Ricky Gervais doesn’t care if his jokes offend you.
He shared this sentiment in front of a packed house during his first appearance ever at New York’s famed Village Underground- a part of the Comedy Cellar. The occasion was “An Evening with Ricky Gervais” hosted by SiriusXM critically lauded interviewer- Ron Bennington. It was an exciting night, with fans starting to line up a full five hours before the doors opened for the big sold out event. Comedians packed into the area of the Underground reserved for performers– all leaning in to hear Gervais breeze about topics that every comedian has to deal with– and after the show they crowded the street hoping to meet Gervais and let him know how much they learned from the conversation.
It’s not often that Gervais fans get the chance to sit in an intimate setting to hear the comedy, tv and movie star speak. Those who came out were rewarded with candid, honest and open conversation and gigantic laughs from Gervais and Bennington who seemed like old friends by the time the hour was underway. The hour-long conversation debuts on SiriusXM’s Faction Talk channel today, Friday, October 5, at 4pm.
Gervais weaved through so many subjects: meeting and working with David Bowie, how he transitioned from a guy who worked in an office to international and critically adored superstar in his forties, the reason he doesn’t play the middle of the country, and he spoke about his life offstage (“My life hasn’t changed, I just travel better”). Ricky talked about his boundaries, spirituality, the key to playing an asshole on tv, and the secret to being funny on stage. And of course, he talked about making offensive jokes.
Audience sensitivity is a topic that is everpresent in conversations about comedy, and as you might expect, Gervais has a brilliant take on navigating the tricky world of taboo material, offensive jokes, and dealing with people who get upset. He assured the audience that someone will always be upset even at the most seemingly innocuous of jokes. But that’s okay, he says, comedy that involves tension creates a rollercoaster for peoples’ emotions, a workout for the soul. And that’s a good thing. “I don’t worry about backlash, the only thing I worry about is doing the joke well. If I do the joke well, I’ve done my job.”
He continued. “The trouble with irony is, some people don’t get it. That’s no reason to not do it, you just need to appeal to the people who do get it.” Gervais drew applause saying, “That’s not our problem. I don’t think people not getting our joke is our problem.”
“People come up and they say, I was offended by that joke,” Gervais explained. “My first reaction is, I don’t care. That doesn’t mean anything. You’re telling me how you feel.” Gervais is well known for delivering controversial, offensive jokes, and not being afraid to roast a plenty of people who aren’t used to being roasted, particularly when hosting award shows in front of a room full of Hollywood Glitterati. His new Netflix special also drew a few complaints that he waded into territory that some thought unkind. In particular, he caught backlash for jokes based on Caitlyn Jenner. But he’s not looking to offend on a small scale. He also makes jokes about famine, the Holocaust, aids, cancer, murder, and yes, even nut allergies.
I want to take the audience by the hand and take them through a scary forest.
Gervais always seems to have a big project in the works, and right now, he has several. He’s touring a new stand up hour (more on that below), he has another season of his SiriusXM show in the works, and a series that sounds like another Gervais hit called Afterlife, about a guy whose wife dies, and he needs to figure out what’s next. He gave Bennington and the audience a preview of what to expect from the series:
“I play a guy, I’m married, we hit the ground running, I’ve already lost my wife. It starts with her, she’s obviously had chemotherapy and she’s saying, “If you’re watching this I’m not around anymore. I couldn’t say this to your face. You’re amazing but you’re fucking useless.” It starts with her leaving a little guide to how to fill the washing machine and stuff like that. And I’m thinking … I nearly commit suicide but I don’t because the dog’s hungry. That gives me long enough to think, “Right okay I won’t kill myself, for now, but I’m going to punish the world. I’m going to start saying and doing exactly what the fuck I want, and then when it all gets too much I can kill myself.” It’s like a superpower, and of course, it doesn’t go as planned. So it’s a good guy trying to be a psychopath because he’s hurt. But his friends remember he was a good guy and they sort of try and save him. So it’s funny but it’s really sweet as well, and you see the development and he’s always watching home videos of this perfect marriage, then having to deal with fucking idiots.”
Spirituality seems to be a theme for Gervais’ work these days, he is already working on his new stand up hour, a follow up to his Netflix special: Humanity. It’s called Super Nature, and Gervais promises to debunk the idea that anything supernatural exists, while at the same time talking about how super “actual nature” really is. “I think nature is super enough. We don’t need to make something up. We don’t need to invent angels and unicorns, we’ve got the fucking octopus. Eight legs, nine hearts, three brains, one eye and a beak. Religion is exploiting spirituality.”
Stand up, he said, has moved to become a priority for him, and after airing Humanity, he says, he has changed his approach from writing a one-man show, and then performing it, to a more traditional stand-up approach of working out material on stage.
“Before that I hadn’t toured for seven years, because I thought stand up was the second or third thing I did. I thought I wrote and directed narrative comedy of some sort, and that was it, but I wanted to be a standup because I thought it was cool,” he said. “After Humanity, I sort of stripped it down, and just walked out, and started acting like a comedian. That sounds weird. What I mean by that is I approached my first two standups like a writer. I’d write it like an Edinburgh show, and then go out and get good at it. This time I wandered out and started chatting,” he said, “and it felt so much better. It felt so much better to do it like that, to find the funny.
Interestingly, he sees that approach as more science than art. “It works or it doesn’t, and you know that, and it’s like natural selection. You can’t get it wrong. You can have bad gigs, but if you do 50 gigs, you know what you keep, and what’s left is laughs, because the audience chooses it for you,” he said. “It’s almost too easy, whereas you write a sitcom, you think, “I don’t know if that’s good or bad.” You put it out there and you could be wrong, whereas if it’s not working, you change it the next night. It really evolves, and then when it’s finished it works everywhere, and it works every night. It’s great. I absolutely love it, and it’s such a privilege, particularly now that I can go out, and people have paid to hear me say exactly what I want. That’s amazing. That’s better than anything else I do.”
An Evening with Ricky Gervais and host Ron Bennington debuts on Faction talk Today, October 5 at 4 pm ET and will continue to run all weekend long on SiriusXM and on SiriusXM’s On Demand service following the hour’s debut.
Ron Bennington hosts two critically acclaimed interview series, “Ron Bennington Interviews” and “Unmasked” talking with the greatest creative minds of our time. The Unmasked series has taped over 200 episodes, documenting the careers of the most interesting comedy writers, directors, filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, satirists, political comedians, comedic musicians and of course, stand up comedians in the business including Amy Schumer, Dan Aykroyd, Simon Pegg, Paul Feig, Jim Jefferies, Tracy Ullman, Gilbert Gottfried, Chris Elliott, Sandra Bernhard, Bobcat Goldthwait, Louis C.K., David Brenner, Judd Apatow, Brian Regan, Joan Rivers, and over 150 more comedy greats.
In addition to hosting “Unmasked,” Ron Bennington hosts a daily comedy talk show, “Bennington” with his co-host Gail Bennington on SiriusXM’s Faction Talk Comedy Channel from 2pm to 5pm et.