The comedian dials up the drama in the Netflix series Derek, which he created, wrote, produced, directed, and stars in.
Set in a British home for the elderly, Derek centers on the daily lives of the residents, employees, and volunteers – most notably, the simple, sweet (and to some, controversial) title character, played by Gervais. Filmed in the same mockumentary style as The Office, Derek – though it has plenty of humorous moments – marks a more dramatic turn for the comedy actor. Can he pull it off? See for yourself; all seven episodes are currently streaming on Netflix.
British humor is often characterized as difficult for American audiences to fully grasp. Derek may be more of a drama, but it still has that trademark wit; what makes it inherently relatable to all audiences?
I think people don’t know it, but they want sincerity. I think they do, deep down, and I’ve noticed it on Twitter as well. I can do snarky jokes, I can do weird stuff and it gets lots of retweets, but if I do a sincere tweet that’s down the knife, it connects with 10 times the amount of people. I think people are quietly tired with that veil of irony that inhabits everything. You know, if I live in a student house, every poster is ironic. You want to say, put up a poster of something you actually like. What do you actually like? I like that you sometimes grow out of that. I think because people are worried that what they like is cool, they worry about saying what they like. You see that in every walk of life. You ask someone their top 10 albums and they don’t want to put Backstreet Boys and Sting, they try to think of really obscure underground music, and I think that sooner or later people relate more with honesty than anything else. And I did sort of consciously want to leave behind the veil of irony, and I think that’s what makes it slightly different to my previous work and slightly different to most comedy is that sincerity. We’re not laughing at the characters, we’re not laughing at the blind spot, we’re laughing with them. We’re rooting for them from the outset because they’re doing a good job. Whatever faults someone’s got, whatever mistakes they made, if they’re doing it to help someone, they’re forgiven. It’s all about motives. And it just seemed right.