Ricky Gervais’s first brush with fame, at least on the other side of the pond, was as the front man of the ‘80s synch pop band Seona Dancing. If you watch the music video below of the band’s near-hit “Bitter Heart” from 1983, you can see a skinnier, svelter Gervais with over-moussed hair crooning like he was David Bowie. He indeed does sounds a bit like Bowie. He moves like Bowie. And if you squint your eyes, you can almost convince yourself that Gervais even looks like Bowie (or the lead singer of A-ha).
Seona Dancing folded in 1984 because they ultimately failed to crack the Top 40. So after drifting around the music industry, Gervais turned to comedy. But that didn’t mean that he forgot about Bowie. Before he struck fame and fortune with The Office, he made a one-off show called Golden Years in 1998. He played Clive Meadows, an oblivious, Bowie-obsessed corporate middle manager who prepares for an appearance on the British talent series Stars In Their Eyes by dressing up as the rock star during his Aladdin Sane period, complete with satin pants, red wig and lightning bolt face paint.
Not long after The Office premiered, Gervais got a chance to meet his idol when the BBC invited him to a concert. “David Bowie has been a hero of mine for 25 years,” he told the Daily Mirror. “He is quite special and you meet him and you think he is going to come out of some weird tube and say ‘hello, I’m a space boy’. But he doesn’t, he says ‘hello I’m David’.” Of course, when Gervais was introduced, Bowie had no idea who he was.
Then a few weeks later, Gervais received an email from Bowie, who clearly caught up on his TV viewing. “So I watched that Office. I laughed. What do I do now?”
That sparked a friendship between the two. As Gervais recounted in an interview in GQ Magazine:
I remember, I think, the first time that I knew him when it was his birthday, I sent him an e-mail that said “57???? Isn’t it about time that you got a proper job? Ricky Gervais, 42, comedian.” He sent back: “I have a proper job. David Bowie, 57, Rock God.”
Their relationship culminated in a guest appearance on Gervais’s HBO series Extras. In the episode, which you can watch above, Gervais plays Andy Millman, an oblivious, desperate movie extra looking to break into the big time. When he annoys Bowie, playing himself, at a posh bar with his self-absorbed whining, the rock star turns to a piano and starts to toss off a damning, but catchy, little ditty on the spot about Gervais called “Little Fat Man.” (Lyrics include: “”Pathetic little fat man / No one’s bloody laughing / The clown that no one laughs at / They all just wish he’d die”)
While making the episode, he and Bowie worked together on making the song:
“Have you got the lyrics?” and he went, “Yeah.” I said, “Can you do something quite retro, like ‘Life on Mars’?” And he went [deadpan], “Oh, of course, yeah, sure. I’ll knock off a quick ‘Life on Mars,’ shall I?”
via Network Awesome
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads. The Veeptopus store is here.