Controversial comedian Ricky Gervais opens up about the most moving moments in After Life, his legacy, and where he draws the line when writing jokes
Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying controversial comedian Ricky Gervais is one of our most successful stars. After creating classic comedy The Office, the writer and actor went on to have TV hits with Derek and Extras, plus his stand-up tours have netted him millions of pounds.
His latest creation, After Life, now on its third series, has won him a whole new generation of fans and has been viewed 100 million times, according to Netflix.
The show tells the touching story of local journalist and widower Tony, who lost his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) to cancer and at first rages against the world in his grief before learning tolet people in.
Here, Ricky, 60, who is in a long-term relationship with writer Jane Fallon, tells us why he’s always been the good guy – despite what people may think…
Hi, Ricky. The reaction to After Life has been phenomenal. How do you feel about the way it’s been received?
I’ve never had a reaction like it. People come up to me on the street more than ever before, saying, “I lost my wife, and it really helped me.” I’ve had grief therapists saying, “I show it in some of my sessions.” It just shows, it doesn’t matter what you talk about as long as you’re honest.
Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Does this feel like a kind of vindication for you, because you were previously a polarising character?
I still am, though. You’ve got to be polarising, because that means you’re saying something. Anything of any worth that means something… many people are going to hate it and many are going to love it, because half the world’s clever, and half the world’s stupid.
There are some very hard-hitting moments in After Life. What was it like to write?
I do get caught up in it. When I write it, I get emotional if it’s real enough. But then you see it in the edit 70 times and you stop crying. There’s one bit that still gets me – I can’t watch it. It’s when Lisa reads a poem in the bed. Oh, God. It still gets me. That’s going to cause people a lot of trauma. If you don’t cry at that, you should go to a doctor because you’re a sociopath [laughs].
Has writing the show given you cause to reflect on your legacy?
I don’t really think about it. I’ll be dead so I won’t care how I’m remembered, except that I’ve always tried to be a good person. When I first became famous, I’d worry about my reputation. I thought, “What if someone thinks I’ve done them wrong? I’m a good person. The injustice!” Then you realise that reputation is just what strangers think of you. Character is who you really are. So if you’re a good person to your friends and family, and you don’t do anything wrong, it doesn’t matter whether people like what you do or say. You haven’t hurt anyone. So that’d be a good legacy.
You famously roasted Hollywood’s A-listers when you hosted the Golden Globes. How did you feel about the reaction to that?
It’s one of the things I’m most famous for. The Golden Globes was eight minutes of my life, but 300 million people watched it and it caused ripples. People say, “You were great at the Oscars.” I go, “Thanks very much, it was the Golden Globes.” They don’t care. They just know that I said some funny things that they agreed with.
Did you bump into any of the actors you joked about after the Golden Globes?
No, but I think they’re all OK with it. A lot of them watched it going, “What’s he going to say about me?” and then I said it and they went, “Phew, that wasn’t so bad.”
Is there anything you think is too controversial to joke about?
It depends on what the joke is. I can’t stress that enough. I’ll carry on exploring taboo subjects, because I like taking the audience to a place it hasn’t been before. It’s just words. It’s good for you to laugh at bad things, because that’s what humour is for. Humour is to get us over bad things. If there was nothing bad in the world, there wouldn’t be jokes. They just wouldn’t exist.
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