Accounting for time difference and a little bit of cheating, I want to wish The Office a happy 10th anniversary! Thanks Ricky and Stephen for being true to your own sense of what is funny and what is not! For breaking path and redefining what is funny! It will definitely be one of the “classics” that I remember.
Check out this very insightful UK Sun article, “Early audiences hated the fact there were no jokes in The Office but we wouldn’t allow the BBC to change it, Says Ricky Gervais“.
Watch my video interview of Ricky in this 2010 Banff World TV Festival report with his funny award acceptance speech.
Here is an excerpt from “Early audiences“,
“Ricky, 50, is still fond of his iconic comedy creation but admits growing Brent’s trademark goatee for these pictures made him instantly recognisable.
He said: “It feels good to be Brent again – although I left the facial hair to the last minute.
“I get spotted more when I’ve got it – it’s like people need that visual aid to work out where they know me from.
[…] “None of my characters have been as much fun to play as David Brent. People say he was a b****** and the ‘boss from hell’, but he wasn’t. He was just a twit.
“He was a man whose biggest mistake was confusing popularity with respect.”
When The Office first aired on BBC2 on July 9 2001, it was panned by several critics.
[…] He said: “The first series got the lowest BBC focus group score ever, joint bottom with women’s bowls.
“But we didn’t change a thing. We knew how good it was, but that doesn’t guarantee success.
“For us ‘success’ just meant getting our own way and having it turn out exactly as we wanted.
“It may still be unheard of in British TV to get left alone like we were as first-time directors.
“But we didn’t just pitch a script, we made a pilot. I mean – how do you describe David Brent in writing? ‘A man does a bad joke, touches his tie and looks at the camera?’ Brilliant!”
Once BBC executives had taken a look, Ricky remembers they still had reservations about the project.
[…] He said: “They called me and co-writer Steve Merchant in for a meeting. I said, ‘We’re going to write and direct it, I’m going to play the boss and there’ll be no famous actors in it’.
“After we came out, Steve said, ‘Rick, in future can I do the talking at these things?’
“Steve was terrified he’d end up living in his car after that meeting.
“But it worked because I wasn’t bluffing. I was a bit of a critic – I’d watched telly for 30 years thinking, ‘I could do better’.
“Sooner or later you have to put your money where your mouth is.””
“Well the first episode of series 1 aired at 9.30pm on a Monday night. 9th July, 2001.
Obviously the concept existed some time before that. The BBC pilot was shot in January 2000, and we shot our own pilot two years before that.
I had David Brent as a character from about 1995 I’d say. (The first “sketch” I had for him was basically the scene where he interviews his new secretary in episode 5.)
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 fork-lift truck driver is based on an interview I had when I was 17 at a temp agency in the school holidays. His opening sentence was, “I don’t give shitty jobs.” I just looked at him and nodded. He said, “If a good guy comes to me… (points) etc.”
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.)
Gareth is based on the kid I went to school with who I talk about in most of my stand-up shows, and Tim is based on a guy I used to work with mixed with Norm from Cheers, a little Chandler and a touch of Oliver Hardy.
My favourite poem from about the age of 14 was Slough by John Betjeman.
These are my fond anniversary memories. They are free.”
July 19,2011 update:
Written by Ricky himself, “Life’s Too Short to Go With the Flow”