Russell Brand And Ricky Gervais Are Just What Your Brain Needs

 

Listening to Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais discuss everything from ‘The Office’ to God and atheism is exactly what your stay-at-home self needs right now.

It’s day 2,346 of staying home, and if you’re like me, you’ve streamed yourself into a coma. I actually watched the John Gotti biopic starring John Travolta the other day, that’s how bad it’s getting (It wasn’t as bad as you’d think).

If your brain and soul are hungry for something deeper, two surly, foul-mouthed British comedians are here to the rescue. In the most recent episode of his podcast “Under the Skin,” comedian Russell Brand interviews fellow British comedy luminary Ricky Gervais. I became a fan of Brand’s podcast after his two amazing conversations with Jordan Peterson, both of which also provide excellent intellectual calisthenics.

The hour-long episode covers everything from Gervais’s love for animals, their narcissism, and the nuances of God, spirituality, and religion. While you may not agree with either, seeing these two exceptionally bright, self-effacing, piss-and-vinegar comedians exchanging barbs and wisdom is just the mental stimulation you need today. Their own search for the truth might even prompt the sort of self-reflection we all could use at this time. Here’s a sneak preview.

On Class and (Dis)Respect for Authority

Brand and Gervais are millionaires many times over and enjoy even greater fame in Britain than in the United States. Still, neither came from wealth or acclaim. Brand was an only child raised by a single mom. Gervais’ signature edgy humor is inextricably tied to growing up in the working class. Knowing where they stand in society can be tricky.

As Gervais explains, “We’re court jesters — we have to be court jesters. We have to have low status. We’re in the mud with all the other peasants, teasing the king. … But we have to keep our low status somehow, I think. I feel I want to.”

On Narcissism and Reality TV Culture

Gervais is the creator of the original “The Office” series, and Brand talks about feeling sorry for his character, David Brent. The pair both see him as a sad figure, engaged in ever more absurd acts in order to reach a place of acceptance or worth. Compared to our reality TV culture nowadays, this character isn’t even absurd anymore.

s Gervais jokes, “Big Brother” contestants make deals with the producers to get on the show. “‘Let me in there, and I’ll start a fight and take my clothes off.’” It facilitates the emotional destruction of people who just want to be loved — and the public eats it up. As Brand puts it, “There’s been a glorification of idiocy in culture.”

Gervais laments the toll this takes on fame-seekers. “This obsession with seeing normal people destroy themselves. … These people keep going back to fame and going, ‘Do you love me yet?’ No, they don’t love you, they want you to fail!”

On God, Spirituality, and Atheism

Gervais is a well-known atheist. While both men have substantial criticism for organized religion, Brand’s travels through addiction and mental illness have given him a firm belief in some kind of god and a sense of interconnectedness. Continue reading

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Rediscovering Ricky Gervais’s hilarious BBC comedy ‘Extras’

The show is filled with squirm-inducing humiliation and VIP cameos.

In the early days of Netflix streaming, not so long after it graduated from mailbox DVD delivery (if you remember that, you old fossil, you), its catalog was largely a sparse and obscure hodgepodge of films and TV series either long out of date or raked in from somewhere English-speaking but without American mass-market licensing fees.

I guess that’s how my wife and I found “Extras,” British comedian Ricky Gervais’s bargain-basement BBC follow-up series to “The Office,” about a pair of failed actors in their 40s doing background work, their dreams of fame withered and limp. Filled with A-list cameos — Orlando Bloom, Samuel L. Jackson, Sir Ian McKellen, Kate Winslet, all playing themselves against Gervais and costar Ashley Jensen’s pathetic overtures — “Extras” is backstage comedy played as theater of the absurd. Just one season was available on Netflix when we watched it all those years ago, which was just as well given its squirm-inducing level of humiliation comedy. Just last week, newly shut in, we found there was another whole season and dived in. Continue reading