Ricky Gervais on Why Standup Is His Favorite Medium of Comedy

Ricky Gervais, the comedy icon and creator/star of After Life returns to the stage with his latest Netflix stand-up special, SuperNature—which shouldn’t be taken too literally. We sat down with the actor to get the low-down on life lately, but first, some rapid-fire questions:

  • One wish?: An animal sanctuary.
  • Money or fame?: Money is real. Fame is what again? Random people waving at you?
  • If God exists…: He’s doing a horrible fucking job.
  • Epitaph?: He had a laugh, then found a lump.

Men’s Journal: SuperNature sounds even more ambitious than 2018’s Humanity, which began with you telling your audience “I prefer animals.” Can we assume the new title is ironic, you’ll be in a stained black T-shirt and drinking beer out of a can again?

Ricky Gervais: And very likely wearing bad jeans. I don’t believe anything is “supernatural.” If something exists, it’s natural and explainable—if not now, then eventually. I do explain irony at the start of SuperNature. I say, “That was irony. There’ll be more of it in the show. See if you can spot it.”

What draws you back to stand-up between your series work?

Initially, it was just the other thing I did and enjoyed. Now I realize it’s my favorite thing of all. My revelation with stage time is its efficiency. You can write for hours and never predict how it’ll go. With stand-up, you have your answer in seconds.

After Life is in its third and final season. What prompted you to relax your usual two-season-max rule with earlier shows like The Office [U.K.], Extras and Derek?

It’s a bigger world this time with more drama and characters to explore. I do think it’s funny, though, that people make a big deal of me doing a third [six-episode] season—when that doesn’t amount to a single U.S. season. I could’ve very happily done more.

Why not? It’s called After Life. It could’ve gone on forever, right?

Everything points that I should carry on. It hurts me to stop this. It’s stupid to stop this. But I already blurted it out, and I think it’s the right decision. At least this way I’m not canceled. I’ve never been canceled because I always cancel myself first.

Speaking of which, if you were starting out today would you pursue a comedy career in the “cancel culture” era?

I would because there’s always cancel culture. Once upon a time, it was the middle- aged Christian right who were the gatekeepers. Now it’s 20-year-olds on social media. You’ve just gotta ignore it all. A comic bemoaning cancel culture is like a sailor griping about waves.

What comes more naturally to you, insulting others or self-deprecation?

Self-deprecation usually wins. There’s a sneaky bit of it hiding in the insults too, tucked behind all of that faux arrogance, right? I also think it’s important to distinguish an actual insult from just teasing someone about what everyone already knows.

Your scene with David Bowie in Extras is the yardstick of televised humiliation. What was it like to be shredded in song by a music legend?

Amazing. People still don’t realize I wrote those words for him. It wasn’t a documentary.

Did he write the music for that “chubby little loser” scene?

I sent him the lyrics and asked, “Can you give me something sort of retro for this—like, ‘Life on Mars’?” He goes, “Sure, I’ll just knock off a quick fucking ‘Life on Mars’ for you.” That was amazing, too.

Does life make any sense or is it just a series of arbitrary events?

I assure you, the latter. The universe doesn’t give a shit about us. It doesn’t even know us. So we better just try and enjoy the ride.

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