At 5:15 tonight, I found myself standing outside the Museum of Television and Radio waiting for three people.
One was my lovely wife, Katie.
One was Jen Chung, editor and co-founder of Gothamist.
One was Adam Kuban, author and founder of Slice, the only pizza blog I will ever read.
This seemingly random meeting was spawned by somewhat random chances. Originally, Katie had asked that I pick up two extra tickets for coworkers of hers that wanted to go, and of course could not make it. After trying in vain to find someone at work who watches the Office, I noticed a post from Jen about the event at the MTR. I took a shot in the dark, and somehow it worked out. Adam came along for the ride.
Order of arrival was Adam, Jen, and Katie. Adam and Jen offered to go hold seats for us, which was quite noble and kind. The screening was quite packed by 6:20 (the main auditorium, plus three closed circuit rooms, were sold out), and it’s definitely a different experience watching The Office in a room full of people. The uncomfortable scenes get less uncomfortable, and it’s easier to laugh at things. This is not a bad thing.
After the screening, Ricky sat down for the Q&A, which mostly went off without a hitch. My recap follows, although it should be noted that if you haven’t seen the special yet, there may be some mild spoilers. Alternately, Adam was sneaky enough to record the thing on his camera, and while it’s a bit muffled in some portions, you can grab the MP3 from me (64kbps VBR, 33:04, 8.1 MB) and certainly make out some parts I didn’t transcribe.
I’m sure Jen will have her recap up soon as well. Jen has her write-up and a picture posted.
Regarding The Creative Process
Each entire season was written in one block, and re-edited to add seeds to ideas they came up with later, before they shot anything. Casting lasted a year, and the fact that the show seems so real (and not scripted) is a testament to the actors in the program.
Lots of gags were thrown out over the years due to a desire to maintain realism. In terms of a moral balance, Ricky feels that the bad outweighs the good, but as anyone who sees the Special can attest to, he who laughs last does indeed laugh the longest.
One of the hardest points, apparently, was that they had to be “hyper-real”, and couldn’t cheat on some things like regular documentaries do.
The Slough Tourism Board apparently tried to convince the BBC that “Slough has really changed a lot” before the second season started taping; Ricky and Stephen refused to bend the script at all, unsurprisingly.
Regarding Other Characters On The Office
Gareth was originally going to be a large, beefy military type, and Tim was originally going to be a large, Norm-from-Cheers style character. Both characters were somewhat rewritten when Mackenzie and Martin (respectively) came in for the parts.
The only character that Ricky did not write – and it ended up being his favorite – was that of Keith. Ewan apparently ad libbed the deadpan delivery and they just ended up writing more and more for him.
Gareth’s haircut was given to him entirely to make him look like a prat. Mackenzie, unfortunately, got married a little too close to the end of filming the second season, and was married with that haircut. Poor guy.
The character of Carol (seen only in the special) had to be worked on a lot, because in the words of Stephen Merchant, “Who would go out with a fat git like you, Gervais?” In terms of the morning after, Ricky could only guess that she called and said “Sorry, I was on drugs.”
Regarding The US Version Of The Office
Ricky confessed to not being terribly involved in the US version. This is due to part of what his original plan for The Office was – he wanted people to be able to go “That’s my office!” in the UK. Since he hasn’t worked in an office in the US, he admits he doesn’t know what he would need to input to make that happen here.
He said the pilot is quite good, and it’s a very close remake to the UK version – but is quickly diverging into their own story lines. He says the US version is for the 249,000,000 people who *didn’t* see the original version and would be viewing it “without prejudice”.
Ricky is glad that they did not name the boss David Brent, but he did not specifically ask for them to change it. It would have been too confusing, apparently.
And the answer to the question we were all wondering: The US equivilent of Slough is Scranton, PA. So completely spot on…
Regarding His Next Project
The next Merchant/Gervais project is known as Extra. The main character – and I’m not clear on whether or not it would be played by Gervais – is an extra who thinks he should be a leading actor. He is very unlike David Brent – very self-aware and angry, like a “dissatisfied Socrates”. A misanthrope who cna’t keep his mouth shut, he is apparently angry that De Niro is getting all his parts.
It won’t be a documentary-style ala The Office, but it will still be a very natural sort of comedy. Stephen Merchant is the only person from the Office team that will be coming along to Extra; it is currently planned through two six-episode seasons, and may stretch to three, but definitely not four.
Regarding His Influences
Laurel and Hardy was referenced a lot, and Ricky says all his influences have a lot of heart behind their comedy. “Heart first, comedy second” is a sort of personal motto, and I think it shows in his work.
Gervais also claims to be able to cry at both The Waltons and The Simpsons (which he called “the greatest comedy on TV”). He adds, “Maybe I’m a bit of a sissy.”
He truly enjoys working on television shows, and being part of the common conciousness. Being talked about the next day, or “making a date” to watch a show is a big deal for him.
Regarding The Longevity Of The Office
Season 2 was never meant to be the final end of the season – a special was always planned. However, the special is explicitly the end; it was always planned to be somewhat cinematic and “an event”.
Regarding Side Projects
Ricky still hasn’t watched himself on Alias yet, as he cannot fathom seeing himself “being cool”. He adds that in the scene where Victor Garber strangles him to death and then tells Sydney to get the defibrillator, he cracked up at least five seperate times at the word “defibrillator”, until Garber actually threatened to kill him if he blew another scene.
There are no plans to release a David Brent full length album, but he did enjoy writing the songs. He also revealed that a full band version of Free Love On The Free Love Freeway will be on the Office Special DVD, coming out this November in the US.
He also had a fantastic idea for a new reality TV show: You would gather all the “D-list” celebrities that have come to be through reality TV shows, you put them all in a house together for 10 weeks, and then when they come out, you tell them that you didn’t tape any of it.
Regarding People Who Confuse Him For David Brent
“People who think I’m the real David Brent are the same people who send wreaths to soap stars that die.”
So that was about it. I’d like to thank the MTR for being hospitible as always; to Jen and Adam – both complete sweethearts, two people I hope that I can get to know better – for making the evening even better; and to Ricky for being a good sport, even without giving autographs. And no thanks to the Crazy Microphone Woman, who screeched at one person to WAIT FOR THE MICROPHONE, even though he was perfectly audible to the entire audience.