With NBC’s The Office winding down to its final episodes, Ricky Gervais has taken the time to pen a revealing personal retrospective about his “little creation,” touching on the origins of his characters, their influences and the future of David Brent.
Discussing how he came up with the awkward, embarrassing and egotistical boss from hell, Gervais explains:
I created Brent in the early 90s and he was based on people I’d met throughout my adult life.
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 in the school holidays.
He was in his mid-thirties wearing a bad suit. His opening sentence was, “I don’t give sh—y jobs.” I just looked at him and nodded. He said, “If a good guy comes to me…” (he pointed at me to let me know he already knew I was a good guy), “and says I wanna work hard because I wanna better myself, then I will make that happen.” 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 forklift truck driving, but it was for work in a warehouse.) I never saw him again, but I used to do impressions of him as I told the anecdote over the years.
He was the very first Brent I can remember. There have been many since. Most of them have been on “The Apprentice.”
The award-winning comedian also touched on the mockumentary element of The Office, writing:
The fake documentary element was absolutely essential. It reminded us why everyone was acting the way they did. He heightened consequences, and above all, it made the audience connect. Brent being embarrassed is one thing, but as soon as he looked down the lens he brought us all into it. We felt his pain. And we liked it. Sort of. You could either laugh at him thinking, “What a prat. I’m glad I’m not like that,” and feel good about yourself. Or you could be saying, “Oh my God. I do that.” And realise you’re not the only one. And so feel good about yourself. It’s a theory.
Gervais, who created the BBC’s now iconic comedy alongside Stephen Merchant, broke down the development of Michael Scott:
Michael Scott had to be made into a slightly nicer guy, with a rosier outlook on life. He could still be childish and insecure, and even a bore, but he couldn’t be too mean. The irony is of course that I think David Brent’s dark descent and eventual redemption made him all the more compelling. But I think that’s a lot more palatable in Britain for the reasons already stated. Brits almost expect doom and gloom – so to start off that way but then have a happy ending is an unexpected joy.
Network America has to give people a reason to like you, not just a reason to watch you. In Britain we stop watching things like Big Brother when the villain is evicted. We don’t want to watch a bunch of idiots having a good time. We want them to be as miserable as us. America rewards up-front, on-your-sleeve niceness. A perceived wicked streak is somewhat frowned upon. It proved to be a good decision and NBC’s “The Office” is without doubt the most successful remake of a British sitcom for at least thirty years. I couldn’t be prouder of its success but I was keen for it to come to an end as all good things should.
This is only a small sampling of what Gervais had to say. Read his full retrospective at WSJ.