As he once made the transition—circa 2007 or 2008 or so—from “beloved TV creator” to “Yeah, what?,” Ricky Gervais spent early 2018 transitioning his public persona from that elaborate public shrug to an even-more-exasperated “Ugh, god.” Lately, for instance, the comedian has been harshly criticized for his most recent stand-up special, Humanity, which formed—along with Dave Chappelle’s recent output—half of Netflix’s weird duology of 2018 stand-up specials in which world-famous comics said some pretty ignorant shit about transgender rights. Gervais, specifically, went heavy on his there-is-no-God-given right to dead-name Caitlyn Jenner, attempting to pass his perspective off as some species of “truth to power” common sense.
Who could have seen Gervais’ descent into, “Come on, we were all thinking it!” attacks on the disenfranchised coming? Pretty much everybody, honestly, but also specifically Garry Shandling, who highlighted many of his fellow stand-up’s more bullying instincts in a legendarily awkward interview the two men did with each other back in 2006. (That’s post-Extras and pre-The Invention Of Lying, for those following along on their Ricky Gervais TV And Film Project Calendars.) As pointed out in a new piece in The Village Voice, Shandling’s commentary on Gervais feels extra pointed at the moment, especially when he tells a clearly uncomfortable Gervais, “I see a certain relish in your eyes when you’re playing a Nazi. You’re a naughty little boy, and you know it.”
The interview—which is a pretty amazing example of full-press trolling, as a clearly annoyed Shandling does everything in his power to fuck up Gervais’ flow—continues to push the Office star on why he finds exploring taboos, and specifically those taboos that happen to coincide with stereotypes and attacks on minorities, so damn funny. “I’m interested in the side of life you choose to explore,” he says at one point, followed by, “Why are you choosing to explore those uncomfortable moments?” Finally, in a classic Larry Sanders-esque bit of dismissal, he concludes, directly into Gervais’ face, “I think what we’ve proved, and it probably doesn’t need to be proved anymore—and is indulgent—is that comedy comes from tragedy and suffering.”
Shandling later said he intentionally tanked the interview, mostly because he was annoyed at a communication mistake between his camp and Gervais’ (and also because he just kind of wanted to see what would happen), but it does seem, at times, like he’s legitimately trying to pass some wisdom back to the younger up-and-comer. “You cannot get caught up in the result of your work,” he says late into the interview, with pointed and uncharacteristic earnestness. “That’s not who you are.” Gervais doesn’t appear to pick up the subtext, possibly because he’s still reeling from the bit where Shandling got up, made himself some coffee, and then very deliberately refused to offer any to his “guest,” which, admittedly, would also throw us off our game. (Reportedly, Gervais ended up canceling his Ricky Gervais Meets… series of interview specials specifically because the Shandling interview went so far off the rails.) Still, we can’t help wishing he’d listened; certainly, Humanity could have used more of Shandling’s own, bleeding in at the edge.