Some say he is a genius of our time, gifted with the ability to merge comedy and tragedy seamlessly along their invisible divide. Others call him a demented comedy sadist who gets his kicks from making people weep into their scatter cushions with his exploitation of misery, grief, and mental unwellness.
Whatever the case may be, here are 7 Times Ricky Gervias Tried to Make Us Cry… the cheeky scamp.
Death Is A Happy Place, The Invention of Lying – 2009
Ricky Dene Gervais attempted to attack our waterworks with this nugget of thinly-veiled anti-Christian Atheist propaganda in his first attempt at movie writing. In one of the pivotal scenes, Gervais’ character, Mark Bellison, tells his dying mum as he’s sat at her hospital bedside: “there’s not an eternity of nothingness after you die … you go to your favourite place in the world, and everyone you’ve ever loved and who’s ever loved you will be there.” On paper, it’s an incredibly sweet moment that should have the hardest brutes around reaching for the tissue (not like that, you sicko). And if it wasn’t for the CBBs-style acting out of facial expressions, the bobbledehoy ‘Hollywood comedy’ production with the aim of creating the next Wayne’s World or Yes Man, or the fact that Gervias looks like a fish out of water or a legless dog in water on the big screen, this scene might’ve been moving… to someone. However, it is very difficult to get passed the genuinely uncomfortable mismatching of Gervais and Jennifer Garner, or the almost complete holes in the concept – why does not being able to lie equate to everyone saying absolutely everything they are thinking in any given situation? That’s just one example of how shit this film is.
Andy Millman’s Big Brother Speech, Extras Xmas Special – 2007
Gervais turns his acerbic social commentary on celebrity culture in this emotive scene from the The Extra Special Series Finale. The set up: his ego has inflated to an absolutely cuntish magnitude; he’s turned his back on his best friend Maggie who is struggling in her life while he lords it up in his vacuous celebrity world; he’s quit When the Whistle Blows – the show that gave him the fame he lusted after, only to decide it is the wrong fame… what an absolute prick. Only in the Big Brother house does Millman realise the error of his ways, delivering a tear-jerking speech about the trappings of stardom, and a frank and tearful apology to poor old Maggie who is sat watching at home – “you’re my best friend… you’re my only friend!” The quality of an actor can be determined by how well they can cry, and this scene is one of Gervais’ best crying scenes to date.
Tim and Dawn’s Big Pay Off, The Office Xmas Special Pt. 2 – 2003
The piper of pain usually focuses on our propensity to sympathise with his characters’ grief and anguish to get us bawling, but in this scene he takes the opposite route. A Truly magical coming together of two beloved characters who had will-they-won’t-they’d for two seasons or five telly years, Tim and Dawn finally get it on in an ideally cathartic Christmas plot line. Dawn leaves the Wernham Hogg Christmas party with her neanderthal fiance, seemingly to never return again… Until she opens Tim’s secret Santa gift in the back of the cab – he only went and bought her a bloody art set and attached a note saying “never give up” (which, as far as I’m aware, is not a reference to John Cena). That moment is the true tear-jerker in this excellent episode of one of the greatest sitcoms to ever grace our British screens. And genuine catharsis is completed as Dawn dumps old knuckle dragger and arrives back at the party to give Tim the kiss that everyone had been waiting for for those five long telly years – such a powerful electricity is forged between them that Tim looks like he’s going to vom! Awww…
Joan’s Death, Derek – 2012
“Joan won £10… on a scratch card!” Derek excitedly announces as he bounds into the room – but it doesn’t matter, she’s dead. In the talking head shot of Derek speaking after the death of his favourite resident at Broad Hill nursing home, he divulges that “she said ‘kindness is magic, Derek’ … she said ‘it’s more important to be kind than clever or good-looking'”. Aside from Joan’s questionable assertion, the real issue with this Gervaisean weep-a-thon is it’s exploitation. I don’t think Derek is an exercise in mocking disabled people like many people have suggested (quite angrily) – a thing which Gervais has previous in – but it is an exercise in exploiting people’s emotions for the sake of accolades. In Extras, some seven years prior, Gervais touches upon the notion (via the mouthpiece of Kate Winslet) that “you are guaranteed an Oscar of you play a mental”. Gervais has explicitly denied that Derek Noakes is disabled in any way, claiming instead that he is just “naive and gullible”. Yet, in his 2001 Edinburgh Fringe show, Rubbernecker, a Derek-like character appears as Gervais mimics the autograph hunters who so painfully blight his life – “a gaggle of mongs” is what he collectively names them. In S1, E4 of Derek, Derek tries to sell some autographs to raise money for something or other – this is 100% Gervais calling back to the time he definitely said “all people like Derek are mongs – aka disabled people”. Ultimately, I have a real problem with someone overtly trying to manipulate my emotions – and that is where Derek falls flat on it’s face.
