“I think that’s the point of any art, even one as lowly as TV comedy, is to make a connection,” Gervais said Tuesday night at the premiere of the second season of “Derek.”
Fans gathered at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre for a screening of the first episode of season two, which follows retirement home worker Derek as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged father.
Gervais told Variety that all of his work is “semi-autobiographical” and “Derek” was inspired by people like his mother, sister and sister-in-law, who were all care workers.
“Everything I do has been a labor of love to some degree. I’ve always written about what I know,” he said, adding, “I’ve got about 30 years of anecdotes.”
While the two-time Emmy winner is known for poking fun at just about anything, Gervais said he’s taken a more serious approach to this show.
“I think this is the most sincere thing I’ve done,” Gervais explained. “I’ve left behind that sort of veil of irony that I sort of explored with ‘The Office’ and ‘Extras.’”
Following the screening, Conan O’Brien joined Gervais onstage for a Q&A filled with even more laughs than questions as O’Brien left Gervais unable to control his laughter on more than one occasion.
When discussing his lead role on the show, Gervais explained, ““I’m playing me as a kid before the world told me what I should like and say and do.”
Gervais also revealed some behind-the-scenes details of the show, including the fact that many of the elderly actors catch some z’s in between takes.
“Sometimes they really are asleep. I sometimes get the producer to wake them up gently,” Gervais said. He also told the audience that one of the cast members is the oldest working actor in England at 95 years old.
Even though his show garners more than its fair share of laughs, the funnyman said “Derek” goes beyond humor to explore the human aspects of his characters.
“I like optimistic people… I love redemption. I love forgiveness. But you have to expose the other things,” Gervais said. “You have to expose the ego and the pretension. I want to laugh at people like that, but I want to applaud people like Derek.”
Gervais said he views the episodes as “little fables” and called the show “idyllic with a sitcom element.”
“There’s usually a threat – a nemesis – in a sitcom, and here it’s the outside world,” he said. “Because the theme is kindness, I wanted them to come in and have all the stupid prejudices that we laugh at and then almost be cured.”
In terms of “Derek’s” overall vibe, Gervais said his show probably has more in common with “The Waltons” than “Family Guy.”
Even though he’s usually the one making auds laugh, Gervais said he prefers to be on the receiving end of a punch line.
“I don’t have to be the one in the room that’s making all the jokes. I’m happy to sit back and laugh. I love laughing. I like laughing at someone else’s jokes more than I like making jokes.”
Though the NBC adaptation of his BBC skein “The Office” was a huge hit in the U.S., Gervais said he has no plans to remake his HBO series “Extras,” but joked, “If anyone does anything that’s a bit like anything I’ve done or thought of ever, I want some money for it. I invented comedy.”
Gervais usually caps his shows at two seasons, but he said there could be even more “Derek” on the way.
“I think I’ll do one more series or a special,” he said, before teasing, “and then Steve Carell’s going to take over.”
Season two of “Derek” hits Netflix May 30.