Recently — I’d estimate it was in between the 2011 and 2012 Golden Globes — it became cool to hate Ricky Gervais. The British writer, actor and director had spent over a decade reveling in critical praise all around the world. His BBC series The Office and Extras earned cult status and his podcast, The Ricky Gervais Show, both introduced the world to the oblivious genius of Karl Pilkington and earned its creators, Gervais and his office co-creator/my dream intercourse partner, Stephen Merchant, a place in the Guinness World Records.
When he stepped into the spotlight as the host of the 2011 Golden Globes, where mainstream audiences got their first real taste of him as he roasted every celebrity he introduced, that all changed. Instead of it being cool to be a fan of his work, to specify “The Office (UK)” as your favourite TV show on Facebook like a badge of honour, and to win pub trivia nights with obscure questions about the celebrity guests on Extras, it was suddenly cool to rip him apart. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone seemed to think he’d gone too far with his digs at Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Bruce Willis. All of a sudden, it was trendy to be anti-Gervais.
But I couldn’t! And it’s not like I didn’t try; trust me, I did. For every fat-shaming joke in his stand-up DVDs, there was a brilliant summation of the world’s Atheists being handed the burden of proof in religious debate. For every politically incorrect word for little people or the intellectually disabled, there was a heart-breaking performance to shame even the most aggressive tabloid columnist. Ricky Gervais got me interested in comedy, and made success as a writer, director and performer seem achievable. He came from a working class background (OMG call Oprah) and worked menial jobs until a role at a British radio station introduced him to Stephen Merchant who cast him — an overweight 30-something with no acting experience — as the role of a “creepy boss” in a short film for a BBC television class.
Because of that, we get to enjoy Leslie Knope confessing her drunkest thoughts into the lens of a camera on Parks and Recreation. Before 2001, when The Office premiered on BBC2 (the network’s less prominent arm), the mockumentary format had no place in network television. Now, on the eve of its season 9 premiere, we’ve forgotten why Pam and Jim are talking to an invisible interviewer every week and, instead accept the style of the omnipresent camera crew more readily than we do the live, multi-camera style favoured by Charlie Sheen.
Ricky might have stuck out like a sore thumb in last year’s Talking Funny (an hour-long HBO special in which he discussed the intricacies of comedy with Louis CK, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock) thanks to his comparatively short career, but the veteran comedy heavyweights he swapped stories with nevertheless respected and responded to his offerings, because one thing is certain: irrespective of his time under the spotlight, Gervais has impacted a generation of television.
[Editor’s note: Brodie’s regular Friday spot will be on hiatus for the next few months as she takes time off to pursue her own comedic dreams (in the form of a web series of course). GET EXCITED!]