makes the news in it. You know, you're either making art or you're into marketing. And I choose art every time.
Discover more comedy brilliance at RickyGervais.com and check out The Ricky Gervais Guide to... Law & Order on iTunes.
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