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Ricky Gervais' Nine Commandments of Being Nice

As Derek returns to our screens with his motto of “Kindness is magic”, Ricky Gervais talks ShortList through a guide to being a better man (while swearing)

David Brent famously wished to be remembered “simply as the man who put a smile on the face of everyone he met”.

His creator, Ricky Gervais, has a more realistic view of the lasting impression he may leave on the general public.

“There are some people that will just never like you,” he says, unclipping the prop halo he’s been sporting for our photo shoot. “They can’t let themselves. Basically, they don’t want you to be. But that’s no reason not to be.”

If Brent’s life philosophy was communicated through Des’ree lyrics, Gervais’s is expressed via the reason we’re here to speak to him today – namely, Derek. The show’s wide-eyed protagonist is a stammering, irony-free paradigm for human kindness who cares far more for old folk, animals and his friends than himself. In the words of his best mate Dougie (a be-wigged Karl Pilkington), Derek “doesn’t have much going on in his head, but what he does have is all good.”

Which is why, as series two prepares to launch on Channel 4 next week, we asked our favourite comedy legend to give us his unique guide to becoming better men. “This is the only life you’ve got,” says Gervais. “So all you can do is enjoy it and hope you don’t die in agony.” You won’t find advice like that on a Des’ree lyric sheet…

1. Don’t be burdened by ‘cool’

“Deep down, I have the same values as Derek. I suppose he’s sort of me when I was eight. When I was a sweet kid who’d be amazed by something as simple as taking a clock apart. Before I started thinking about the universe and people starving, before I realised there is no God. Derek has no burden of cool or acceptance. He’s good in the same way a kid’s good. He doesn’t worry about the things he thinks; he just thinks them. When you ask a pop star their favourite album, they’ll say [adopts self-important, Brent-esque tone]: ‘Oh, y’know, probably something by Blind Lemon Pie. Or Dylan: The Unrecorded Years.’ They can’t bring themselves to say, ‘I like a bit of Roxette. I love Sting, actually.’ There’s a constant fear of cynicism. You go round a student house, and every poster on the wall is ironic. Put up something you actually like. It doesn’t have to be Scorsese. You’re allowed to like Pretty Woman [laughs].”

2. Never stop being excited by your mates...

“I’m constantly excited by my friends. I haven’t lost that. I treat them like pets. I treat them the same way I treated Constantine the Frog [on Muppets Most Wanted] – I want to see happens when I poke them and wrestle them. That’s a very ‘man’ thing, isn’t it? I don’t think there are any grown women poking, wrestling and insulting each other [laughs]. With British male friends, it’s about who gets the insult out first. That said, [my friends] know I’ll do anything for them when it comes down to it.”

3. …And always fight their corner

“I remember Karl [Pilkington] being annoyed about a couple of snide reviews for the first series of An Idiot Abroad, and I was telling him not to worry. These two journalists had slagged it off, so I looked them up, and they’d both written travel books. One had sold 700 copies, the other had sold 1,200. I said to Karl, ‘That’s why they don’t like you.’ It’s a similar thing with Chris Martin. I know Chris, and he’s genuinely the nicest person I’ve ever met, and he does sometimes take [any criticism he gets] to heart, which I just find odd. I say to him, ‘Look, it’s because you’re in the biggest band in the world.’ People might doubt his sincerity [with his charity work], but he’s entirely sincere; he genuinely worries about these things. This is no insult, but he’s rather like Derek in that way; he sees something, and he just cannot bear to not help that person. I find it odd the way you see people on Twitter or some snidey columnist saying, ‘Oh my god, don’t tell me Coldplay are bringing out another album!’ You think: ‘That doesn’t affect you! You don’t have to listen to it!’”

