Ricky Gervais: I’ve tried to leave behind “comedy of cynicism”
Comedian talks new Derek, taking David Brent to Glastonbury and why he’s not giving all of his money away (even though he knows he should)
What did you grow up watching?
I liked rubbish American shows like Starsky and Hutch. My mum even knitted me a jumper like Starsky’s. It was so big it still fitted me at university.
What makes you laugh?
Family Guy. I watch two a night. I love how flawed the characters are. I believe that if you don’t come from a dysfunctional family, there’s something wrong with you.
What makes you cry?
My favourite Simpsons episode, where Bart and Lisa ask why there are no pictures of Maggie in the family albums. It transpires that Homer used them to spur him on when he was being bullied at work. I thought that was so beautiful.
What winds you up?
Women in TV are often props, and in Hollywood they’re either simpering Marilyn Monroe- esque sirens or, if they care about their career, they have to be taught that a man is more important. So I’ve always been very careful about writing three-dimensional female characters.
Why set Derek in an old people’s home?
I remember my English teacher getting frustrated because my essays were like scenes from cop shows, and saying, “Write about what you know” – which was a revelation. My family are all careworkers: my mum, my sister, my sister-in- law, my nieces and nephews... So I have 30 years of anecdotes.
Is the character of Derek based on anyone?
No, the closest would be me – all my good bits – but he’s better than me. I know I should give all my money away, but I’m not going to because I want it. Derek wouldn’t think twice.
You’ve said that the theme of Derek is kindness...
What makes Derek a different kind of sitcom – if it even is a sitcom – is the sincerity. In the past few years – and I’m responsible for a lot of it – there’s been this comedy of cynicism. I’ve tried to leave that veil behind.
In the US you’re embraced as comedy royalty, whereas you often come in for criticism over here. Why is that?
They don’t build you up just to knock you down – success there is celebrated more. I like both: the British “he doesn’t deserve this” and the American “have a nice day” – and meaning it.
Can they teach us anything when it comes to the small screen?
They do everything better. OK, that’s not true, but we have yet to produce anything as audacious as The Sopranos or The Wire.
Why did you decide to resurrect The Office’s David Brent?
I got hooked again when I brought him back for Comic Relief last year. I love David Brent, but I can’t just do it as a vanity project because the BBC and Netflix are up for it. I don’t know whether to do an on-the-road special or make that the whole series. I love the instant tragedy of a 50-year-old wannabe pop star in a shiny suit.
Rumour has it he’ll even play Glastonbury...
It could happen. It would be amazing for Ricky Gervais, but I don’t know if I can justify it. He can’t play venues outside the story. It’s a bit odd – he sells out venues faster than the Rolling Stones at the moment!
1. Rugby or football? Football
2. The Voice UK or Britain's Got Talent? The Voice. It's a more uplifting show.
3. Newsnight or Have I Got News For You? Newsnight
4. Radio 4 or Radio 2? Radio 2. I don't think I've ever listened to Radio 4.
5. Scandi drama or Endeavour? Scandi. The Killing and The Bridge are amazing.
See Derek on Wednesdays 10:00pm on Channel 4