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Question: Will Barack Obama usher in a new generation of smart comedians?

Ricky Gervais:    Sort out Iraq, economy, smart comedians.  Put that number 3, smart comedians.  It’s always been there.  There’s always been clever comedy and dumb comedy. 

And then, when one seems to be the trend, something else comes along. There’s always an antidote to it.  So it’s cyclic and it’s been the same forever, I think.  There’s always dumb comedy.  There’s always smart comedy. 

Dumb comedy is, by definition, more popular, I think, because there are more dumb people in the world than smart people, which is good.  That’s the way it should be.  Otherwise, there’d be no reason to be a comedian.  But no, I don’t know.  I don’t know if that’s true.     

Question: Is comedy evolving?

Ricky Gervais:    Well, things are evolving.  But the important thing is, they were nailed a hundred years ago by Laurel and Hardy.  As I say, character, relationship, empathy.  There has to be sweetness.  There has to be precarious.  And they did all that to a great level; needs to be done. 

And they’re a big influence on me.  And they’re funny.  They got funny bones, which is important, funny lines.  And nowhere near as important as funny bones. 

I can see a comedian and he could do the best one liners in the world and I can leave at any point.  Or I could say, “Listen.  I tell you what.  You don’t need to be in it, just give me the lines on paper and I’ll get as much out of it by just reading it, these dots on paper.” 

Whereas, if you see someone shamble out; just to look at Oliver Hardy makes me smile and it makes me cry and I want to hug him.  And it’s never really been improved upon. 

And you need to stand on eye, on anything particularly, anything narrative. 

In “The Office,” there was one Ollie, Tim, and loads of Stans. He was with this idiot, which we stole.  I mean, I stole that, completely look in the camera.

And then, in “Extras,” there was a one Ollie, which was me.  I played the straight man, really, and I was surrounded by idiots. Yeah, they pretty much gave me the blueprint for comedy. 

And then, my favorite people who’ve taken that on, Woody Allen, The Simpsons, Christopher Guest.  And I want to be in that gang.  I want to be in the gang of comedy plus.  I want to be in the gang; think funny first, but they also do it with heart and they make things resonate.

I want to hug Homer.  It’s a family unit around a flawed father who’s not very good but he’s doing his best; and at the end of the day, he loves his family.  He can’t do it without them.  He’s dependent on them.  And that’s that’s really sweet. 

Was it [George W.] Bush that said American families need to be more like the Waltons and less like The Simpsons?  I totally disagree.

Recorded Feb 25, 2009. 

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, July 23 2011


The Future of Comedy

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