The Untold Truth Of Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais became a big star — and one of the most outspoken and hilarious ones in a long time — through a very quiet and low-key comedy. In 2001, he co-created the British television series The Office and also starred on it as David Brent, a paper company middle-manager who thought he was the most talented and interesting person on earth and who desperately wanted the fame he felt he deserved.

Gervais followed The Office up with Extras, a showbiz satire from the point of view of an unfulfilled actor, along with the more dramatic and poignant series Derek and After Life. All the while, Gervais does a lot of stand-up comedy and hosting work, and he might be best known (if not infamous) for his scathing jokes at the expense of celebrities as a perennial host of the Golden Globes. 

Gervais' path to success was a long, circuitous, and fascinating one. Here's a look at the rise and comedy world domination of Ricky Gervais.

David Brent is based on a real person

Ricky Gervais created the original version of The Office, which debuted on British television in 2001 and became "a cult hit on cable" in the United States, according to the BBC. Gervais won a Golden Globe for starring in the show as David Brent, the odious, obnoxious, thinks-he's-hilarious manager of the Slough branch of the Wernham-Hogg paper company. The Office heralded the "cringe comedy" movement, because it was relatable and therapeutic — countless viewers could see their own co-workers and bosses in David Brent. That make sense, since the character is explicitly grounded in realism, as Gervais based him on multiple figures from his past.

"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," Gervais wrote on Facebook. "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." Gervais added that he never saw the guy again, but as he'd tell the story over the years to various people, he developed this boss into a character and impersonated his voice. "He was the very first Brent I can remember. There have been many since."

Ricky Gervais was a would-be synth-pop superstar

Ricky Gervais landed his big break in television in 1998, when he was hired as a writer for the English comedy series the 11 O'Clock Show. He was something of a late bloomer, as he was almost 40 when he got that first writing job. According to People, Gervais spent many years earning a living at other things. For example, he worked at a corporate job (which would directly inspire his opus, The Office), but the seeds of his rightful path as an entertainer had been planted nearly two decades earlier.

In June 1982, according to Time, Gervais and college friend Bill Macrae formed Seona Dancing, a synth-driven New Wave / New Romance pop duo in the vein of Spandau Ballet or A Flock of Seagulls. Gervais sang and Macrae played keyboards on Seona Dancing's scant recorded output of two singles, "More to Lose" and "Bitter Heart," which peaked at #79 on the U.K. pop chart. The duo split up in 1984.

Gervais also played a small role in developing Britpop, the early 1990s England-based alternative rock movement that made stars out of Oasis and Blur. One of the biggest Britpop bands was Suede, and Ricky Gervais managed them, leaving the gig right before their popularity exploded, according to Far Out.

Here's the one Golden Globes quip Ricky Gervais 'regrets'

For lovers of snark and haters of self-congratulatory movie stars, the Golden Globes are the most anticipated night of the entertainment year — if Ricky Gervais is hosting. Gervais' Golden Globe Awards (in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016, and 2020) were rollicking, envelope-pushing affairs, because Gervais weaponized his trademark caustic wit to pointedly and thoroughly savage celebrities right to their faces. For example, in 2016 he referred to presenter Matt Damon as "the only person that Ben Affleck hasn't been unfaithful to," and in 2010 said, "I like a drink as much as the next man, unless the next man is Mel Gibson" before introducing the movie star and recovering alcoholic.

Gervais appears outwardly unrepentant for his roasts, but he does regret one of them, an introduction of presenters Tom Hanks and Tim Allen at the 2011 Globes. "What can I say about our next two presenters? The first is an actor, producer, writer, and director whose movies have grossed over $3.5 billion at the box office. He's won two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes," Gervais went on. "The other is Tim Allen."

"I have nothing against Tim Allen," Gervais told The Hollywood Reporter in 2020, admitting "regret" over the bit. "So even though there's no malice and I can justify it comedically and everyone laughed, I didn't want Tim Allen to think, 'Oh, that was written for me. Why me?' Well, because you were standing next to Tom Hanks."

