Ricky Gervais’ accent makes it pretty clear he’s not American, but can you guess where the famous comedian comes from?
Ricky Gervais is British, and he starred in several critically acclaimed sitcoms in the UK, including the British version of The Office. He was born and raised in Berkshire but has French-Canadian ancestry on his father’s side.
Stick around to learn more about Gervais’ upbringing in Great Britain, and why he prefers British to American humor.
Growing Up British
Ricky Gervais was born in a suburb of Reading, Berkshire in 1961 and grew up with two brothers and one sister. He owes his unusual last name to his father Jerry Gervais, a French-Canadian who moved from Ontario to the UK during World War II.
His mother Eva was a housewife, while his father worked as a laborer and hod-carrier. Gervais was brought up on an estate in Reading and only realized that he came from a working-class family when “[he] got to university and everyone spoke like the Queen.”
Gervais was obsessed with animals from an early age, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when he decided to study biology at University College London. He changed his mind two weeks later and eventually graduated with a degree in philosophy.
It’s difficult to think of Gervais as anything else but British, but he considered seeking Canadian citizenship at one point. The Office star jokingly said he thought it would be useful “in war” and hoped he could get it automatically because his father is Canadian.
Ricky’s British Humor
Ricky Gervais got his break on the satirical late-night show The 11 O’Clock Show, which set the tone for the rest of his career. The role of David Brent on the British version of The Office quickly followed, and he went on to create and star in several successful sitcoms – including Extras, Derek, and After Life.
Gervais’ signature cynical sense of humor was present in all the shows he’s best known for, but it didn’t always sit well with the international audience. He hosted the Golden Globes on five separate occasions and polarized the audience each time since many people felt his jokes are mean-spirited and outrageous.
Gervais didn’t let this bother him and said that he tried to “play the outsider” and go “after pretension and hypocrisy”. His Time article on the difference between American and British humor perfectly captured his approach to hosting this award ceremony.
“[Americans] applaud ambition and openly reward success. Brits are more comfortable with life’s losers. We embrace the underdog until it’s no longer the underdog. We like to bring authority down a peg or two. Just for the hell of it,” wrote the comedian.
Gervais also said that the British are more inclined to use “sarcasm as a shield and a weapon” in everyday speech and “mercilessly take the p*** out of people”, whether they like them or not.
Despite the fact he’s best known for roles in British comedies, Gervais gave American movies a shot. He starred in the Night at the Museum franchise, appeared in Muppets Most Wanted, and led comedies Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying.
What About “The Office”?
Ricky Gervais obviously prefers British humor to American, but how does he feel about the US version of The Office?
Gervais always spoke highly of his American counterpart Steve Carell, but admitted not seeing much of the series because he didn’t have “the same emotional attachment to it.” He discussed the difference between two shows with Time and said he preferred David Brent to Michael Scott because they weren’t trying to make him too likable.
“We had to make Michael Scott a slightly nicer guy, with a rosier outlook to life. He could still be childish, and insecure, and even a bore, but he couldn’t be too mean… Network America has to give people a reason to like you not just a reason to watch you,” explained Gervais.