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'Office' Humor A BBC Boon

If you're unhappy and you know it, quit that lousy 9 to 5.

That's the advice of Ricky Gervais, star and co-creator of Britain's "The Office," a BBC comedy series in which he stars as David Brent, the thin-skinned, desperately needy manger of a group of drones on a paper manufacturer's sales team.

In addition to serving as their boss, Brent is also a frustrated musician, poet, philosopher and comedian prone to such observations as: "Those of you who think you know everything are annoying to those of us who do."

This little show from across the Atlantic has slowly built a rabid fan base in the United States, spreading mainly by word of mouth as newcomers discovered it and passed it on. The second, final season of the series debuted on DVD Tuesday.

"I worked in an office for seven or eight years," Gervais told The Associated Press. "I was afraid people would think the show was a snobby look at 9 to 5 white-collar workers. It's not about that. It's about lying to yourself. If you are happy with it — brilliant. But if you're not, don't stay there until you're 65 and then say, 'Oh no, I was meant to write a novel!'"

Apart from home video, the only other place to find "The Office" in the U.S. was on BBC America, and Gervais said the biggest splash the show has made in North America so far was winning best comedy show this year at the Golden Globes.

"The Golden Globes had about 20 million people going 'Who are they?'" Gervais giggled. "I don't know if it's true, but I really want it to be true — apparently, someone overheard Clint Eastwood saying, when we won the Globe, he said: 'Who the (expletive) are they?' I'd like to think he said it like 'Dirty Harry' as well."

Gervais may be overstating his own anonymity. After a recent guest spot on ABC's "Alias" and a planned appearance on "The Simpsons," he is becoming better known in the United States every day. An Americanized version of his show is already in the works.

And "The Office" continues to grow in popularity. Advance orders have already put the second season DVD among Amazon.com's top 10 sellers, and the first season, which came out in October, still places about 53 on the site's top-sellers list.

"I like the fact that we came from nowhere," he said. "We're on a little channel on both continents. We had the smallest budget and we're all unknowns, so it could only be word-of-mouth. ... But that's more satisfying for fans. There's nothing like thinking you own something."

The key to its success, Gervais said, is empathy. The nitpicking. The rude remark that everyone overhears. Petty politics. Embarrassing outbursts and breakdowns. Anyone who has ever toiled for a paycheck can relate, he said.

Consider this running joke: Brent has a perpetual feud with his second in command, the sunken-eyed, wannabe soldier Gareth Keenan (played by Mackenzie Crook, the wobbly eyed buccaneer from "Pirates of the Caribbean") over whether Gareth is the "assistant regional manager" or "assistant TO the regional manager."

"Everyone's a bit like him," Gervais said. "Everyone is a little bit insecure, everyone wants to be loved, everyone wants to leave a legacy, everyone wants to be part of a team, everyone embarrasses themselves now and again and wish they hadn't and want a hole in the ground to swallow them."

"He's not bad after all. He's not a nasty person. He's wounded. He's a buffoon. You want to sit him down and tell him to stop trying so hard. You realize that his worst crime is that he has confused respect with popularity. And in the end, he gets neither."

Gervais and his collaborator Stephen Merchant wrote six half-hour episodes for both of the seasons and concluded "The Office" saga with a two-part, two-hour Christmas special that has yet to be shown in the United States.

He acknowledged that some American fans may be dismayed to learn the show is defunct by the time they catch on to it:

"I think that's quite nice that by the time you've seen a thing it actually finished ages ago. That's like looking at a dead star ... and the light actually left it in the 16th century."

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