Ricky Gervais doesn't believe in marriage (but he does believe in love)

As one of the most famous names in comedy in both the U.K., and the U.S., Ricky Gervais is a huge movie and TV star. He's well-known and wealthy, sure, but he doesn't have one of those other dubious spoils of fame: a short-lived Hollywood marriage and a string of exes. Technically, that's in part because Gervais has never actually walked down the aisle with another, and it's on account of his views on religion. "Don't see the point," he told the The Sunday Times. "There's no point in us having an actual ceremony before the eyes of God because there is no God."

The other part of the "us" to which he referred is Jane Fallon, a TV producer and bestselling novelist. Gervais and Fallon have been a couple since attending college in London together in the early 1980s, according to People, and so they've been happily partnered for nearly 40 years, as of this writing. "We are married for all intents and purposes, everything's shared and actually our fake marriage has lasted longer than a real one," Gervais quipped to The Times.

Why isn't Ricky Gervais in more movies?

Ricky Gervais has created and acted in a lot of episodic television, but fewer than a dozen major movies. He's very particular about big-screen projects. According to the Irish Examiner, Gervais turned down the chance to play butler Rémy Jean in the hugely successful The Da Vinci Code, because of a personal peccadillo. "The number of times I've sat down for a great film by a great director and a British actor pops up and ruins it for me." Gervais also passed on Al Pacino's 2004 adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. "I don't love Shakespeare, I don't know if I'd be any good at it," he told DVD Review. Around the same time, he passed on a Mission Impossible sequel in favor of the ensemble comedy For Your Consideration and also a part in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. "I didn't really fancy sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles for nine weeks for two minutes on screen," Gervais told the Daily Mail.

There's also one significant television project that Gervais declined: After Steve Carell left the American version of The Office, producers floated the idea of Gervais replacing him, reprising his role of David Brent from the original British version of the show. "Why would I get up at 6 a.m. five days a week for seven years when I can hire someone else to do that and still get my syndication money?" Gervais told Vulture.

Space was not the place for Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais is a sitcom star and a stand-up comedian, although he took the opposite trajectory of other double threat predecessors. Whereas fellow funny folk Roseanne Barr, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bernie Mac rose to the stop of stand-up comedy and then got a network comedy, Gervais waited until after The Office and Extras made him famous before he got up on the stage to tell jokes. He came late to live comedy, releasing his first special, Out of England at age 47 in 2008. Nevertheless, that instantly made him one of the best-known comics working in the English language, and with that status came some big opportunities.

"I was offered one of these things that you go up into space for 15 minutes," Gervais said on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon"And it was like a group of billionaires and they offered me the chance to be the first comedian to do a stand-up show in space." Gervais declined the offer, reasoning that the space tourists who'd paid a fortune to be on that short space flight didn't do that to hear him crack a few jokes. "They can watch me on YouTube!" he joked. 

There are two passion projects Ricky Gervais never made

After breaking out big with The Office and making a lot of TV specials, Ricky Gervais returned to regular episodic television in 2005 with the BBC / HBO comedy Extras. That show came together relatively quickly, hitting the air two years after the end of The Office, and only after some other projects Gervais and collaborator Stephen Merchant conceived earlier fell by the wayside. "One was about community service workers and that was called The Black Sheep of Garstang Park," Gervais told DVD Review. He wanted it to be a modern update of the 1980s British construction worker sitcom Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, but when that show was revived, making Garstang Park felt "pointless" to Gervais and Merchant.

In that same era, Gervais thought hard about making a film called Man at the Pru, set in a sleepy beach town in 1970 and about a bunch of people in their twenties "mucking around and wasting their lives" when not working for an insurance company.

Ricky Gervais: Feud Master

As made clear via his many Golden Globe Awards hosting jobs that turned into large-scale roasts of Hollywood, Ricky Gervais can get a bit hostile and vitriolic with his words. He's said some mean things and hurt some feelings, and as a result, engaged in numerous feuds with other famous people.

Back in 2009, James Corden portrayed Gervais in a sketch on the comedy show Horne and Corden. Ever since, Gervais has apparently sought revenge, according to The Sun. Following Corden bombing with Harvey Weinstein jokes at a Hollywood gala, Gervais said on Radio Andy that Corden simply "didn't do it well enough." One of Gervais' most savage jokes at the 2020 Golden Globes was at Corden's expense: "The world got to see James Corden as a fat pu**y. He was also in the movie Cats, but no one saw that."