4. Look up to your elders, and look after them too

“Kindness really is a good rule of thumb. It’s the only shortcut you can take that usually works. It’s so disarming. I get comments and tweets from people who’ve seen Derek saying, ‘I cried my eyes out’, ‘I’ve started volunteering in a care home’, ‘I called my Nan immediately’, ‘Derek makes me want to be a better person’. We don’t treat our elderly as well as we should. We say, ‘What about my life? Put him in a home now, because I want 30 years of fun’.”

5. Be the buffalo, not the mosquito

“There’s a lovely ancient fable: a mosquito apologised to a buffalo for bothering it. The buffalo said, ‘I didn’t even know you were there.’ I feel like that about Twitter. I didn’t know they were there before, and I don’t care that they’re there now. It’s just people, shouting in a bin. You should never care what people think. I was shocked by these huge stars being worried by what I’d say about them at the Golden Globes. I won’t name names, but a lot of them said to me backstage, ‘Oh, what are you going to say about me?’ They don’t own their own labour, so they’re beholden to other people. I don’t care what a producer, director or studio thinks of me, because, come Monday, I’ll be writing, directing, producing, and securing finance for my own thing. If you do that, no review or tweet can affect you. If bad YouTube comments took away the money I’d made, maybe I’d be worried.”

6. Remember that bad news can be good

“Being good is being honest. That’s clear. And in that sense, I’m the bringer of bad news. It’s bad news that if you wear a fur coat, an animal was tortured for life and then skinned alive to make it. There’s the bad news. All I’m saying is: do you want to still wear the coat? If you do, then f*ck you – good luck to you. As an atheist you’re constantly the bringer of bad news, too. People don’t want to hear that there’s no afterlife: ‘F*ck you. Shut the f*ck up, don’t say that.’ But if your faith is threatened by a tweet that I’ve sent, your faith isn’t that strong. Blasphemy: the law that’s supposed to stop an all-powerful god having his feelings hurt. What the f*ck is that about? Obviously everyone’s right to believe in an idea should be respected, but the idea itself has to earn respect. I respect the right to believe God made the universe in six days, but I find the idea itself utterly f*cking ridiculous. If people are offended by facts, that’s not your problem. Everyone has the right to be an idiot.”

7. Be kind to all animals. Even the “little c*nts”

“You should be kind to every animal, but I do wish that spiders would just keep the f*ck away. If I see a spider I tell Jane [Ricky’s partner]: ‘Don’t kill it. Just re-home it.’ I won’t touch them. I’m terrified of them. It’s not based on any horrific childhood experience; it’s a phobia. Phobias by definition are not rational. I’m actually less scared of the big, fat, poisonous ones than I am of the little c*nts that come into the bath. I sometimes feel like a spider, actually. Some people have an irrational fear of me [laughs]. My very existence annoys people. They want to ‘re-home’ me, too. So, if anything, I identify with spiders. They’re misunderstood. They’re my ‘bros’, really.”

8. Give a little. You may receive guitars and cats

“Kindness involves compromise. It’s clear that it would be kinder for me to give all my money away. But I’ve decided that it would ultimately be better for me if I didn’t. So, I compromise by giving some of it away [to charity]. I’m not one for gifts, though. I never celebrated my birthday properly until I met Jane. It’d just be a couple of pints with my mates, or 10 quid from my dad. What’s the best gift I’ve ever given? The gift of laughter, probably [laughs]. Or my selfless charity work. Y’know, the gift of life. No, it’s probably something I’ve given my girlfriend. The best gift I’ve received is easier. For my 50th birthday, Christopher Guest gave me the guitar he played [as Nigel Tufnel] in This Is Spinal Tap. It’s a ’57 Fender. And Jonathan Ross gave me a cat, which is a pretty great gift.”

9. Remember that cleanliness is godly

“This is the only thing that’s important, ultimately, innit [laughs]? I have two showers or baths a day. But I do not shave my chest, wax my balls or f*cking pluck my arse. I go to a barber once every three or four weeks. That’s it.”

Series 2 of Derek begins on 23 April on Channel 4 at 10pm

(Images: Levon Biss/Thinkstock/Channel 4/Rex/AllStar)

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