WATFORD, North London David Brent has a new office. Its a very different office to his office in The Office though.
Fifteen years after the seminal show hit British screens, comedys immortal creation has moved on from his former colleagues at the Wernham Hogg paper merchants.
Hes now a travelling sales rep for sanitary supplies company called Lavichem, a budding rock star and the focus of a new film called David Brent: Life On The Road, and today hes introducing Mashable to his new workspace and new colleagues.
Brent is here next to Nigel, his protg, he says, prowling the generic office floor, which for the purposes of filming is set in an old telephone exchange in dismal Watford, north London.
This is Lance, hes absolutely hysterical. Nutter. This is Paedo Ian. Theyve all got nicknames. This is Jezza. The Jizzmeister. Hes king. Hes silverback. Hes alpha male. What do you think of Brent?
Waste of space.
To any fans of the show, it sounds a lot like business as usual. And as Brent starts pitching us products – tampon dispensers, urinal lozenges, you name it weve got it – its clear he hasnt changed a bit. His new colleagues, however, are a very different crew to the Gareths and Tims of the original show.
As Ricky Gervais, bedecked in an ill-fitting suit and slipping in and out of character with warg-like ease, points out, Brents working environment is far removed from Slough at the turn of the millennium.
In The Office, he was sort of in charge, he says in a break between filming takes.
“He’s in an office full of alpha males. He’s got no chance.”
He was 40 and he was going through a midlife crisis, but he was basically in charge of quite a sweet office with nice people. But now the worlds changed, its a dog-eat-dog world. Now weve got people going on The Apprentice going I will destroy anyone who gets in my way.
Theres a whole new culture of rolling over people to get what you want and its applauded. Now hes not in charge and hes in an office full of alpha males. Hes got no chance.
As everyone involved in the film is at pains to point out, David Brent: Life on the Road is not The Office. No other characters from the original series are involved in the movie, which hits cinemas in the UK on Aug. 19, and the plot has moved on somewhat since the Christmas special a decade and a half ago.
Brent still a travelling salesman, but hes spending most of his time, energy and money pursuing an alternative career as a rock star. Juxtaposition Records is still going. Hes got a new band – Foregone Conclusion Mk 2 as he couldnt get the old band back together for various reasons which we find out. And hes cashed in some pensions and booked three weeks holiday to fund a tour of the UK.
Things, sadly for the Brentmeister, aren’t quite what they seem.
Things, sadly for the Brentmeister, arent quite what they seem. The band is comprised of mercenary session musicians, Gervais admits, and what Brent was hoping would be Sloughs answer to Scorseses Stones documentary is more a tragic jaunt round some of the countrys most depressing and ill-attended venues.
The only gig that was heavily populated was a student gig, Gervais remembers. He was very excited by it and when he gets there its an ironic night. Shite night.
As youd expect, Brents tour is a car crash from start to finish. He spends large amounts of stage time describing the technical features of his microphone, or running the audience through the finer points of his lyrics, many of which have been cribbed off Wikipedia.
He thinks hes going to get signed. No-one wants to sign him, Gervais admits. They come along and they say, how olds the lead singer? Its all wrong. Its quite sad and poignant. Hes been sold a lie.
The Office, Gervais reminds us, was moulded on the docu-soaps of the ’90s and the minor celebrities with mayfly careers that emerged briefly from them. Maureen from Driving School. Jeremy Spake from Airport.
Life on the Road, meanwhile, looks towards the interminable talent shows of the noughties, The X Factor and Britains Got Talent, to explain Brents thirst for fame fast. Everyone says look at Sue Bo, look at Paul Potts, Gervais says. Brent thinks hes going to con an A&R man or hes going to get on this wave.
People on The X Factor say, please vote for me, I want this so bad, Gervais adds, warming to his theme. Why do I care that you want it so bad? You mean you dont want to get a fucking job, thats what you mean.
Its that world of just give me what I want cos Ive asked.
Sadly, Brents particular quest for easy fame fails. It works out for everyone except David who ends back at exactly the same desk in the same suit.
Today the cast are shooting some of the dismal office scenes Brent is trying to escape. The filming window is pretty short weeks, not months and theyve already wrapped a lot of the gig footage and on-the-road stuff.
Gervais is bouncing between the set and the directors chair, giving us short interviews in between. His wrote the film, and is directing and co-producing it with longtime collaborator Charlie Hanson. I think my best stuff is when Ive written and directed it, and Im in it, because you can control the pace and feel it more,” he reflects. “Once you know all the rules, your gut reactions, your intuitions, directing is a matter of taste, of answering 100 questions a day confidently.
Todays set-up is simple and off-the-cuff. Two cameras are capturing a semi-improvised scene where Brent butts into another conversation with a series of lame jokes about chocolate teapots and a one-legged man in an arse kicking contest. Its the sort of cringey, non-PC banter the original was so famous for.
The aim is to capture certain things as if theyre happening right then, that the camera crew are discovering it for the first time, co-producer Hanson whispers from behind a bank of monitors in an adjacent room. At the time of The Office, you could make it look messy and everyone copied that. Now you need to make it look like a movie as well.
Gervais right hand man is much quieter and more unassuming, probably essential qualities for the role. He says that the film has been in gestation for months, if not years, and has been worked on slowly and sporadically over that time. The new cast fit in perfectly, he says, and knew instinctively how to adapt their acting style to the awkward world of David Brent.
David Brent: Life on the Road will feel like a modern documentary but funny, Gervais insists. Its funny because its got that edge of a sad man whos living his life like an open wound because he thinks it will sort everything out.
“He does tweet and he goes on YouTube and he thinks he’s combatting the trolls and he gets it wrong.”
Brent hasnt adapted brilliantly to the modern world. MySpace was not even a thing when the original show went out, let alone YouTube, Twitter or Snapchat. But Brent has dived headfirst into each online development and managed to use them for their worst functions.
He googles himself and reads reviews, Gervais says, because he thinks he wont learn about himself and his performance otherwise, and of course he sees things which are terrible.
He does tweet and he goes on YouTube and he thinks hes combatting the trolls and he gets it wrong. Hes a man out of time.
Its plain Gervais loves his comic creation. Dusting down his ill-fitting suit is a risky business; the legacy of The Office, which only ran for two seasons and a Christmas special, has been preserved as a high watermark for sitcoms. But, as Alan Partridges ongoing success shows, comic creations can live on without sullying the reputation of the original show.
Life on the Road doesnt look like it will offer huge surprises, but it will be lapped up by hardcore Brent fans. And who doesnt want another chance to laugh at the funny little fat man?
Hes his own worse enemy so he allows you to laugh at him and smirk because hes such a dork, he says the wrong things, Gervais says, before diving back into the set. But his hearts in the right place. Hes just desperate, he wants his chance to be one of the gang and be funny and be loved, like we all do I guess.
I like him because he never gives up. He falls over for our pleasure but he stands up and he dusts himself off and he has another day.