In a 2011 stand-up special, Gervais even went after Susan Boyle, the regular person who became an international singing sensation after delivering a stunning rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" on Britain's Got Talent. "I don't think she'd be where she is today if it wasn't for the fact that she looked like such a f***ing [very offensive British slang word used to describe a person with Down syndrome]," he quipped, according to E!. Boyle fought back in The Sun, saying that "he's the one with the problem, not me," adding that Gervais is "a talented man, but he's wasted himself with those comments."

Did Ricky Gervais have a falling out with Stephen Merchant?

Ricky Gervais used to be half of a comedy braintrust, creating The Office, Extras and Life's Too Short with Stephen Merchant, who he met when they both worked in radio station in 1997, per The Sun. Like Gervais, Merchant has also carved out a solo career as an actor, notably with roles in Logan and Jojo Rabbit. Despite such a fruitful partnership, the duo haven't worked together in nearly a decade, and when Merchant didn't contribute to Gervais' 2016 The Office spinoff movie David Brent: Life on the Road, it prompted rumors of discord or an official split. Gervais told NME that he doesn't respond to such chatter "because it annoys" Merchant, adding that he's "always been doing [his] own thing" and that the professional distance was "not a divorce thing."

In 2018, Merchant said during an Oxford Union chat that he and Gervais had been "pulled in different directions creatively," chiefly that his former partner "wants to perform in stuff he does, and ... I'm quite happy for neither of us to perform and to let other people perform." Things may not be no civil, however. In 2020, in film writer James King's Twitter thread about the hoariest screen cliches, Merchant suggested "Watching old home movies of dead child/wife = inability to move on." Fans interpreted that as a dig on Gervais' current series After Life, a dramedy about a widower unable to cope with the death of his wife.

Ricky Gervais brought podcasting to the masses

"Podcast" is a portmanteau of "pod" and "cast." The first part comes from the iPod, Apple's explosively popular early 2000s gadget that allowed for the digital downloading and playback of audio programming or broadcasts. According to International Podcast Day, former MTV veejay Adam Curry invented the format and created one of the first podcasts with the 2005 show Podshow. Another established TV star, Ricky Gervais, helped popularize this developing new form of media, with his stature lending it legitimacy and his popularity bringing in a high volume of listeners.

According to The Guardian, the comedic talk-fest The Ricky Gervais Show (co-hosted by Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington) was first offered up for download via that newspaper's online portal in December 2005. Set to be a finite miniseries of 12 episodes, The Ricky Gervais Show averaged more than 260,000 downloads a week in its first month, earning recognition from Guinness World Records as the most popular podcast of all time (as of early 2006). At the time, Gervais told the outlet that the show on the innovative medium "is the thing we have most fun with at the moment – more than Extras, The Office, or The Simpsons," the latter of which the comedian contributed to as a writer for one episode. 

What is Ricky Gervais' net worth?

Ricky Gervais has had a wildly successful career since the early 2000s. As an actor, he's starred in several big, worldwide blockbusters, including all three Night at the Museum movies, Stardust, a Spy Kids sequel, and Muppets Most Wanted. All told, Gervais films have generated $1.87 billion at the global box office. But it's his TV work that's been the most personally lucrative. He's the co-creator of the original version of The Office, which has been adapted and remade in numerous countries around the world, and Gervais gets a financial cut from all of them. The American version proved particularly beneficial. It ran for 200 episodes and became such a hit on Netflix that Peacock paid $500 million for the rights, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Gervais told GQ that he's made more money from the American Office "than anything else probably I've ever done," calling syndication "the gift that keeps on giving." 

All of these factors and more have made Gervais set for life. According to Celebrity Net Worth, he's got about $140 million in the bank. He tries to parlay some of his earnings into charities and causes for which he feels strongly. According to Look to the Stars, Gervais has given support, financial or otherwise, to more than two dozen organizations, many of them animal-centered including Wildlife Aid Foundation, PETA, and Humane Society International.