Also Credited As:Richard Dene Gervais
|Actor, Director, Producer, Writer, Music|
|Richard Dene Gervais on June 25, 1961 in Reading, England, GB|
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Born Ricky Dene Gervais on June 25, 1961 in the borough of Reading in Berkshire, England, he was one of four children born to his Quebecois father, Jerry, and English mother, Eva. He attended University College London, where he studied biology and philosophy; Gervais also met his longtime girlfriend, television producer Jane Fallon, while a student there. In his third year of college, he and a friend formed the pop duo Seona Dancing, which released two underwhelming singles in 1983 - though one, "More to Lose," became a substantial hit in the Philippines - before disbanding the following year. He served as manager of the popular U.K. band Suede, toiled in several nowhere office jobs - stints which would serve him well later on - as well as landed a handful of obscure stand-up comedy stints, before accepting a position as "Head of Speech" at the alternative radio station, Xfm London. While there, he hired a young Stephen Merchant as his assistant, which would begin their long and legendary collaborative career as co-writers, co-producers and co-directors on the duo's many projects.
Gervais and Merchant moved to BBC Radio 1 after the Capital Radio group took over Xfm in 1998. While there, the former served as music advisor and contributed sketch material to various programs. Merchant shot video footage of Gervais and submitted it to ITV, where they were tapped to contribute material to "The Sketch Show" (2001-03). Gervais also created the pilot for a series called "Golden Years" (1998), in which he starred as a David Bowie obsessive. His big break came with the sketch comedy show "The 11 O'Clock News" (BBC Four, 1998-2000), where he played an expletive-prone news reporter named Ricky Gervais. However, his own program, "Meet Ricky Gervais" (BBC 4, 2000), which blended a talk show format with his appalling reporter character, fizzled after only a few episodes.
It was while Gervais was contributing to other comedy series, that he and Merchant began working on an idea for a show set in a dreary office that would parody the "docu-soap" genre of reality series. The duo shot a sketch featuring Gervais as his character "Seedy Boss" and submitted it to the BBC, who commissioned the pair to pen a pilot based around this obnoxious, inappropriate character. The result was "The Office," which purported to look behind the scenes at a branch of a small paper company, as seen through the eyes of its downtrodden employees. Gervais was top-billed as David Brent, the branch's deeply deluded manager, whose desperate need to win over his staff was frequently undone by his clueless and often inappropriate behavior. The first six-episode series aired in 2001 to little acclaim, but gradual word of mouth and critical praise built up an audience for the second six-episode run in 2002 (a pair of Christmas specials, aired on BBC One, brought the series to a close in 2003).
"The Office" swept British television and entertainment awards from 2002 through 2004, including BAFTAs for Gervais and the series itself in 2002 and 2003. It even skipped across the pond and repeated its winning streak when the show aired on American television in 2004, with two Golden Globes for the show and its creator and Emmys in 2005 and 2006 - beating American-made sitcoms in all categories at American award ceremonies. Hollywood could not help but, first, scratch their collective heads in confusion - just who was this Brit sweeping the awards and cracking up the audience each time he went to the podium? - before getting smart and pouncing on both the show and the man. Meanwhile, Gervais had returned to Xfm radio, where he was joined by Merchant and producer-turned-performer Karl Pilkington. "The Ricky Gervais Show," which ran sporadically from 2001 until 2005, delivered a rotating series of absurd features - with one focusing entirely on news about monkeys, while the deadpan Pilkington was a frequent and good-natured butt for countless routines. The series was then aired in podcast starting in 2005, which by 2007, was being downloaded by over 250,000 listeners per month - enough to earn it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. As he conquered seemingly every medium, the Gervais mystique continued to grow
In 2003, Gervais toured with a stand-up comedy show titled "Animals," which made connections between behavior in the wild and between "civilized humans." A second show, "Politics," followed in 2004. That same year, Gervais released Flanimals, a children's book about fantastical beasts, which proved wildly successful among young readers. In fact, three more Flanimals tomes were released between 2005 and 2007. At the same time he was enjoying his first literary success, Gervais also oversaw the release of scripts from "The Office" and routines from his podcast shows - a creation of his which he was about to entrust to the Yanks. Whether that was to be a good thing or bad - most British sitcoms such as "Coupling" (BBC, 2000-04) having failed miserably in their American translations - remained to be seen. Keeping a close eye on their "baby," Gervais and partner Merchant served as executive producers of the American version of "The Office" (NBC, 2005- ) starring then little-known comic actor Steve Carell as Michael Scott, a slightly less abrasive but no less thick-skulled version of David Brent - head of a small paper supply company in Pennsylvania. After a rocky start as a midseason replacement, the show caught on with viewers - many of whom came onboard once Carell suddenly hit paydirt that same summer in the sleeper comic feature, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005) - and brought home Emmys for Best Comedy Series in 2006 and Outstanding Writing in 2007, among numerous other accolades. Gervais and Merchant remained adamant about not contributing to the show beyond their producer titles, but recanted as fans themselves, penning an episode in 2006.
Meanwhile, Gervais and Merchant began work on a new series in 2005 called "Extras," which took the documentary approach of "The Office" and applied it to the life of aspiring actor Andy Millman as he struggles to find work in British film and television. Gervais' Millman was a more approachable character than David Brent, but he still managed to find himself in deeply mortifying situations, this time with a host of real-life performers, who frequently lampooned their own screen and media personas. Only Gervais could get actors to send themselves up - such as Orlando Bloom, who in an episode of "Extras," cannot believe that not a single woman is finding him attractive; or Daniel Radcliffe of "Harry Potter" fame who plays up hitting puberty by letting his hormones kick into overdrive. The show, which was slated to conclude after two seasons, earned more metal for the Gervais mantle, including an Emmy and a BAFTA for Gervais.
