Idols to idolise, to learn from but not to copy. The genius of Ricky Gervais
Being creative professionally is a curious business in that we often are inspired to create by the greats who went before us. As an actor I idolize a lot of great actors like Al Pacino, Daniel Day Lewis and Johnny Depp among others. My comedian friends idolize people like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. As a writer I’m inspired by Bukowski and Kerouac. My principal inspiration is Ricky Gervais
There are a number of reasons why I idolize certain people like Gervais, foremost of all is for what they have achieved, either in terms of a career over a number of decades, or the way they handled their career.
A friend of mine who is a director mentioned that he, like many, started out being disappointed by his directorial efforts. Why? Because he knew he had good taste. He tried to produce something that fell in line with such good taste, and was disappointed to find that the final product came nowhere close to work of people he admired and tried to emulate. At the this point realised a key thing that many who don’t make it may never realise: that you must find your own way, work hard to discover and develop your own individual style, rather than copy somebody else’s, and finally be aware that it took many years of dedication and learning for our idols to reach that zenith where their work is so good that it is idolised.
Why Ricky Gervais? I idolise him for a number of reasons. In this way I can learn something from him to use in my own acting career, without ever making the mistake of trying to copy or mimic him. Notably:
He works very hard
He has developed a very unique personal style
(this has subsequently been copied, often badly). There is a certain Gervaisian way of making a ridiculous comment, often laced with undertones of arrogance and ignorance (especially with David Brent), then leaving off that sentence with an open ‘so…’, that is ridiculously funny. Also the way he engages with the camera is brilliant. I don’t even remember the names of anyone who has tried to imitate that style. Gervais owns it and he rightfully is known for it.
He is very smart when it comes to the business side of his career.
He kept the rights to his t.v. shows like ‘The Office’ and has not sold out. He now has
carte blanche to make whatever he wants, which is something that perhaps only 1% of professional actors and comedians have the chance to do.
He takes big risks that are well calculated.
When hosting the Golden Globes, Gervais did something that had never been done before: he insulted some of the most powerful people in the movie industry at their own party. He knew that the 200 million people watching would be entertained, and that the Hollywood big-wigs, motivated by figures (either viewers or those with the $ sign in front) would have no choice but to keep him. On top of that, he also knew that most people would not take offence, and those that did would be at risk of tarnishing their own image. A very smart move indeed.
He explores new avenues and mostly keeps his work fresh.
Gervais was one of the first people to crank out a regular podcast. Now everyone is doing it. He has a lot of unique and original ideas, often reinventing or reworking a genre. Although lately ‘Life’s Too Short’ has been seen as a little generic (even though when people brand it as generic, it’s generic only in the genre that Gervais himself created, so…)
He has loyal fans.
Gervais knows the value of good fans. He has regularly written a blog on
his website, has
a good Youtube page, Plumplard, now
tweets regularly and essentially gives a lot of content and attention to his fans. As such he has legions of loyal fans who unite to collectively take down anybody who is overly critical of what Gervais does or says.
These are all valuable lessons to learn when attempting to establish a career.
The moral is this: have an idea of a benchmark. Have idols and people who inspire you. Don’t copy, mimic or imitate them. Remember that they are revered because they worked hard (we only know them once they have made it in most cases, and many don’t appreciate how long they worked to make it in the first place), because they developed their own unique voice and because they were smart in a way to carve out their career this way.
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