Ricky Gervais on 'The Office' at 10 -- EXCLUSIVE

Ray Burmiston

So The Office is 10 years old.

Well the first episode of Series One aired at 9:30 p.m. on a Monday night, 9 July, 2001.

Obviously the concept existed sometime before that. The BBC pilot was shot in January 2000, and we shot our own pilot two years before that. It was shot in a day in the “real Office” that I worked in for eight years from 1989 to 1997.

I had David Brent as a character from about 1995 I’d say, and he is based on people I’d met throughout my adult life.

The very first scene of the series, where he is talking to the forklift truck driver, is based on an interview I had at a temp agency when I was 17, in the school holidays. He was in his mid thirties wearing a bad suit. His opening sentence was, “I don’t give sh—y jobs”; I just looked at him and nodded. He said “If a good guy comes to me,” (he pointed at me to let me know he already knew I was a good guy), “and says I wanna work hard because I wanna better myself, then I will make that happen.” He phoned his friend and at one point said, “Yes of course he’s 18″; then he winked at me and did the Pinocchio nose mime. (It was nothing to do with fork lift truck driving but it was for work in a warehouse). I never saw him again, but I used to do impressions of him as I told the anecdote over the years. He was the very first Brent I can remember. There have been many since.

Most of them have been on The Apprentice. David Brent doesn’t represent evil, or nastiness or even ignorance. He’s just a little out of place. Out of time. His worst crime is that he confused respect with popularity. He wanted both but concentrated on the wrong one. He didn’t really know what people wanted of him. He shouldn’t really have worried about that at all. He just tried a little too hard. He wasn’t a bad man. In fact he was quite a nice man and I have a real affection for him. I like all my characters I play or create, to be honest. I don’t think you should ever feel above the role or sneery towards them. Comedy is above all about empathy in my opinion and I think as an actor, the more you empathise with a character, the more engaging he will be to an audience. It doesn’t mean he has to be perfect or squeaky-clean, but he must have his foibles planted somewhere in humanity. And at some level he has to be vulnerable. David Brent was certainly that. Insecure, eager to please, and needing constant positive feedback.

This is why it made total sense to have him crave fame. Throughout the nineties, I’d been watching an awful lot of those docu-soaps where everyday people are followed and become minor celebs. Hotel, Airport etc. It started off quite sweet with nice normal people getting a bit of recognition for being funny or interesting. But then of course, people started acting up to be “discovered” and get their 15 minutes. By the time The Office came along, Pop Idol and Big Brother had made being famous the shortcut to happiness for every wannabe in the country. This trend is not slowing down either. A recent university study asked British 10-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grew up. They answered “famous.”

But The Office was not about media in any way. It reflected some of the symptoms of a society fascinated by celebrity, but it was truly about real, everyday people. I resisted saying normal people because I feel it wouldn’t be interesting watching a program about “normal” people. Particularly in Britain. We love the peculiar. The Office, like many other sitcoms before it, finds humour in a dysfunctional family. The reason why we find this both funny and comforting is that we all belong to a dysfunctional family. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.

The dysfunctional family in The Office had a lot of children. Namely the men. Men as boys and women as adults was a recurring theme. This is funny because it’s true. Men don’t really grow up. And a man who is meant to be in charge and a role model acting like a big kid is even more ridiculous. This is why it was important to always keep Brent in the work environment. He should know better. If he’s on holiday or at home he can do what he wants. But when he’s meant to be leading by example and he acts like a twat, it’s pathetic. This is the ‘sit’ in sitcom. It’s all about the situation. Take that away and everything changes. Add a film crew that captures every faux pas and you’ve got 10 times the embarrassment. And embarrassment is the greatest English fear of them all.

The fake documentary element was absolutely essential. It reminded us why everyone was acting the way they did. He heightened consequences, and above all, it made the audience connect. Brent being embarrassed is one thing, but as soon as he looked down the lens he brought us all into it. We felt his pain. And we liked it. Sort of. You could either laugh at him thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and feel good about yourself. Or you could be saying, “Oh my God. I do that.” And realise you’re not the only one. And so feel good about yourself. It’s a theory.

Gareth is even more of a fool than Brent in many ways. And even more immature. There’s a very good reason for that. He’s based on the kid I went to school with. I talk about him in most of my stand-up shows. He’s the one who put a crab in a pint of beer on holiday, because I told him, as a joke, “When a crab is drunk, it walks forwards.”

And Tim is based on a guy I used to work with, mixed with Norm from Cheers, a little Chandler from Friends, and a touch of Oliver Hardy. Stan and Ollie feature in all my work really. The blind leading the blind. Both thinking they’re with an idiot. Both right. Both struggling. And both needing each other to survive. Beautifully precarious.

They could fall at any moment. But just for us they get back up again.

Who needs winners? They’re not in the slightest bit funny or interesting. Give me a loser any day.

Thanks for watching.

The Office: Special Edition DVD is available to pre-order online in the U.K. A North American version of the set is expected to go on sale in November.

Read more:
Ricky Gervais visits NBC’s ‘The Office’
‘Life’s Too Short’ teaser trailer
Ricky Gervais laughs in the face of fame


Comments (68 total) Add your comment
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  • Devin “Badass Digest” Faraci

    Put that 10th Anniversary DVD out in the US! DAMMIT!!!!!

    • Matt W

      YES! The Office is such a great piece of work.

    • L

      Co-sign.

    • Ryan

      Indeed. Can we get this stateside?

