Ricky Gervais on money, fame and being an animal advocate
The UK comic superstar discusses growing up in a poor househould and his failed former career as a musician
If you were writing a script about Ricky Gervais’ life, it would probably rejected for its fanciful plot twists.
Someone from a failed new-wave pop band starts a nondescript office job, turns the experience into one of the biggest TV smashes ever, and now has one of the most lucrative careers in the history of stand-up comedy?
Gervais, 57 – whose game show Child Support began a slate of new episodes earlier this month on US broadcaster ABC – spoke of the lessons he learned from his successful showbiz career.
Did you get your sense of humor from your parents?
My dad was very dry and sarcastic. I remember one time my mom was complaining about how we were going to have to pay for his funeral one day, and he lowered his newspaper and said "just bury me in the garden." He didn’t care. He buried everything in the garden: Cookers, fridges, pets. Sometimes I wonder about what future archaeologists will think.
What was their attitude toward money?
We didn’t have any. Back then men worked hard, but women had to work miracles. My mom would scrimp, and save, and do whatever it took for us to have a good future. I couldn’t have luxuries like a bike or a skateboard, but I could always have any book I wanted. And if I needed a jumper, she would knit it because it was cheaper. I remember my dad used to win bets on the horses sometimes, and he would hide the money under the carpet. My mom found the stash one day, and instead of confronting him, she just stole a bit of it now and then. Because what was he going to say?
You actually started out in the music business?
I taught myself guitar at 14. My mom went into the center of Reading, England and got the cheapest guitar, which was five pounds. I remember punching and biting it because I couldn’t hold the chords down. I did join a band eventually, and we got signed, and then it was all over as quickly as it happened.
What was your first real job?
One of my mate’s dads had a factory in Wimbledon, England that made those conference tables with flat wood tops and tubular metal legs. My job was to take long tubes out of a big vat of oil, and grind down the edges. Why is that even a job? I remember being very depressed. It made me realize I never wanted to do that for a living. But I guess I was doing it too fast, because the bloke in the next cubicle poked his head over and said "what are you trying to prove? Slow down, you’re making the rest of us look bad." That’s a life lesson right there.
When you eventually hit it big with The Office, how did you handle that fame and wealth?
It was weird, because it came somewhat later in life. It was never about the money, because I had been poor all my life.
When the first check came through, it sort of ruined it a little bit. I had done something I was really proud of, and this muddied the water. But I got over it. Growing up, money was something you needed in case you didn’t die tomorrow. I knew I wouldn’t blow it, because I’m not an idiot. I wasn’t about to spend it on cars or drugs or gambling.
Since you are a big dog lover, do most of your charitable dollars go towards animal charities?
I speak for animals because they don’t have a voice. So on my tour, at every location, I donated premium tickets whose proceeds were split between animal and human charities. In some countries they don’t even think of animals as sentient beings, they treat them like furniture. People just don’t realize the cruelty behind what’s on their plates, or in the supermarket. So animals need my voice, and I’m going to shout until I’m blue in the face.
What is your best life advice for people?
Relax, because no one else knows what they’re doing either.
Updated: October 26, 2018 05:58 PM