The Fame game | Ricky Gervais interview

The Fame game

Ricky Gervais interview

As Ricky Gervais's third stand-up tour, Fame, kicks off, he talks to James Rampton about the trappings of celebrity...

Ricky Gervais says that since attaining such a high profile he has found out many things about himself that he never previously knew. ‘For instance,’ he smiles, ‘I never knew I was fat until I got famous. Then I suddenly realised I was overweight.

‘The papers can’t simply put “comedian Ricky Gervais”. They have to put ”rotund comedian” or chubby funster”. The other day, I was trying to keep fit by going jogging with my iPod, and the paparazzi leapt out a bush and got me. The headline the next day? “iPodge.” What can you do?’

This is the sort of material with which Ricky is filling his new stand-up show, Fame, which covers one of his favourite subjects: the bizarre life in the celebrity spotlight.

More anecdotal and autobiographical than the previous two shows, Fame allows Ricky to wander off the beaten track. In the process he is able to comment on everyday life – well, everyday life for someone who is famous in 100 countries and hangs out with David Bowie and Ben Stiller.

‘The idea of desperately seeking fame is all about ego, and people saying “love me or I’ll kill myself”,’ reckons the comic, who has been dubbed the ‘hottest Brit’ in Hollywood after the success of his Simpsons episode and of both his sitcoms. ‘People who want to be rich and famous think it’s a direct route to happiness. They think it’ll solve everything, but of course it solves nothing.

‘I don't know why people search for fame,’ continues Ricky. ‘For me, I know it's merely the upshot of what I do. I don't take coke, I don't hang around on the red carpet, I don't come out of China White with a slapper on my arm, and I don't phone the press to say, “I've got a great story – my cat's ill!” That sort of behaviour is embarrassing.

‘Some people are so desperate for fame, they buy every publication every day, and if they're in two papers on a Monday, they have to be in three papers on the Tuesday and four on the Wednesday. It's like a drug. Fame is getting more and more sought after – even though everybody knows Andy Warhol's line about everyone being famous for fifteen minutes. They've seen how fame eats you up, but people just don't learn that lesson. They think, “I'll be different”.

One aspect of the fame-obsesses culture he speculates on during his stand-up show is why every TV programme now has to feature celebrities. ‘There’s a show called The Teacher of the Year Awards. Viewers must sit there thinking, “Yes, teaching is a very noble profession, but you don’t have to televise their awards. Who’s that going up to the podium? It’s not a celebrity - I don’t care. I want to see actors, what would we do without them?

‘We idolise people like Shane Richie,’ he says, unable to suppress his laughter. ‘He can sing, dance and tell jokes. Compared to him, Stephen Hawking is just wasting his life, isn’t he? If Stephen Hawking asked a question about, say, string theory at An Audience With Shane Richie, Shane would say, ‘sorry, Stephen, that’s no good. Can we have a proper question from you please, Faith Brown?’’

Audiences buy into such routines because the joke is always on Ricky. He is not stepping on stage adopting a superior attitude – the gags are all at his own expense. ‘I’m always the one getting the raw deal and being outwitted.

‘I’m not going out there as a winner. I’ve got to be the butt of all the jokes. Any comedy has got to come back to the performer’s own inadequacies. I’ve never understood why a comedian would come on and say “Aren’t I clever?” That feeling that you’re better than an audience is ridiculous in a comedian.

‘That’s why I play on that ironically and fall into the persona of the confused right-wing bore. I pretend to be angry about things and I adopt a mock-vanity. I’m having a lectern built which will be a 4ft-high replica of an Emmy!

‘At one moment in the show, I say, “The press wanted to write about my new house and I told them, ‘please don’t say how much it cost’. Then they wrote that it cost £2.5million, which really annoyed me because I paid £3.5million They are suggesting I’d demean myself by living in a house that only costs £2.5million. How dare they!”’

Talking of the Press, Ricky adds: ‘I’ve never asked to be reviewed. Nobody called up the paper and said, “we’ve made this programme called The Office. I don’t know if it’s any good – would you please tell me?”

‘The editor just shouts out to his office, “Is anyone here a professional comedian? No? OK, then, has anyone got a computer and half an hour to spare? Good. Tell Gervais where he’s going wrong, will you?’’‘

Ricky says the trick with stand-up is to ‘select a real story, deconstruct and then take it to an absurd conclusion. But the audience know that it’s always a pretend-whinge. The key thing is that I’m constantly coming down on the wrong side. I like to mix things up to keep the audience on their toes – not literally, of course, because then they’d be tired.’

‘At another point in the show, I talk about the time a mob mistook the word “paediatrician” for “paedophile” and attacked a doctor’s house. How did that misunderstanding take place? Was the doctor at a dinner party, and when someone asked him what he did for a living, did he think, “I know, I’ll use the abbreviation ‘paedo’?” When the mob got to his front-door, they couldn’t believe their luck because there was a plaque confirming that they’d got the right house!’

Despite some speculation to the contrary, 45-year-old Ricky says that after two series, Extras may have run its course. ‘I think it’s the end. I feel we’ve done everything we can with it. I won’t definitively say never again, like we did with The Office. We might do something with Extras for Comic Relief. But I can’t see another series at the moment.’

For the time being, however, he is quite happy to concentrate on his stand-up. He says he gets a real buzz from performing live. ‘An audience is the most wonderful barometery,’ Ricky beams. ‘You only know if you’ve nailed a joke from the roar or the whimper of the crowd. It’s the best feedback you can get.

‘I’ve only done as many gigs in my life as most comedians do in a year, but I feel like I’m getting there now. I’m gaining confidence. I used to treat stand-up like a telly performance and I feared the audience’s judgement.

‘But now I just don’t think about it. It’s like golf – you can only hit the ball perfectly when you don’t think about it anymore. I want to be as funny and relaxed on stage as I am in a pub full of friends.

‘Might it be in my blood to stand in the middle of a room and show off?’

Ricky pauses, before erupting into laughter once again: ‘I reckon it might be!’

Published: 11 Jan 2007

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