      • avlisk

        I discovered The Office on Netflix. One of the finest shows ever made, and it’s no wonder they copied it in the USA and elsewhere, as the concept is terrific, and the execution likewise. But as usual, the original is best. Check out Netflix for it.

    • Fog cue

      Do it to satisfy Devin’s petulant craving of Ricky Gervais doing the same schtick for many whatever number of years!

    • NO MORE BULLIES

      your career as a professional bully is almost over gervais. your pathetic attempt to put yourself amongst comedians with talking funny , only illustrated how irritating you are even when you try to brainwash the tv viewing masses with sayings like” my conscience never takes a day off.”

      goodbye, i wont be sad to see you go.

      • Steve

        Wow, nmb, you have issues. Go seek counseling.

      • Sweetiebirdr

        Personal question for NMB: Do you warm up the can of soup before eating it, or do you just drink it cold straight out of the can?

      • No more bullies

        i was unfamilliar with entertainement weekly but i looked around this site and now i know its a tabloid. what a rag what kind of people hang around here? oh i see…..

      • cecil tea-strainer

        Lighten up,if you don’t like the guy then don’t watch the guy,it’s not difficult to pick up a remote and change the channel.
        You go on like he’s wronged you in the worst way it is possible to,i notice though you’re taking time to look him up and comment.

    • No more bullies

      go see gervsis in talking funny. hes trying hard to try and convince us hes not an immature manchild and fails miserably. he tries to make us forget about the golden globes ,how unfunny and low he was. hes a human disaster. he can cling to fame for a while longer but as a talentless hack he wont for long. maybe he can start to personify animals like he said in talking funny( facepalm ).

      look at the other comedians when he sais that. moron

      • no more “no more bullies”

        lol, did you jus sit watchin talkin funny, thinkin you shouldve been invited instead of him, rather than bein in the bedsit alone diggin your fingernails into the arm rests? if you think his career’s nearly over and that the other comics don’t respect his work then you’re the moron.

  • Julie Anderton

    Thanks for sharing and reminiscing with us, Ricky! Your thoughts about failure remind me of what Charles Schulz had to say on the subject.

  • yer mom

    I had forgotten how much my hubby and I loved this all too short series. Every episode was stellar, and so many scenes stick out in my memory..his cringeworthy ‘dance for charity’ when David begs for his job, and when he finally tells off Finchy. Let’s not forget David’s music video for “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”!! Just a great great series..Love you Ricky! sigh..

    • Sharlin

      I remember watching and could not understand a single word they were saying. lol

      • yer mom

        Yeah..me too, so I put on the cc, then after a while, you pick up an ear for it…

    • Kacey

      I remember seeing the “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” music video for the first time and laughing so hard I was crying!

  • yer mom

    Watching the series again start to finish. My kids wonder why I pronounce ‘perfect’ as “perfeck” it’s because of David Brent!

  • Mary

    Loved the first office, the UK version and especially the 4th episode titled Training Day. TD sealed it for me, I was a huge fan after that one episode. Tim’s my favorite character.

    • Hemkit

      The Office is one of the funniest shows I have ever seen. “I will not have her tunnell bandied about willy-nilly.” There are so many great lines in every episode, I laugh just thinking about them. “I phased ya, right? I phased ya.” Thank you Ricky for bringing this to us. “Eight legs, six legs, eight legs, six legs.” I think I will watch the first season this weekend.

    • Jay

      Agree. Training Day was comedic gold.

    • L

      I loved the stapler in the jelly (Jell-o) bit.

      I used to work for a David Brent type boss. Sometimes the show is a little TOO painful to watch.

    • Amy

      Training Day is my absolute favorite episode. So funny and so very embarrassing. Such a great show. Man, it made me squirm at times though, which is brilliant.

  • jazino

    I loved the episode where David Brent says that, “if it has the queen’s face on it, you can use it as currency, and pay bus fare with it” and he plays his guitar! Laughing out Loudly every time I see that episode :)

  • Parry Hotter

    OMG! This is the year! The Harry Potter crap is finally over.

    • Tulip

      I think you’re commenting on the wrong article.

  • matthew

    The Office: Special Edition DVD release is 8 November.

  • Creo18

    The Original Office is a masterpiece…nuff said.

  • empo

    Loved the U.K. version of the Office, and I loved Extras even more. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are comedic geniuses.

    • A-K87

      Plural of genius if genii.

      You should watch ‘An Idiot Abroad’.

  • Guil

    Wow. When did Ricky Gervais become so boring?

    • DFSF

      Nothing less funny than comics talking about comedy.

    • Cris

      Wow … you do realize that when musicians discuss their music, they don’t sing about it, right?
      A comedian can’t be serious for a few minutes?

  • kimd

    Excellent.My favorite sitcom.Everytime I watch the DVD series,I always find something new I obviously missed the first hundred times.Never get tired of it.

  • BUTTMUNCH

    Ricky gave us one of the WORST shows of all time that led to the pure buttwipe that was the u.s remake. if you want smart well thought out comedy that makes you think,laugh,and cry, then watch mike and molly! this IS the best show on tv! all other shows wipe mike and mollys butt!

    • BioHzrd

      I find it quite fitting your name is Buttmunch.

    • Steve

      Yeah, the fact that your name is buttmunch pretty much excludes you from having an intelligent conversation, even one about that which is funny.

  • Finchy

    Loved The UK Office and The US Office as well. Thanks Ricky, for such great laughs!

  • Rosie

    When I first watched The Office a couple of years ago I didn’t think it was funny at all. Earlier this year I decided to give it another go and now I find everything absolutely hilarious. I think it was that trip I took to England…

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