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  By rights Ricky Gervais should be popping up in every American sitcom as a butler, in every Hollywood film as a one-eyed baddie and in so many adverts he's perceived as Linda Barker in a maternity suit.
   That's the kind of destiny reserved for British comedians who create a comic character so loved and aped in every continent that they win the highest plaudits the world's award panels can shower on them.
   But the fat, pasty-faced bloke from Reading can't play that game. He hates fame, has no need for money and cringes when he is lazily referred to as a genius. To Gervais the one quote that trumps all' the sycophancy was uttered by Clint Eastwood, on behalf of America, when The Office picked up the first of this year's two Golden Globes: "Who the f*** are these guys?"
   Anonymity, or the little he can steal while trying to take his comedy on to a higher plane, is the state where Gervais wants to live.
   His idea of a perfect day is spending eight hours behind his desk in a sparse Soho room, blinds drawn, head down, chiselling out sentences or sorting out admin on his computer.
   It turns out all he ever wanted to do was work in The Office, "I don't exist to see my fat face popping up everywhere, because I don't think any of us were meant to be famous," he says. "I'd rather come to my office, shut out the world, sweat and get a headache.
   "I can't understand why so many people actually like fame. And the frightening thing with most of them is that they're never famous enough. When I've been on the telly I can't wait for all the fuss to die down, so when I'm walking down the street nobody's shouting: 'oi, Ricky' at me.
   "But most of the these so-called famous people spend their nights zapping the TV control, screaming: 'Come on; I must be on a repeat somewhere.'
   "Most kids' ambition today is to have their face recognised. Put the bloke who discovers the cure for Aids next to someone from Hollyoaks and they'd be in awe of the actor from Hollyoaks every time.
   "And I don't get it, because fame is the bottom of the pile," No one is better equipped to ridicule celebrity than the man who, three years ago, was a virtual unknown.
   Gervais, 43, had appeared on Channel4's little-watched 11 O'Clock Show, but before that his only attempt to gain national attention . was as a pretentious New Romantic in a band called Seona Dancing. As his highest chart position of 79 testifies, he didn't manage it. If radio station Xftn hadn't failed to renew his contract as head of speech and he hadn't sat down with mate Stephen Merchant to write The Office, we'd probably never have heard of him.
   But with six Baftas, two Golden Globes and one of his DVDs in everyone's collection, that's now an impossibility.
   Surely the acceptable face of fame is the smile on his bank manager's face, I ask. But Gervais has no time for that either. "I knock back ad campaigns, corporates and films all the time," says the man who claims his wealth is more Paul O'Grady than Paul McCartney,
   "I get paid well, but I've never been a collector of money or possessions. I can't change my habits, so I try to spend the money before it gets to me because it makes me panic. I'll make sure I give the support acts double pay, things like that, because money gives me the creeps.
   "At first I did corporates through guilt, because they were offering me my dad's annual salary and I thought it would be obscene to turn that down. But then I decided not to feel guilty simply because it was money for old rope. So I stopped.
   "All these film offers do for me is confirm how lazy and rubbish the British film industry is. It's get an old actor for a cameo, get a comedian whose been on telly for two weeks and make a grim northern tale about a f***ing hockey team. Not for me.
   "I don't have to work again. In fact I had enough money to retire after the first year of The Office. And I look after my assets, making sure no one's ripping me' off, but a cheque in the post doesn't excite me.
   The fact that Simpsons creator, Matt Groening likes The Office excites me more. Writing a good joke excites me so much more that I can't sleep at night.
   "I like success. I like keeping my artistic freedom. That's why I got out of The Office after two series because I didn't want to cheat people. When I see writers going on for a fifth series just for the money I think: 'Shame on you.'
   "It's embarrassing enough doing a job as worthless as acting, so you might as well do it as well as you can," he says before cringing, observing: "I've just realised what I said there. I'll have to use that again", and bursting into one of his wild, diabolical David Brent laughs.

With Gervais, you're never far away from Wernham Hogg's finest.
   This confusion spreads to his stand-up work. In his first DVD Animals, critics struggled to distinguish between Brent and Gervais. It's the same in his new one, Politics. Both take material dangerously close to the very edge.
   Few sitcom characters do gags about black men's penises, and few stand-ups construct an act around the Holocaust, cripples, sweat-shops, Gandhi, sexual assaults, paedophiles, Aids, self-asphixiation, drought, famine, the blind and Nelson Mandela.
   Gervais says: "People didn't watch Till Death Us Do Part and think Warren Mitchell believed all that racist stuff, and I hope it's the same with me. I play a confused, vulnerable schoolboy buffoon.
   "I can justify every joke completely and I never think: 'I got away with that one.'"
   Watch Politics and your first thought will probably be: This IS Brent. But get into it and you realise there's a quite brilliant cleverness going on.
   Example: "Nelson Mandela was inside for 25 years but he hasn't reoffended in 14 years. And they say prison doesn't work."
   He does tend to have an unhealthy obsession with the disabled, though. Why so many wheelchair gags?
   "My producer is disabled. He was the one who told me disabled people get pushed out of the way in social situations. It's satire.
   "When I started out on telly some people had me down as a racist. It was because I used my real name instead of something like Billy Bigot or Ali G. It's taken people three years to get the fact that it's a joke."
   Ricky, the youngest of four children, was born into a working-class family in Reading. His mum Eva died of lung cancer in January 2001, aged 74. His dad Jerry, a French Canadian labourer, died a year later.
   He is a private man. "I've only got 10 friends in the world," he says. For 20 years he's lived in North London with TV producer Jane Fallon. They have a cat called Ollie and a salamander called Tel.
   He cares passionately about animals. "See them bullfights? When I see a toreador getting gored I think: 'Good, you shouldn't be in there.'
   "What is the pleasure seeing an animal speared to death? It's the same with fox hunting. They're just psychopaths. I think I'll end up doing something with animals - running a sanctuary or something."
   He has an animated comedy book out called Flanimals which Hollywood is about to turn into a film. Next year his new sitcom Extras will be screened, with Gervais playing an actor who can't get a proper job. He's written 20 minutes of his next stand-up act.
   So plenty of daily grind ahead to keep him occupied in this little office. Unlike Slough's Wernham Hogg branch, though, I can't see any awards or pearls of wisdom from Des'ree hanging on his wall. Does he live by any philosophy?
   "I'm basically a 'do unto others' type person. I don't have any religious feelings because I'm an atheist, but I live my life like there's a God. And if there was he'd probably love me."
   Well, he'd certainly have a box set of The Office. Fact.
  mirrorfeatures@mgn.co.uk Ricky's live DVD Politics is released today. Further information: www.rickygervais.com

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