Meet the new Ricky Gervais. Maybe it’s because his latest TV series was inspired by family members he admires, but he dials down the “snark” in Derek, which follows a simple soul who works with residents of a retirement home/care facility. Gervais’ sister, sister-in-law and several nieces work in care homes. “So I’ve got more than 20 years of hearing stories — some funny, some really sad,” he says. Unlike Gervais’ previous shows, such as the original U.K. version of The Office, Derek is irony-free comedy. But the show, which became available last week to U.S. viewers exclusively on Netflix, might raise viewers’ suspicions at first. When will Gervais go for the mock-all-of-these-small-people-and-their-small-lives laugh? Well, he never does. He eschews sarcasm for gentle humor in which people are kind to others. What a concept.
1What prompted this philosophical shift within you?
I consciously wanted to leave the veil of irony that marks my previous work. We’re not laughing at the characters, as we did with David Brent in The Office. We laughed at the blind spots with David Brent. We laughed at the difference between the way he saw himself and the way we saw him. There’s not that chasm in these characters. And I sort of got addicted to the sweetness and the kindness that exists in that place.
2Do you believe that’s the tone your fan base suddenly wants from you?
I think people don’t know they want it. But what they want, deep down, is sincerity. I’ve noticed it on Twitter as well. I can do snarky jokes and get retweets. But if I do a sincere tweet, it connects with 10 times more people. I think people are quietly tired of the style of irony that inhabits almost everything today.
3That said, you’re still not beyond appreciating an inappropriate joke, are you?
I remember my dad’s funeral. My brother had given the vicar false information about my dad’s life, just to make us laugh at the funeral. The vicar looked worried when he saw us laughing. He came over afterward and said, “Was that all right?” And my brother said, “Our dad was 83. He lived a great life. If he had been 50, we wouldn’t have been laughing.”
4 Derek is done in your familiar pseudo-documentary style. Why do you like this format?
When you’re dealing with ordinary people, the connection is greater if you think this could be happening and some documentary is capturing it. But it’s getting harder to suspend that disbelief. If you’re a successful actor, you’re probably a famous person. I’ll never again have what we had in The Office, where no one knew who any of us were.
5Why choose Netflix as the venue to bring Derek to America?
I genuinely thought Netflix might be the future. TV habits have changed so much in the past 10, 15 years. There’s a generation of kids now that don’t understand this concept of the common consciousness. They’re like, “What do you mean we have to sit down at 9 o’clock on Thursday and watch it with the family? No, I can watch it on the way to school tomorrow.” Everything’s on-demand. That’s very interesting.
— David Martindale, Special to the Star-Telegram