âI bet God has a massive cockâ?, blurts Ricky Gervais in his familiar guise as the controversy-courting co-creator of Lifeâs Too Short, Extras and The Office.
Weâre at the Bafta launch of his brand new Channel 4 comedy pilot, Derek, and somehow conversation has turned to celestial penes. Hardly a shock; this is just the sort of heckle-raising, Daily Mail-bating we have come to expect from a man who encouraged us to laugh at a dwarf in a bin.
But it was with some surprise â and a little disappointment – that we found Gervais talking about his debut directorial effort as a show which is âall about kindnessâ?.
The titular character – played by Gervais â is a sweet 49-year-old carer of elderly folk. He is a selfless, honest man whose interests lie in the latest episode of Deal Or No Deal and rhubarb crumble. Instantly likeable, Derek is a total innocent; a child-like character whose warmth and generosity knows no bounds and whose gnashing underbite hints at insecurities which only serve to endear us further.
Unlike Gervais former comic creations David Brent and Andy Millman, this man is dedicated purely to the giving happiness to residents of the care home where he works and the colleagues he is so fond of. âThereâs no real veil of ironyâ?, Gervais explains. âThereâs nothing more fun than playing a delusional characterâ¦but thereâs been enough of it. I just want to do normal people again. Derek has no ego; he knows what he likes, he does everything with passion and heâs just better than us. Heâs such a sweet character.â?
And what if nobody likes the show? âThe thing isâ¦ I donât careâ?, the multi award-winner guffaws proving that his own ego is very much intact.
Derek Noakes was first introduced to the world in Gervaisâ stand-up material as âan excuse to see the world differentlyâ? and only recently evolved into a fully functional TV character â complete with gaudy cardigan â on the insistence of Channel 4âs head of comedy, Shane Allen.
Noakes may be an altogether easier Gervais-creation to take to your bosom – his startling self-awareness and penchant for the simple things in life certainly make the hand-goblingly awkward moments we have come to expect of Gervais material all the more bearable â but he is sure to raise a few eyebrows.
At first (and second) glance, Derek appears to have a learning difficulty of some kind. But Gervais (particularly in his post âmongâ-gate) is quick to claim he ânever thought of him as disabledâ?. âHeâs not that brightâ?, he adds. âBut heâs cleverer than Baldrick. Heâs cleverer than Father Dougal, and he certainly hasnât got as big a problem as Mr f***ing Bean.â?
Derek was the product of no overnight epiphany. This man was alive and kicking in Gervais grey matter long before Brent performed THAT dance routine and the tenderness with which he has been brought to life is clear. But does this mean he doesnât expect any media-bashing for the character who watches âHamster On A Pianoâ? on repeat?
âIâd be confused if I didnâtâ?, he admits. âBut every week itâs been the end of my career – for the last 20 years! The first review of The Office read âsummer stinkerâ? so I arrived with a backlash. But if you start making things for awards or the public, you donât get anywhereâ¦I make them for me.â?
This may be Gervaisâ first solo directorial venture into the world of sitcom, but the on-screen limelight is shared with co-stars Karl Pilkington (complete with comedy wig), Kerry Godliman and David Earl.
Pilkington puts in a surprisingly impressive performance as beleaguered caretaker Douglas, a part which provided the Idiot Abroad star with his first âdramaticâ? TV role. Speaking of his long-time friend, Gervais says: âI knew if he did what I said itâd be great. Itâs written for him and some of the things Iâve written for him to sayâ¦he could well say.â?
So far Derek stands as a one-off special for Channel 4, but a series is ready and waiting should the call come. Ricky is also currently busy writing the script for Flanimals and has another series about an atheist who dies and ends up in heaven in the making (is that how we got onto the Almightyâs genitalia?). He recently nailed Pilkington into another series of round-the-world shenanigans which will involve a dwarf in a bike basket. Things are going from better to best ever for the friends, so could the next thing be a big screen collaboration between Gervais and KP?
âIf it was about a little bald Manc twat who said stupid fucking things, he stands a hell of a chance.â?
Derek will air on April 12 on Channel 4.