It goes without saying that Ricky Gervais is a controversial character. The world of showbiz was offended by his “insulting” comedy when he hosted the Golden Globesfour times between 2010 and 2016. Without getting into a debate on the nature of free speech, I would like to focus on Gervais’ remarkable career, and explain how we can all take inspiration from the comedian. He has just finished his fifth stand-up tour, Humanity, which has been bought by Netflix for the highest fee ever paid for a UK stand-up special. But life hasn’t always been glamorous for the Hollywood personality.
From the streets of Slough to the glitzy red carpets of LA; he really has worked his way up from nothing. The son of a labourer, Gervais grew up on a working-class estate in a suburb of Reading. But his intelligence took him to study a degree in philosophy at University College London. As someone who has grown up in the small working-class town of Wigan, Gervais’ determination not to let his background limit his potential is something that I find truly inspiring.
What many people don’t know, is that Gervais actually started out in the music industry. Unfortunately, his 80’s new-wave band, Seona Dancing, failed to make the Top 40, and his pop career never came to fruition, but Gervais never let this deter him.
It wasn’t until 1997 that Gervais was to get his first big break in the entertainment industry. After being hired by Xfm and forming a writing partnership with Stephen Merchant, Gervais landed his own nightly show. After taking on a regular role on Channel 4’s comedy series The 11 O’Clock Show, he was granted his own talk show, Meet Ricky Gervais, in 2000.
It was during this time that Gervais and Merchant started to write The Office, which was first aired by the BBC in 2001; a sitcom depicting an office in Slough and its obnoxious boss, David Brent. It is now known as one of the greatest comedy series of all time and has been reinvented around the world, most famously in America.
Since the success of The Office, Ricky Gervais has gone on to produce other successful sitcoms: Extras (2005), Life’s too Short (2011), and Derek (2013). He’s also cemented his place as a Hollywood actor, proved himself as a renowned filmmaker, and even designed his own series of children’s books, Flanimals.
It’s obvious that Ricky Gervais is a man of many creative talents. His life-affirming work often has the ability to make its audience laugh and cry within minutes of each other. Furthermore, his characters are multi-dimensional and entirely loveable, particularly the title character of the sitcom Derek, who lives by the motto that “kindness is magic”. It’s an attitude that Gervais clearly shares himself.
What I find most awe-inspiring is that he uses his platform to advocate for animal rights. He works tirelessly to gift his voice to vulnerable animals that don’t have one. As someone who absolutely adores animals, I wholeheartedly commend his efforts to fight the corner of those helpless creatures that suffer from neglect and torture. It’s a moral standpoint that I hope many more media personalities will adopt, in order to elicit a shift towards a more humane society.
But it isn’t just his working- class background and his animal rights advocacy that we can be inspired by. The Office only aired when Gervais was forty-years-old. Until then, he had been living in a one bedroom flat with his partner. He often jokes that the room was so small that the fridge could be opened from the bed.
The comedian is proof that it is never too late to chase your dreams. If you want something enough, and you work hard enough for it, there’s always time to make it a reality, no matter where you come from. Whether you’re offended by his jokes, or not, it’s not hard to see why Ricky Gervais is someone who I view as a real role model.
(Image: Evening Standard)