Ricky Gervais and Cringe Comedy

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Le cas de Ricky Gervais symbolise l’attractivité éternelle de l’humour anglais. Depuis plus de dix ans, Gervais s’est imposé comme le garçon mal élevé qui a réussi à donner forme nouvelle à la comédie télé contemporaine, notamment grâce à sa série culte The Office.

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British comedian Ricky Gervais, known to his fans as “the funny little fat man”, is also an actor, film director and screenwriter. He grew up in poverty, and was later on introduced to the entertainment world as a musician, with two singles which became hits in the Philippines. He soon decided to perform as a comedian in The 11 O’clock Show. 

He achieved mainstream fame by creating the original version of the TV sitcom The Office for the BBC, which he co-wrote and co-directed with Stephen Merchant, who would become his writing partner.

The show was a huge success that propelled Gervais into stardom. And now at 48, he’s all over the place: in movies, starring in comedy specials on HBO, a frequent guest on Letterman show, and he has even hosted a Golden Globes ceremony. He is an inspiration for those would want to enter the comedy world at a rather late time, as Gervais himself didn’t start his comedy career before he turned 40.

In The Office, Gervais portrays David Brent, a cringe-inducing loser of a manager that has earned his place in TV history. The series explores the awkwardness of real life situations that are painfully – and hilariously – amplified by the protagonist’s absolute lack of self-awareness. Dramatic zoom-ins, awkward pauses and no laugh track set its genre as a mockumentary.

One of Gervais’ specialities is the shameless handling of taboo subjects, and it would seem that this formula has got people laughing all around the world. Indeed it has been adapted in many countries such as the United States (The Office with Steve Carell), Germany, Chile, Sweden and even France. Thus, with his perpetual accomplice Stephen Merchant, he launched another series: Extras. This time, he played an actor restricted to walk-on parts (the same as extras) who meets numerous famous actors such as Kate Winsley, David Bowie or Robert De Niro starring as themselves.

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Gervais has also distinguished himself with one-man shows where he truly allows himself to be his most outrageous: AIDS, the Holocaust, children with cancer … there is no subject Gervais will back away from. He aims to offend, considering that joking about anything is fine. It all depends on what the joke is.

Gervais is often said to portray the same character but in different situations. But his character in Extras, while still a loser, reflects the change in Gervais’ own life. From rags to riches, Gervais is still clinging to his old life, from which he draws so much of his humour, letting us pondering on what will happen now that the eternal loser is a winner.

Anastassia GABOUNCHINA & Eleonore GIRARD

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