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Gervais, Ricky (1961-)

Actor, Writer, Director

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Now synonymous with one of the most successful sitcoms of recent memory, Ricky Gervais' career has also encompassed a variety of roles which cumulatively reveal a far more subtle talent than seemed apparent at first. He was born on the 25th June, 1961 in Reading. After attending UCL, he drifted into a strange variety of jobs including briefly managing the band Suede and fronting a New Romantic group called Seona Dancing, which may have been intended seriously but which was mercilessly parodied later on.

His comedy career began when he met Stephen Merchant while working at London radio station XFM, while also acting as music advisor on This Life (BBC, 1996). He made his television debut in a one-off comedy show called 'Golden Years' (Comedy Lab, Channel 4, tx. 8/9/1999), which he co-wrote with Merchant, and in which he inaugurated his gallery of awkward, socially inept losers by playing Clive Meadows, a David Bowie-obsessed oddball. He then acquired greater attention by playing a caricatured version of himself on The 11 O'Clock Show (Channel 4, 1998): a bigoted, xenophobic character who was as irritating as he was funny. A spin-off series, Meet Ricky Gervais (Channel 4, 2000) was ignored at the time but, in retrospect, can be seen as hinting at many of his comedic concerns, such as extreme homophobia and social awkwardness. While not altogether successful, it makes greater sense when watched in the light of later work.

His first sitcom, also a collaboration with Merchant, was the BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning The Office (BBC, 2001-03). It was initially shown to indifferent, if not poor, ratings, despite critical praise which pinpointed it as a new example of the 'anti-sitcom', eschewing a laugh track in favour of observational, low-key humour which frequently verged on the painful. Gervais revealed himself to be a remarkably talented comic actor, skilfully playing the anti-hero David Brent as someone who may have been unfunny, conceited and frequently annoying, but who was also an oddly sympathetic human being. This was shown most clearly in the brilliantly post-modern Christmas special (BBC, 2003). This led to guest appearances in such cult programmes as Spaced (Channel 4, 1999) and Alias (US, 2001), the latter casting him against type as a villainous mastermind. He also voiced a pigeon in the cartoon film Valiant (d. Gary Chapman, 2005).

His next major project, again with Merchant, was Extras (BBC, 2005), revolving around unsuccessful 'background artiste' Andy Millman (Gervais). Although it attracted much attention for its glamorous superstar cast, including Ben Stiller and Kate Winslet, it was most successful when focusing again on the subtler details of loneliness, rejection and social failure, especially in a stand-out episode with Les Dennis playing an exaggerated version of himself. In addition to enjoying a successful stand-up comedy career, immortalised in two releases, Animals (2003) and Politics (2004), he has also written and appeared in a 2006 episode of The Simpsons (US) and made his onscreen film debut in Christopher Guest's awards comedy For Your Consideration (US, 2006).

Alexander Larman

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Thumbnail image of Office, The (2001-03)Office, The (2001-03)

Fly-on-the-wall sitcom about life in a Slough paper merchants

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