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8 March 2019, 11:44 | Updated: 8 March 2019, 11:49
EXCLUSIVE: Ricky Gervais' new Netflix series explores grief in multiple forms - and the comedian explains why it's made him even more passionate about legalising assisted suicide.
Botched suicide attempts, fatal heroin overdoses, friendly prostitutes and messages from the beyond grave don't sound like the ingredients for a laugh a minute romp - but thanks to Ricky Gervais, they add up to something very funny.
The comedian's new Netflix show After Life is arguably the 57-year-old's darkest work to date, but the six part series proves to be strangely uplifting - and according to Ricky, celebrates living.
It focuses on Tony, a fed-up local newspaper journalist grieving the death of his wife and soulmate from cancer.
After the couple's hungry pet dog repeatedly thwarts his attempts to take his own life, Tony goes on a one-man mission to tell the world to f**k off - as his concerned colleagues and friends struggle to support him through his grief, and try to coax back the loving and kind man they one knew.
Ricky told Heart: "When I describe it, people say, how can that be funny?
"We hit the ground running, you find out my wife has died of cancer. She was the love of my life, it was the perfect relationship.
"I'm going to end it all but the dog's hungry, and it gives me long enough to think. 'OK, if I'm going to keep on living I'm doing it on my terms. I'm going to punish the world because of this.'
"He treats it like a super power, 'I can say what I want and then just end it'."
Ricky added that the humour comes from the fact Tony says funny (and awful) things to people who he thinks he deserves it - something he wishes that he could do in real life.
He explained: "As an audience we champion that. We wish we could say what we think sometimes, but we are stifled.
"It's hard to tell the truth in case you hurt someone's feelings, or if they hate it."
Another reason Ricky can't be brutally honest with his own thoughts and feelings is that he is scared he'll get recognised if he moans and groans in public.
"I can't even send back a bowl of soup with a dead mouse in without it ending up on YouTube," he sighed.
As Tony drowns in anger and sadness he finds himself making some unexpected new friends, including a grieving widow who continues to natter away to her dead husband; a depressed smackhead who he helps overdose; a chirpy prostitute; and his dad's Alzheimer's nurse.
This roster of colourful characters is another source of laughs.
Ricky added: "He has adventures he wouldn't have had if he had had a happy home life. He seeks out the underbelly of society.
"No matter what's happening in the world. If you're not right in your own head, it doesn't matter."
Despite the depressing elements of the series, which launches on Netflix on March 8, Ricky is adamant that it is a true celebration of existence - although creating it has further cemented his views on legalising assisted suicide.
He gushed: "Life is an amazing adventure. We have 80, 90 years of this holiday on Earth. It’s incredible.
"As long as the good days outweigh the bad, it’s amazing and it’s worth sticking around.
"But when it’s not good anymore I think you should be able to opt out.
"It shouldn’t be as frivolous as going in to Boots. I support things like Dignitas, but it's a shame that you have to get your loved one on a plane and do it like a criminal.
"Everyone knows if your dog is in agony it’s a beautiful thing to do. Why can’t people be put down like a sick dog?"
Ricky added that he hopes that After Life will resonate with fans, and will be commissioned for a second series.
He explained: "I like to create a perfect world, even if it looks terrible.
"I like my villains to get their comeuppance, or redeem themselves. I’m all for forgiveness.
"I like my heroes to get a bit of satisfaction. They don’t have to get the girl or win the lottery. They have to feel good about themselves, that they’ve done the right thing.
"Guilt is the worst thing in the world. It’s terrible. We don’t all have to be king, but we have to know that we did alright that we didn’t hurt anyone.
"Everything I do it ‘could’ be the end. I make a standalone piece, but I have fallen in love with the characters.
"There could be a series two. I have fallen in love with Tony, and the dog.
"If the fans and Netflix like it then I’d love to do a second series."