Be a Cocky Little Nobody

Ricky Gervais on what's made him so successful

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Ray Burmiston
Ray Burmiston

TIME asked Ricky Gervais to write about the secrets of his success. 

Whenever I’m asked that standard question, “What advice would you give to someone who wants success like yours,” I say “work hard, be original and write about what you know” (I’m always tempted to add “and get final edit” but I’m aware that this is very difficult starting out, and that I’m an incredibly rare case to have always been afforded this privilege.)

The first, “work hard,” is not only the most important, but actually, essential. I believe that if you didn’t have to work for something, it can’t truly be considered success. Luck doesn’t count. I think success is allowed a certain pride and you can’t be proud of luck or even of being born smart, artistic, or talented. It’s what you do with it that counts. I think I learnt this lesson relatively late in life. I was one of those people who would pride themselves on getting results without trying too hard. Passing exams without revising too much. I realize now, that was the wrong attitude. You should always try your hardest. The Office was the first thing I really tried my hardest at. I don’t know why I started this radical new approach then, but I think it was one of those carpe diem type revelations. I came into the industry with a slightly older head on my shoulders than most and maybe deep down knew I shouldn’t blow the opportunity. I put everything into it. A lifetime of experiences, and I couldn’t have been prouder of the results. I don’t even mean the success of the show, but simply the finished product. I was the laziest man in the world before I made The Office but now I’m addicted to that sort of success. Pride in my work. Now I’m a workaholic, because I realize that the hard work is sort of a reward in itself. Winston Churchill said, “If you find a job you really love, you’ll never work again.” That’s what it feels like most of the time. I love it so it’s less like work and more like play. Although I’m a strong believer that creativity is the ability to play.

(MORE: Ricky Gervais on The Difference Between American and British Humour)

Secondly, being original is often considered dangerous if you want huge mainstream success. It seems safer to make anodyne stuff that most people might consume without offense. Homogenized by committee and focus grouped to be like something else that was quite successful. The white sliced bread of art. This is indeed a reasonably safe approach but where’s the fun, apart from the commercial gain? As a businessman this strategy makes perfect sense, but not as an artist. And here’s the thing. From my own experiences I’ve learned that quirky, different, fringe projects that may only be cult, often travel a lot better internationally. Mainstream comedians and TV shows that might be the biggest thing, on say, UK TV for a while, often don’t sell a sausage around the world. Comics selling out arenas in the UK often can’t sell a ticket in America or many other places. If you do something peculiar and remarkable it might not be for mass consumption in your own country but there are 7 billion people in the world. People everywhere in the world will recognize and appreciate its innovation. A world cult is many times bigger than a single country’s mainstream hit. So in the long run, being different can make commercial sense as well as artistic sense. And you’ll often hear the term “water cooler moment.” The broadest, most inoffensive, mainstream hits are so often the least “talked about.” They just happen and wash over a disconcerting majority once a week. Again, this is fine if you just want commercial success but it’s soul destroying if you have loftier ambitions.

The third thing is to write about what you know. Making The Office taught me this. I truly believe this was a huge part of the show’s success. I worked in a real office for 10 years and since I’ve always been a people watcher, or “piss taking twat,” as it’s also known, it was easy to keep an uncompromising attention to detail. Whatever I didn’t know starting out, I did know the truth of the minutiae of modern day behaviour, and exactly how it should look. In my case, it was paramount to get final edit but as I said earlier, this is very rare for a cocky little nobody, like I was back then, to attain.

I was going to call my autobiography A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Office, but I think Cocky Little Nobody is much better. Be a cocky little nobody. But work hard, be original and write about what you know.

16 comments
LukeBonner
LukeBonner

Did anyone else read this article as if David Brent was speaking?? Haa ... Thanks Ricky - best comedian ever. 

BillD
BillD

"Luck doesn’t count." -- Yeah, right. That ABSOLUTE bullshit.

