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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 April 2006, 22:17 GMT 23:17 UK
Ricky Gervais: Comedy phenomenon
With another prestigious US award, British star Ricky Gervais has joined the elite club of UK comedians who have made it big in America.

Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais made his first TV appearance less than a decade ago
His latest success has come in the form of a surprise win in the best comedy actor category at the Emmy TV Awards for his sitcom Extras.

It follows the two Golden Globes he won for The Office a few years ago, as well as a string of other awards from the UK and beyond.

From sitcoms to podcasts, children's books to stand-up tours, Hollywood to Springfield, Gervais has ventured into many areas of comedy - and succeeded in most of them.

Not bad for a failed musician who only found his niche in comedy at the age of 36, a decade ago.

Born in Reading in 1961, Gervais grew up on a council estate as the youngest of four siblings.

He studied biology at the University College London, switching to philosophy because he thought it would be less work.

Ricky Gervais in The Office
His best-known role is David Brent in BBC sitcom The Office
Upon graduation, he tried his hand at music, becoming lead singer of 1980s group Seona Dancing.

He also managed the band Suede but left before they hit the big time.

After trying and giving up stand-up, Gervais was hired as head of speech on London rock radio station Xfm when it launched in 1997.

It led to a presenting role, giving him an opportunity to hone his comedy skills.

His TV breakthrough came playing an ignorant and bigoted reporter on Channel 4's The 11 O'Clock Show - which also launched Ali G onto the world.

After a short-lived chat show, Meet Ricky Gervais, the actor teamed up with former Xfm colleague Stephen Merchant to write The Office.

'Comedy of recognition'

Set in a fictional paper merchant in Slough, the sitcom revolved around its incompetent manager David Brent, played by Gervais, and his discontented staff.

"It's a comedy of recognition and observation and everyone can see something in it," he has said.

The show, which ran for two series and two Christmas specials, won seven Bafta Awards and four British Comedy Awards as well as a cult following in the US.

Kate Winslet and Ricky Gervais in Extras
Extras saw Gervais co-star with celebrities like Kate Winslet
It was then re-made for the US, with Steve Carell in the Gervais role, and after a slow start the adaptation has established itself as a favourite on NBC.

Gervais and Merchant were made executive producers, and although US writers have taken the story on, it is still firmly based on the original creation.

Gervais' next show was Extras, a sitcom about two struggling bit-part actors and the celebrities they encounter, which followed in 2005 and won two more Baftas.

David Bowie, Sir Ian McKellen, Kate Winslet, Daniel Radcliffe and Robert De Niro were among the stars who agreed to send themselves up on the show.

Gervais has also enjoyed success with the Flanimals children's picture book series, in which he created a menagerie of weird and wonderful made-up animals.

He is currently on a UK stand-up tour called Fame, which follows previous shows Animals and Politics.

Ricky Gervais
Gervais was forced to ad-lib at the Concert for Diana
He has also created a series of hit comedy podcasts - which earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the most downloaded podcasts ever.

And he has just signed up to star in and direct his first film, called This Side of the Truth, which follows cameos in A Night At The Museum and For Your Consideration.

Other projects have included writing and starring in an episode of The Simpsons - although the New York Times said it received "a tepid response" in the US.

Gervais, though, is unlikely to be affected by such criticisms.

"It's better to do only one good thing in life than 18 average ones," he has said.

"So many people end up regretting their lives, but at the end of day you realise so little actually matters."

Negative press

His stickiest moments have come during some of his most high-profile live performances - introducing bands at Live 8 and the Concert for Diana.

At Live 8, the crowd corralled him into performing David Brent's cringe-worthy dance.

The same happened at the Diana concert as his powers of improvisation were tested to the limit during a delay, prompting some rare negative press.

"People love it when something goes wrong and I was standing there and they demanded I do the robot dance and it was funny," Gervais said afterwards.

"But this guy wrote: 'He's rubbish, everything he's ever done is rubbish and it's all over for him.'

"That week I got nominated for four Emmy Awards, sold 100,000 DVDs of Extras and signed up for two Hollywood movies. So bring on the backlash... I want him writing about me every day."

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