Ricky Gervais: A Rising Empire

Ricky Gervais, the writer-performer who immortalized the understimulating workplace in the British TV comedy "The Office" just might be the hardest-working man in show business.

He's developing a second series of his sitcom, "Extras," has written an episode of the U.S. version of "The Office," appears in Christopher Guest's forthcoming ensemble movie, "For Your Consideration" and wrote and starred in an episode of his favorite show, "The Simpsons."

His weekly podcast has just entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most-downloaded ever. He has an acclaimed standup show, and he's a best-selling children's author.

Might the 44-year-old Englishman be just the slightest bit driven?

"Everyone wants to leave their mark on the world, I suppose," Gervais said during an interview in his office. "This is mine. It's the modern, slightly more sophisticated equivalent of me writing on a wall, 'Ricky Gervais woz 'ere."'

Gervais' latest project is "More Flanimals," his second kids' volume, published this month in the United States. A sequel to the best-selling "Flanimals," the book explores the cuddly, funny yet cruelly Darwinian world of sprot tumblers, splunges, clunge amblers and other colorfully named creatures.

Their lives; described in the tone of a scientific field guide and the playfully absurdist vocabulary of Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear ; are full of futility, senseless violence and death. Kids love it. "Flanimals" and its successor have sold almost 750,000 copies in Britain and inspired a range of CDs, T-shirts and collectibles.

"As far as children's books go, it's pretty subversive," said Stephen Page, head of the book's British publisher, Faber and Faber. "One of the great strengths of it is it's not some concocted brand, some idea that has been made to measure. It's the creative genius of Ricky."

Gervais said the books were a natural follow-up to "The Office," which exposed workplace dynamics in excruciatingly funny detail.

"I put just about everything I know about human nature into 'The Office,"' he said. "This is what was left."

Gervais likened creating the Flanimals' characters, inspired by creatures he created to amuse a nephew and illustrated by Rob Steen, to "therapy, like spring-cleaning your head."

"I've always been fascinated with nature and science," he said. "I've found that to find things weirder than real nature and real science, you have to go into the realms of surrealism. There's nothing more amazing and incredible than evolution, or the circuitry system, or cross-pollination in plants. It's phenomenal. It's incredible. You couldn't make it up. It's fun to deconstruct that, and just get really ridiculous.

"It's a parallel universe where things aren't quite what they should be."