Stephen Merchant says Ricky Gervais is 'braver' than him with controversial comedy

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Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais worked together on The Office and The Ricky Gervais Show. (FilmMagic)
Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais worked together on The Office and The Ricky Gervais Show. (FilmMagic)

Stephen Merchant has said his former co-star Ricky Gervais is "braver" than he is when it comes to confronting his critics.

In an interview with The Independent, Merchant said he admires Gervais for "taking on the naysayers" while he remains "quite dull" on social media because he doesn't want to offend anybody.

Read more: Ricky Gervais says he's trying to get cancelled

Gervais has found himself at the centre of controversy once again in recent weeks, following the release of his new stand-up special SuperNature on Netflix.

"I think he’s braver than I am, and has a lot more of a rock and roll kind of attitude. I think he’s quite happy to give the finger to the world," said Merchant.

Watch: Ricky Gervais defends joking about taboo subjects

He added: "I admire that about him. He doesn’t mind taking on the naysayers and the critics and engaging with that stuff.

"It doesn’t interest me in the same way. I find it tiring rather than energising. For me, it just seems so time-consuming."

Read more: Frankie Boyle criticises Ricky Gervais over transgender jokes

Merchant confessed that his own online presence is sanitised so that he can avoid being dragged into debates over offensiveness.

He added: "This obsession with trying to police what people say, you know? It’s funny [because] when I was growing up, Mary Whitehouse was the version of that. The uber-religious [person] trying to get TV shows banned and newspaper articles retracted, and she was very much seen as a right-wing figure.

Stephen Merchant says he tries to avoid offending people with his comedy. (Getty/Amazon)
Stephen Merchant says he tries to avoid offending people with his comedy. (Getty/Amazon)

"Now it feels like it’s a lot more coming from the Left, and that suddenly the champions of free speech are right-wing nutters. How did that come about? I don’t want to side with those people."

Merchant is currently promoting the second series of his crime-comedy show The Outlaws, in which he plays one of a disparate group of people who meet while on community service in Bristol.

Read more: Where are the stars of The Office now?

In the interview, Merchant explained that the show is written with the aid of a diverse writers' room alongside himself and co-creator Elgin James.

Merchant said: "It’s how I, as someone who’s getting older and in theory more out of touch, can try and stay engaged.

The Outlaws is back for a second series on the BBC. (Big Talk/Four Eyes/BBC)
The Outlaws is back for a second series on the BBC. (Big Talk/Four Eyes/BBC)

"However much I read and educate myself about subjects, I’m never going to quite have the insight that people have who’ve lived them, and that’s interesting to me.”

Merchant has recently taken on more dramatic roles, including playing "Grindr Killer" Stephen Port in the four-part BBC drama Four Lives.

Read more: Stephen Merchant says "arrogance" was key to The Office success

"I am, I think. I’m more interested in darker themes and social themes, but I’m sure I’ll always be happy to fall into a chandelier for comic effect, too," said the actor.

The Outlaws has a cast including Christopher Walken, Rhianne Barreto and Nina Wadia, with the second series airing its first episode on 5 June.

Watch: Stephen Merchant reveals how he cast Christopher Walken in The Outlaws

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