With two successful international shows now under his belt, Gervais began fielding offers from Hollywood and England for a host of appearances and side projects. These included several motion pictures, including a small role as a smarmy British producer in Christopher Guest's "For Your Consideration" (2005) and the museum director in Ben Stiller's hit "A Night at the Museum" (2006). He also contributed his vocals and ideas to a 2006 episode of "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ) and a dramatic turn as a bomber in a 2004 episode of "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06). He also hosted a series of interviews with his favorite comic performers and writers for BBC Four under the title of "Ricky Gervais Meets" (2006-07), for which he talked with Larry David, Christopher Guest and Garry Shandling. The latter proved so uncomfortable for both parties - due mostly to Shandling's standoffish manner - that Gervais swore off any future specials. In 2007, Gervais premiered another stand-up show, "Fame," which broke box office records for ticket sales. He also made heavily criticized appearances at the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium and at Live Earth in July of that year - with technical problems leaving Gervais fumbling for time at the Live Earth show, while his use of an expletive on live television at Live Earth earned brickbats from certain press circles. Despite that misstep, Gervais continued to earn praise for his television work, winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for "Extras" in 2007 and taking home a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Comedy or Musical for the series in 2008.
Satisfied at having conquered television comedy in both the U.K. and the U.S., Gervais began to focus on a big screen future with his first starring role in "Ghost Town" (2008). The romantic comedy about a surly dentist with the ability to speak to the dead was well received by critics, though not highly visible at the box office. The same could not be said for his supporting role alongside Ben Stiller in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (2009), an enormous blockbuster sequel to the family adventure film. For the first time sans Merchant, Gervais made his debut as a writer-director later that year with "The Invention of Lying" (2009), in which he starred as a man who brings the concept of lying into an alternate world where it does not exist, only to have its immediate benefits give way to drawbacks. Although a first time director, Gervais' reputation was strong enough to woo major Hollywood talents Jennifer Garner and Jonah Hill for substantial supporting roles. The dawn of the new year brought the airing of "The Ricky Gervais Show" (HBO, 2009- ), an animated reworking of the comedian's U.K. radio shows with Merchant and Pilkington, which in turn, were also released as Internet podcasts. Using classic Saturday morning cartoon animation, the show illustrated the previously audio-only jokes in a literal fashion. A big screen adaptation of Gervais' popular children's book series Flanimals was his next project, and it marked his debut at the helm of an animated film. With all the projects on his docket, Gervais found time to host the Golden Globe Ceremony in January 2010, bringing down the house with his witty, sometimes cutting remarks.
For his filmmaking follow-up, Gervais returned to England for a film co-written and co-directed with Merchant. "Cemetery Junction" (2010) was a 1970s-set comedy about a group of young adults working in the insurance business, starring Gervais and British talents Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson and Matthew Goode. A return to stand-up comedy came in the form of another cable special, "Ricky Gervais: Out of England 2" (HBO, 2010), in addition to an appearance on the star-studded "Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert for Autism Education" (Comedy Central, 2010), hosted by Jon Stewart. Gervais and Merchant continued their ongoing collaboration with the well-received effort "An Idiot Abroad" (Sky1, 2010), a reality-comedy series in which the team sent their reluctant friend Karl Pilkington on bizarre trips around the globe to see the seven wonders of the world.
Always the comedic provocateur, Gervais made headlines for his caustic return as master of ceremonies for "The 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards" (NBC, 2011), where he mercilessly skewered everyone from Tim Allen to Robert Downey, Jr. to Cher. Reactions from audience members - both in attendance and at home - were mixed, with some opining that the comedian was his usual hilarious self, even as others declared that he had simply gone too far and was too mean-spirited. Less ambiguous were the odds that Gervais would he hosting the 69th iteration of the event, or for that matter, even be invited back as an attendee. While defending his performance and choice of material, Gervais conceded after the show, "I probably won't be here next year." After the media furor died down, Gervais and Merchant conceived the mockumentary series "Life's Too Short" (HBO, 2011- ). Similar in tone to "The Office" and "Extras," the show followed the fictionalized, day-to-day travails of the vertically-challenged actor Warwick Davis as he attempted to revitalize his career. Brief guest spots on the U.S. version of "The Office" and Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ), preceded the shocking announcement - to some, at least - that Gervais had accepted an offer from the Hollywood Foreign Press to host the Golden Globes for a third time, despite the controversial fallout following his brutal skewering of all things Hollywood earlier that year. The busy comic also contributed one of many celebrity cameos in the highly-anticipated revival of Jim Henson's beloved felt-covered cut-ups "The Muppets" (2011) and again, with the help of Merchant, put Pilkington through a "bucket list" hell for season two of "An Idiot Abroad 2" (Sky1, 2011). Gervais next appeared in the gentle comedy "Derek" (Netflix 2012- ), in which he played the title role of a nursing home worker, inspired by members of his family who worked with the elderly and infirm, Gervais also wrote and directed the mockumentary-style series. In 2014, Gervais announced that he was planning a feature film starring his breakthrough character David Brent, for possible release in 2015.