Sure, Gervais is good at what he does, he's funny and talented, but there are MANY, MANY people out there who are as talented as he is, or more so, and work as hard or harder than he does. And MOST of them are not successful, or not anywhere near as successful as he is -- money-wise, career-wise, etc...

The REALITY is that "luck" plays a HUGE part in life, no matter what the other factors are. (starting at the very beginning -- which social and economic strata you are born into, what country, and whether you are a male, or a white male, a beautiful female, what kind of parents and family you have, access to education, etc....)

And Gervais has been VERY lucky in so many ways in his life.


Gervais is not stupid, but he's also not the brightest bulb in the pack in many ways. And he's funny, but he's not THAT funny. It's like the stupid concept that "Steve Jobs WAS Apple", etc..., which totally dismisses the contributions of SO MANY people with whom you work, come into contact, support you, etc.....


Do you feel lucky, punk?

eetom
eetom

...Winston Churchill said, “If you find a job you really love, you’ll never work again.”...

In realty, the following is a more practical advice: "If you find a job, learn to love it.  You many never find another one again." 

It was easy for Churchill to say what he said.  He was already blessed with a secure job.

AKindOfMagic
AKindOfMagic

Working hard ends up playing hard if you put Winston Churchill's great philosophy in to action! In all seriousness how many people are lucky enough to do what they love for a living? For some it will happen by accident but in the majority it takes hard work over a long period of time. You reap what you sow. @petewhimster > sure there are many variables that stand in our way but we are all in the same boat, "your choices are half chance, so are everybody else's!" every failure is a step closer to success. My favorite quote is "Failure is the fog in which we glimpse success through" - http://www.giggadate.com DC a Cocky Little Nobody ;-)

petewhimster
petewhimster

Working hard , never did it for me , there are too many other variables involved in what is considered success. We cannot all be successful and it appears to be the destiny of the few. Our problem today is with the talentless successful , the manufactured model. There's a lot of them about , choking back the genuinely gifted. But...success need not be merely of a material nature - like love , it's a many-splendoured thing.

TaraBusa
TaraBusa

Really nice read Mr. Gervais.  As an Art Buyer and Artist, I so often see portfolios that let whats popular trump originality and personal passions.  Show me something you care about.  Show me what is funny to you.  The people you want to attract will respond to it. Always.


Tara Busa

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chimayaprakash
chimayaprakash

Hello,
A quick introduction from my end-Iam Chinmaya from Bangalore,India. The reason for my mail is that I understand that the "sons of the desert"  are having their next convention at Hollywood and would want to know if you are attending it. You may check this for more details- http://www.laurelandhardywood.com/ .Incase you or anyone whom you know are,please let me know as there are somethings that i want to discuss regarding the same.My id is-chimayaprakash@gmail.com Else,you may ignore this.
Regards and best wishes,Chinmaya






contactth902
contactth902

What is this "final edit" he talks about?

AlexCarrillo1
AlexCarrillo1

Very interesting article, my father also told me the same quote once and this is proof that it is correct

MigTG
MigTG

Very good post, but the author of "If you find a job you really love, you’ll never work again." is Confucius.



nyloncake
nyloncake

@BillD suffer, get a life! in your inside you'd give anything to be ricky gervais.

PhilRichard7
PhilRichard7

@BillD RELAX BILL, EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY.

He's not saying luck doesn't count. He is saying that if you achieve something ONLY through luck it doesn't count.


"I believe that if you didn’t have to work for something, it can’t truly be considered success." In his mind he believes luck is great but luck alone is not sufficient to be satisfy the definition of successful. He's saying part of being successful is the fact that you had to work really hard for it too. Maybe you can achieve something with luck but are you really successful if it was through luck and luck alone?

TeenyBambi
TeenyBambi

@eetomWell, he did say "If". No one can be "blessed" with a job like that...

DavidRichardsJr.
DavidRichardsJr.

@contactth902 It's the final say of how something is presented.  Things will get to editors and screeners, but he says that the person who creates it should have the final say.