David Brent is Made Redundant, The Office S2, E6 – 2002
In the season finale of Gervais and Merchant’s raison d’etre, we are introduced to what would become a common trope for Gervais’ acting work – the weepy-cry-blub (which is the technical term, I’m quite certain). Brent’s bosses at Wernham Hogg have finally had enough of his delusional outlook on office management and he is rightfully given the boot with an overly generous redundancy package. The most important aspect of this much analysed scene, is the excellent, patient storytelling as Brent’s mask of ‘chilled out entertainer’ is stripped away, revealing a desperate man whose lonely life is nothing without the office. It is the first time we see real sadness from Brent, which we can assume has been lurking somewhere just below his deluded self-identification the whole time, even if not known to him. This scene is fantastically acted by Gervais, and deserving of every award the show received in it’s wake. It is unfortunate that Gervais decided to try and milk that excellent moment for the rest of his writing career to date…
Wrapping Up Brent, Life On the Road – 2016
I don’t know what it is about Gervais and film writing, but he just doesn’t seem to be able to capture the magic of his telly stuff on the big screen. Life On the Road disappointingly bolsters that observation: it’s nice to watch and hour and a half of Brent, but the structure of the film is just weird – there seems to be an entire chunk of action missing between the band hating him for most of the film and then seeing them all in a bar sharing pints and laughing together near the end. Never explained. Odd. But there is a lovely sign-off to the whole Brent saga at the end of the film, with another of Brent’s talking heads:
“[Being a rock star on tour] that’s just something I enjoy doing – I can live without being a “success”. But, um… I couldn’t have lived without trying, and I did that, so… And everything works out, doesn’t it?! You think you want one thing along the way, and then you realise you needed something else. Life’s a struggle – with little beautiful surprises that make you wanna carry on through all the shit… till the next little beautiful surprise.”
You Drew On the Wallpaper, After Life – 2019
Horace Walpole said “The world is a comedy to those who think; a tragedy to those who feel” – whatever you think, whatever you feel, the divide between comedy and tragedy has never been more blurred in British ‘sitcom’ history than in After Life. That mother f*cker… I’m not even sure After Life is a comedy at all. If Derek was an exploitation of death of the elderly, After Life is an exploitation of true grief. it is a remarkably powerful show, and if having your heart broken every ten minutes by the sight of broken man remembering how broken he is in a groundhog day of heartbreak, then this show is for you – you big masochist. For me, the most heart rendering scene is when Gervais’ Tony Johnson is sat talking to his dementia-ridden dad. His dad suddenly remembers the time when Tony was seven and he drew on the wallpaper and tells his son to not worry about it because he’s got a spare roll of wallpaper in the shed. The combination of dad talking in the present tense and Tony talking in the long-gone past tense is utterly heartbreaking.
It’s difficult to see where Gervais could possibly go next in his ever-upping of the tear-inducing anti: with After Life, he has completed it mate!