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Ricky Gervais: 'I've played for 800,000 people and had not one complaint'

Ricky Gervais is back with a second series of After Life on Netflix. 'It's been a cathartic thing to write,' he explains to Georgia Humphreys


Ricky Gervais in After Life (Netflix)

Ricky Gervais in After Life (Netflix)

Natalie Seery/Netflix

Ricky Gervais in After Life (Netflix)

Ricky Gervais knows full well that some people might be offended by his comedy. But the Reading-born star (famous for hit shows such as The Office, Derek and Extras) is never going to filter himself - especially when performing on stage.

"If you don't like it, you can leave," the 58-year-old says matter-of-factly. "I've not broken the law. I warn people. I played for 800,000 people - not one complained.

"It goes on Netflix (his stand-up special Humanity launched on the streaming service in 2018) and people take a little bit out of context.

"I could take every bad bit out and put that out and I'd get as many complaints, because they'll find something.

"The cleaner and nicer you get, the less you have left, and they'll still find it. You can't make a joke that someone, somewhere, won't find offensive, so you shouldn't try."

That's where the idea for Gervais' most recent series - dark comedy After Life - came from.

The Netflix show, which is about to return for a second run, follows journalist Tony (played by Gervais), who is suicidal following the death of his wife, Lisa (Kerry Godliman).

With only his pet dog to live for, he says and does whatever he wants, as he no longer cares what happens to him.

"I didn't want to make it a vigilante thing; I wanted it to be real and I wanted it to be a comedy," explains Gervais, when discussing the concept.

"So, I thought, 'You could say what you wanted'. And that came with the beginning of people trying to close down on free speech, and, 'You shouldn't offend anyone'.

"So, I thought, 'That's perfect. I can create a character that can say all the things that polite people are afraid to say; he's got nothing to lose.'"

In series two, we see Tony decide to try and become a better friend and colleague, when he realises everyone is grappling with their own problems - especially after learning the Tambury Gazette, where he works, faces possible closure.

But he is still really struggling with grief, something Gervais recognises is a universal theme.

He says he's had lots of fans share their own stories of loss with him since watching series one of After Life.

"It might be a week before or a year before, but everyone's grieving about something, whether it's your nan when you're little, or a partner."

There are scenes you cannot imagine being allowed in a sitcom normally, which is why he's pleased he's been able to work with Netflix, who said they wouldn't interfere.

Although, he adds, he has always "demanded final edit" anyway, whatever telly project he's working on.

"To be fair, I can sit here smugly, pontificating about how brave I am and how I get final edit, but I think most people start out and go, 'Right, I'm going to do something that's uncompromised'.

"But then someone says, 'We could put it on at 9 o'clock if you lose that word and you'll get more viewers', and they go, 'Okay'. And, 'Maybe don't show this', and soon, it's good, but it's got all the stuff taken out of it." Yes, Gervais is certainly unafraid to speak his mind (or insult people; he made headlines earlier this year for his controversial jokes about Hollywood's top talent, when presenting the Golden Globes for the fifth time).

But when I meet him, in autumn 2019, I discover how approachable, gentle and affable he is.

Even though he's got a busy day of filming (he also directs the show), he uses his lunch-break to eagerly show us round the set of After Life himself.

And, yes, he is just as funny in real life too.

On how he deals with Twitter trolls, he says: "What you've got to think about these people is that they want a reaction. That's all they want.

"They don't mean any harm; they've got nothing against you."

He recalls how he's had tweets from people saying they "hated The Office".

"And I look back at their timeline and they've tweeted me 50 times before saying they loved The Office, but they didn't get a reaction."

Some social media users are even happy with a negative response from the star.

"People used to insult me and I used to slam them, and they used to go, 'Oh, cheers, I just got insulted by Ricky Gervais - my hero'," he says.

"And I think, 'Why would you do that? If I'm your hero, wouldn't you rather I thought you were a good bloke?' It's so weird."

After Life series 2 launches on Netflix on Friday

Belfast Telegraph