In an all-too-rare moment of idleness not long ago (Jan. 20, to be precise), I happened upon Piers Morgan Tonite on CNN and his hour-long interview with famed comedian, Ricky Gervais. (In Anglo-Saxony, we all pronounce the “s” at the end of his family name, which likely baffles the French, but so be it… no doubt, they didn’t want us to confuse him with the reknowned French yogurt by the same name…) Ricky apparently had some explaining to do after roasting, er, hosting the recent Golden Globe Awards. You’ll recall his knocks on Charlie Sheen, for example — promising the award show attendees an evening of heavy drinking and partying, or what the Two-and-a-Half-Men star ‘calls breakfast’… (which incidentally, given Chuck’s recent woes, where he had to go to the hospital for an aggravated hernia, which somehow ignited in the presence of a coke urn and six porn stars, etc., has taken on an even greater comedic twist… but “soit.”) Piers and Ricky shared a pint–perhaps more–and went back and forth in a delightful exchange, which revealed a very human side to the man, as well as his interviewer. As I listened to the exchange, however–aside from the good laughs and banter–what struck me was Ricky’s approach and perspective on comedy and what drives him. Specifically, what he values most and holds sacred are not dissimilar to what many of us in communications or in the vast world of creativity prize (or should at least respect!)…
Consider these exchanges, and note the parallels or message that should strike a chord with anyone in the business of creativity…
Ricky, on what he does:
“My purpose in what I do is to make people laugh… but… to do so on MY terms. It’s not a popularity contest. If people say, ‘make it more palatable; you’ll be more popular,’ great, but that’s not my joke then.”
The message that lieth within: speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from the head or heart on your terms and God will set you free. (Or at least you can sleep at night.) Deliver a message or “something creative” that isn’t prettied up and restrained and it’ll have a far greater impact. (Of course, this still raises the issue of where one draws the line, but you catch my drift…)
Ricky, on the Golden Globes:
“They hired me for a job. If they didn’t want me and what I do, they shouldn’t have hired me.” Piers Morgan: “Yes, it’s a bit like inviting a hammerhead shark to dinner and when he eats all the guests, you complain…”
Message: When you’re in the business of creativity–for example, as a marketer, a client–know who you can partner with vs. who you THINK you want to partner with. Don’t get falsely seduced. How many times do we want the bold, creative, risk-taking partner in creativity, admiring their work and thinking from afar until it’s shown with your logo or brand on it and then suddenly, the blood drains from your head? Similarly, from the other side of the fence, how many times were you convinced that this time it would be different? That you could teach someone to fly who was incapable of flying… or to swim? Not all creatures on earth can fly, just as not all can swim. That’s alright, no worries… you just shouldn’t try to teach them.
Ricky, on the essecne of comedy:
“I’m not apologizing for what I say and for being true to myself. Are there limits [to what can be said and can’t be said]? There’s nothing you shouldn’t be able to joke about. Comedy comes from a good place. Not just to make [the audience] laugh but to get them to a place they’ve never been before. A comedian’s job isn’t just to make people laugh, it’s to make people think.”
Message: Isn’t that the very essence of what constitutes effective advertising? Or design? Or a film? Or a good book? Or a good story? Or a new product or other innovation that’s a smash hit? To get you to a place where you’ve never been before… so you can see a perspective or a message or a tale or a fable or have an experience that was unexpected and thought-provoking or funny because you could relate to it but had never seen it quite served up that way before? Therein lies its brilliance. And if it isn’t your cup of tea, turn away, or don’t buy, or don’t partake. No one was forcing you to open your senses to it to begin with. But if you are along for the ride, all the sweeter.
Ricky, on sticking to your guts and guns:
“My strategy is to make myself laugh. If there’s anyone else in the audience like me, that’s a bonus! You do your own thing. If you’re constantly checking, looking over your shoulder and seeing if people like you, you’re finished… I don’t care what people think about me. I’ve cared if I’ve done a good job and told the truth… If you try to be cool and sexy a a comedian, you’ve lost it. You must never take yourself too seriously.”
Message: While everyone zigs, it’s really OK to zag. What I feel separates the true geniuses in our business (and the true geniuses will never admit their genius, which is part of their genius) is the willingness to take a stand; to be their own person and become the strongest advocate of their ideas, or their design or message or creativity through their own filter, as quirky as it may be. They are driven by what matters to them and their own passions and not by what they think will be the reaction of other people. (Not to be confused with not wanting to be successful, but the success comes as a result of your efforts, not by the wanting of it.) And this is the hardest thing because, after all, isn’t it human nature to want to be loved? The irony is if you your own person, you will be loved. And on your terms.
Other Ricky maxims and views that can inspire us, motivate us, help us better see the world and see risks (and risk-taking) in a new light:
Ricky, on stepping across the line vis-a-vis his comedic subjects:
“It’s really all about confronting the elephant in the room, isn’t it? You can’t come out there and be everyone’s mate and schmooze.”
Ricky, on fame and success:
“Why is this happening to me now–later in life–and not before now? My wife said it never would have happened then because ‘you weren’t ready; you weren’t experienced enough.’ I feared fame. Some people live their lives to be famous. So a lot of people are really asking for it!”
Ricky, on why he’s persevered and what keeps him going:
“It’s all a labor of love really. I’ve observed life, worked in an office, took notes, poked fun at it. On stage, I try to be as funny as I can but as if I were in a pub with people I know and live with.”
Ricky, on leisure time:
“Work is my time off. It’s a prviledge to wake up every day with an idea and to be able to act upon it. [My advice to you?] Start from there and start working on that.”
Cheers, Ricky. Bottoms up!