“Tell people to watch this film before they die!”
Those were Ricky Gervais’ final words at the conclusion of our conversation that was meant to be about his new flick, “David Brent: Life on the Road,” a spinoff from his 2001 BBC series “The Office.”
As with so much these days, however, bigger issues took hold.
“I wasn’t political six months ago, and now there’s nothing else in the world but politics,” the Brit, 55, admitted. “I honestly haven’t felt this way since I was 16 and wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, and protesting against nuclear weapons.”
Even talk about the film’s title character instantly circles back to Trump’s America and the world of post-truth.
The buffoonish Brent of the TV series appears softened in the feature film, possibly because of the new reality in which he and we inhabit.
“The world has changed, it’s harsher,” Gervais says. “The bullies are out now, they’re ruling. Compassion is a weakness. … The more people shout that something’s true, it becomes true. … It’s like there is a new pride in bullying. And it’s odd.”
The star manages to discuss these perils of the world with an uncanny mix of despair and bemusement, with his signature cackle thrown around to lift what could, in another circumstance, be a rather bleak exchange.
It’s subject matter he says won’t crop up too much in his upcoming stand-up tour, “Humanity,” his first in seven years.
“I have a voice, I mention it,” he says. “But I keep it nonpolitical because, you know, I’ve always thought funny shouldn’t be political. … It’s an intellectual pursuit, and as soon as you come down on one side, you’re rallying, you know? … [The show] is angry in a different way … I suppose the joke is me playing on that ranting about the world from a most privileged position.”
The show will make a stop in New York in May, a city he says is “possibly my favorite place in the world.”
Though based in London, he and author Jane Fallon, his girlfriend of more than 30 years, own an apartment on the Upper East Side, close to Central Park.
“We walk to the park maybe twice a day to cuddle other people’s dogs,” Gervais says. “It’s lovely. Jane said the best thing about me being famous, is that I can just go up to dogs … [and their owners] go, ‘Oh, he’s not mental, he’s off the telly.’”
For a man with such a sharp focus on the world’s troubling realities — he’s a passionate animal welfare activist and proud advocate for science — the star is comfortingly optimistic that we’re all going to be OK.
“I’m hoping this is a blip, that the truth will out, you know? I think facts will win in the end,” he says. “I think it’s a wake-up call, really.”
STREAMING: “David Brent: Life on the Road” is now available on Netflix.