The Red Room Podcast Episode 22: "Ricky Gervais Doesn't Make Comedies. He Makes Tragedies That Are Funny"
Listen to Episode 22 of The Red Room Podcast:
This week's 30 minute discussion is about Ricky Gervais and the build up to his second Golden Globes hosting appearance where he was excoriated in the press one year ago for his aggressive treatment of the hollywood sacred cow society. And this weekend he's going to do it again. Ricky's schtick at the Golden Globes became almost legendary but it has deep roots in his earliest comedy The Office, originally aired on the BBC and progressed into Extras on HBO.
For those who have not seen the original British version of The Office, do yourselves a favor and go buy complete set or rent them from your local library. It is composed of 12 30 minutes episodes and a 60 minute Christmas Special. Forget about the six seasons of the American version because Ricky and his writing partner Stephen Merchant move David Brent's character light years from the first to the last episode as a human and for most of the ride, it's a cringe-through-laughter train ride in a mid-level paper manufacturer where apparently anyone can achieve a level of power if they are ambitious enough to act the part. And let's be honest, who hasn't come across someone professionally where you wonder How in the hell did this person ever become a manager of people?
But something happens around the last couple episodes and definitely in the Special of the Office. It turns tragic. The classic Greek view of tragedy is very different from the one the local news reporters in your city use. In Ancient Greece, tragedy referred to a drama in which people suffer with the understanding that suffering is a normal and expected part of living a mortal life and that becoming a good citizen means identifying with the suffering of others through both pity and terror. Pity in this sense means you have compassion for the one suffering and the terror means you are identifying with the person suffering as if they were your own self.
At the end of the office, if you don't view David Brent's downfall and attempt at rebirth with pity and terror, you may want to seek out psychological counsel. This is a very human story. It's not slapstick for stupid's sake. Gervais is opening a window to human suffering and then slamming it shut to the sound of laughter.
Fast forward to Andy Millman and you start with the lowest form of profession in the dramatic enterprise--the Extra actor, the stand in, the person who says nothing and does nothing, the human prop, the breathing facade. But the cast away is also a man who, unlike David Brent, isn't trying to be something he's not--he's trying to become what he is--an actor and artist with a vision and a desire to express it to the world.
Same setup as The Office with Extras. Two seasons. Twelve episodes. One Special. We watch as Andy's dreams come true and then turn to excrement as he realizes the compromises he must make artistically to get to the goal of success he's set for himself end up destroying the very art he set out to create. Like Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, by the time he gets his prized Marlin back to shore, the sharks have picked its bones clean. The final breakdown/through in the Special of Extras should bring any artist worth their salt to tears as Millman sees the jewel in his life that really matters. The hunger is always more potent than the meal and the Extras Special should leave no misunderstanding about where Gervais sees fame in his priority list versus artistic integrity. The artist is a human being and human beings must ultimately be brought low for a real communion with life to take place.
Now watch the Golden Globes with new eyes. Gervais's role as host here is that of shaman bringing the audience, the honorees and we the public passage through this unholy communion of reality. Only his wafers and wine are strategically targeted comedy jabs aimed to deflate the images that PR reps and the Entertainment Paparazzi have worked so hard to establish, to make you believe that these famous actors are somehow above the actual living of life as human beings. They aren't and Ricky Gervais has continually let the air out of his own bag with laughter and pity and terror and now let him go forth and do the same to Hollywood one more time.