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Ricky Gervais chasing after thrill of comedy, 'being cult'

Courtney Crowder
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

CHICAGO — Ricky Gervais, 49, British comedian and star of movies such as "The Invention of Lying," may joke onstage, but he is serious about comedy.

"I do this because I can't not do it," Gervais said in an interview in October while in town filming his second HBO comedy special. "I can't not get up in the morning and have an idea about comedy. I love it."

"Ricky Gervais: Out of England 2 — The Stand-Up Special" was culled from two performances, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, at the Chicago Theatre and features Gervais' signature, no-limits comedy. Topics such as over­eating, religion and gay animals are fair game. The comedy special premieres at 10 p.m. EST Saturday on HBO.

Q. Why did you choose to do the filming in Chicago?

A. I didn't want to do it in New York or Los Angeles because I have already sold 20,000 or 30,000 tickets in those cities, and I didn't want to go into the second tier of people coming to the show. I wanted the people at the show to be really excited about being there. If you start begging for people to come to a show, it won't be as good. I don't do it for the money, anyway, so I want it to be the best possible audience and show it can be.

Q. Why did you choose to release your second special now, and why did you choose to partner with HBO again?

A. If I had the material, I would be on HBO all the time. They have never interfered with one aspect of what I have done. They really care about the auteur. Just look at the fact that they have hardly any restrictions outside of your own morality and convictions. Also, the stable of people that you are in is amazing. I am on the same channel as "The Sopranos" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm — it is remarkable. I am doing the special now because I am at the peak of my powers because I have just done a yearlong tour in Britain with selected dates in America between filming commitments.

Q. Your comedy touches on topics that people don't normally think are funny — is that something you do on purpose?

A. Yes, in my stand­up I deal with topics like the Holocaust, pedophilia and bestiality.

These are not mainstream topics for comedy, but I crave being cult. There is nothing that gives me an adrenaline rush like an idea. I love the creative process and I have just started to love stand-up more than ever because this year I realized that it is a privilege. If I have got 10,000 people paying $60 to see me, I better have something interesting to say that no one else is saying. There are so many comedians who are doing observational comedy, but they have taken out the comedy and it is just observations. I always think, "Why are you doing this?" The audience can do that for themselves, but that is part of their appeal. They are for the people who go see comedy once a year and it's not threatening and it is very broad and obvious. I don't do that. I think the job of a comedian is to make people laugh, but also challenge them to laugh at things they didn't know they could until now.

Q. You have an English aspect to your comedy, do you worry about that translating in America?

A. No, because I believe that outside the language barrier people are the same. In England and America there is both good and bad, clever and dumb comedy. There are different subjects and that's it. This is why "The Office" is shown in 90 countries. On the face of it, the show looked very parochial and English, but it wasn't. It was just boy meets girl, having a decent job of work and making a difference. These were people having midlife crises or relationship problems, and that is the same everywhere — it doesn't matter whether you are living in a cave or in a penthouse.

Q. With the announcement that Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) will be leaving the American version of "The Office," is there any chance that (your character from the British version) David Brent will be coming across the pond?

A. Well, you would think you would want to know, but it would spoil your enjoyment. It is like kids when they say, "What Christmas present have you got me?" You have to say, "Wait and see." I am giving nothing away.

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