Devon Radio Presenter Judi Spiers Interviews Actor and Comedian Ricky Gervais
PUBLISHED: 21:47 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:32 20 February 2013
Taking it on the Chin<br/><br/>Judi meets Ricky Gervais and finds that he laughs at himself, a lot<br/><br/>Once, right, I came home for Christmas, and my mum went, 'Rick, you ain't 'arf getting fat'. And I remember once she said, 'Rick you're getting ugly..'
Taking it on the Chin
Judi meets Ricky Gervais and finds that he laughs at himself, a lot
Once, right, I came home for Christmas, and my mum went, 'Rick, you ain't 'arf getting fat'. And I remember once she said, 'Rick you're getting ugly, you used to be a lovely looking kid'." So that's where Ricky Gervais learned to take it on the chin, the humiliation that he puts himself through, whether he's playing David Brent in The Office or Andy Millman in Extras. I'm sure some psychologist would talk about him being damaged, but he laughed with huge delight while recounting these tales. "People have always been brutally honest with me," he went on. "I'm under no illusions about anything. I think as a comedian you've got to be prepared to be the butt of a joke. No one wants to see cool people being cool in real life, and being cool on screen and doing things well. It's not interesting. People want to see fallibility. They want to see, I suppose, struggle. That's what drama is, it's a struggle, it's a conflict, and everyone relates to that. You have to be a loser, I think, to be funny. Not in a terrible way, but you have to be a bit of a putz, and you have to be the biggest butt of the joke on screen."
I was absolutely staggered to get an interview, particularly as none was offered. It all came about because I'd interviewed his long-time partner, Jane Fallon, on the publication of her first novel, Getting Rid of Matthew. I jokingly said that I'd help her get a few gigs reading extracts from her books in local stores if she'd ask Ricky for an interview when he was in Plymouth for his Fame tour. It's a request I've made of several spouses over the years - like Sheila Hancock for John Thaw and Pauline Collins for John Alderton - but none has ever come up trumps. So I didn't hold out much hope, particularly as Ricky Gervais seems to have the world and his mother queuing up to work with him.
Then, out of the blue, the day before his two-date show at the Plymouth Pavilions, his 'people' phoned my 'people' and it was a done deal. He strolled into the studio with the events manager and his support act Robin Ince, bubbling with excitement.
"I've fallen in love with Devon! Although the first day, getting to the hotel, I was a proper Londoner going 'Ooh, look out, there's a rabbit. Ooh look, there's a horse. Slow down! Slow down!"
They had apparently been partaking of a spot of archery at a certain castle on the moor where they were staying. The interview became a curious mish-mash of Ricky joking with Robin and then suddenly becoming serious as if he felt guilty and really should be giving me a proper interview.
He comes across as a strange mixture of man/child and admits that he has "the attention span of a five-year-old". He also has a hefty dose of the vulnerability you see in whoever he plays on screen. I asked him, as the show was called Fame, what he enjoyed about it, thinking that it might give him the opportunity to 'do' a bit from his stage show, but instantly he became the serious Ricky.
"Well, fame's not great, although I enjoy the success in my particular field. I can categorically state that it's better having money than not having money. That's nice, and you get the freedom to do more things. But the fame thing... you know, I've never really cared about someone I don't know recognising me off the telly. It was always an upshot of what I do, but I suppose the best thing about fame is you get to meet your heroes, where I probably wouldn't if I'd just written and directed it. I suppose that elevates you a little bit above the average, so they put a name to the face and a face to the name, and I get to meet all these people."
That he does, with actors like Robert De Niro, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L Jackson and Kate Winslet prepared to give cameo performances in Extras, and Sir Ian McKellen, Robert Lindsay, Ben Stiller and Les Dennis allowing him to take the rip out of them.
He is incredibly open and honest, and I suspect a publicist would have had kittens listening to what he told me. This interview took place before he revealed in the press that there would be a Christmas special of Extras.
"We thought sooner as opposed to later, 'cos if you leave it too long it's like an unwanted encore. People forget, and they move on."
It was also prior to his brilliant appearance on Comic Relief, and although he said he didn't want to talk about it for fear of spoiling the effect, he happily explained the sketch in detail to me.
I was loath to keep him too long as his performance was less than a couple of hours away and I was sure he'd want to prepare.
"No, I eat pizza and then go 'I feel sick, I'm on in a minute'. That's what happens. I was really ill a couple of weeks ago. I thought, I can't cancel, I've been like that all my life.
"I can't cancel anything, I can't fake it, and I was talking to my sister on the phone and she was going, 'you'll be OK when the adrenaline kicks in', and I thought what adrenaline? I just go 'right, is that it? Let's get on there.' Sometimes I go on with pizza round my face!"
Somehow I just didn't believe him, any more than I did when he told me he hadn't read Jane's book, that he'd only read one book in his life, Catcher in the Rye.
"I'm gonna read lots of books one day. I'm looking forward to it, but while I can I'm gonna sort of run around and play. I don't think I need to read books. Is that an immature attitude?"
I said yes and he laughed. I thanked him, offered him my Office mouse mat and a pen and asked if he'd get Stephen Merchant, his co-writer and actor to sign it, and he laughed again. Humiliation? He laps it up.