ON JUNE 25, 1961, Ricky Dene Gervais, was born. He makes TV shows and books and movies, but mostly he makes people laugh, and he makes them think, freely.
(He’s an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and decided as a child that he was an atheist.)
He grew up 40 miles west of London, England, in Reading, to working-class parents. He graduated from University College-London with a degree in philosophy and then worked in radio. What eventually brought him fame were his television series, The Office, which debuted in 2001, and Extras, in 2005.
He co-wrote and co-directed both with Stephen Merchant, his friend and frequent collaborator. Gervais also played the lead roles of David Brent in The Office and Andy Millman in Extras.
He’s received two Golden Globes for The Office (one for acting, one for the show itself), as well as numerous British Academy Television Awards and British Comedy Awards. He won a 2007 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role in Extras.
Gervais in a video interview with Richard Dawkins, explains how he became an atheist. In it, he recounts an afternoon at home when he was about 8 years old. His mother was ironing and he was drawing Jesus on the cross as part of his Bible studies homework.
His brother, Bob, 11 years older than Ricky, asked him why he believed in God, a question which mortified their mother. Gervais remembers thinking, “Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a god and my faith was strong, it didn’t matter what people thought. Oh … hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour I was an atheist.”
In 2009, in a TV interview, Gervais said: “It’s always better to tell the truth. The truth doesn’t hurt, and saying that, my mother only ever lied to me about one thing. She said there was a God. But that’s because when you’re a working-class mum, Jesus is like an unpaid babysitter. She thought if I was God-fearing, then I’d be good.”