Ricky Gervais revisits The Office

British comedian Ricky Gervais is fond of the faded reality-TV star he plays in The Office for being a loser.
British comedian Ricky Gervais is fond of the faded reality-TV star he plays in The Office for being a loser. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • To United States audiences, British comedian Ricky Gervais is known as an irreverent stand-up and the provocative, four-time host of the Golden Globes, as well as a creator and star of shows such as Extras, Life's Too Short and Derek.

That is all thanks to his breakout series, The Office, which had its BBC debut in 2001 and starred Gervais as David Brent, the tactless and overbearing manager of a paper company being recorded by a documentary crew.

One hit NBC remake starring Steve Carell and several international spin-offs later, Gervais, 55, is returning to that character.

In the feature film David Brent: Life On The Road to be released on Netflix on Friday, he picks up the character's story years later, as he quits his job selling bathroom supplies to go out on a self-financed tour with his rock band, Foregone Conclusion.

And yes, Gervais - who long ago sang in the British New Wave band Seona Dancing - would like to make clear that Brent's songs are intentionally (not accidentally) ridiculous.

"This is not 'Ricky Gervais Sings The Ballads'," he said in a recent telephone interview. "This is David Brent, who's a character. It's a part of the narrative." These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

It has been more than 12 years since most US viewers last saw David Brent. What does he want from us now?

He wants validation. He wants to be famous. He's a narcissist, but we see that, actually, he's an old-fashioned narcissist. He can't compete with today's narcissists. He was the ordinary guy on the cusp of getting his 15 minutes of fame. But now fame is different. Now it's insatiable.

Does the idea of playing a self- obsessed, faded reality-TV star who is prone to making racist jokes feel a little less charming than it used to?

He was never a bad person. He's accidentally offensive because he's trying so hard. He wants to please everyone. We're still laughing at his blind spot - at the difference between how he sees himself and how we see him. But there's also a slight affection for him because he falls over and gets back up again. He is a loser, but that's why, certainly as a Brit, I side with him more than I would if he was a winner.

What started you thinking about playing him again?

For the 10-year anniversary of The Office, I did a sketch for Comic Relief. I had to think, where would he be now? He'd still be in Slough. He'd be managing someone, thinking he's the local Simon Cowell. Oh, a mixed-race rapper? Perfect, now he's got a black friend. We did a song called Equality Street, I did a couple of gigs and that's where the idea for the film came. I thought, if this was a real person and he was on a docu-soap 15 years ago and now he was trying to make it as a rock star, the documentary teams would be salivating.

How do you write songs that are meant to sound authentic and contemporary, but at their core have to be ridiculous?

I didn't want the music to be the funny bit. I didn't want him to be playing badly or singing out of tune. The back story's the funny thing for me. You take a thing like Freelove Freeway, that's a cracking tune. That could be a John Cougar Mellencamp or Tom Petty tune. But when you realise it's about crossing America and picking up chicks, and being sung by a tampon rep from Slough who's never been to America, that's the funny bit.

Could you imagine any of today's pop stars performing his songs?

If Adele doesn't do Please Don't Make Fun Of The Disableds, I'll offer it to Springsteen.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2017, with the headline 'Ricky Gervais revisits The Office'. Print Edition | Subscribe