|First appearance||Series 1, Episode 1 (Pilot)|
|Last appearance||"The Office Revisited"|
|Created by||Ricky Gervais
|Portrayed by||Ricky Gervais|
|Occupation||General Manager, Entertainer|
David Brent (within the series, born 1962 or 1963) is a character in the BBC television mockumentary The Office, as well as a recurring character in the NBC series of the same name, portrayed by co-writer and co-director Ricky Gervais. Brent is a white-collar office middle-manager and the principal character of the BBC series. He is the general manager of the Slough branch of the Wernham–Hogg paper merchants, and the boss to most of the other characters present in the series. Much of the comedy and pathos of the series centres on Brent's many idiosyncrasies, hypocrisies, self-delusions and self-promotion (including playing up to the 'documentary' camera's presence in his workplace).
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David Brent is the type of boss who wants to be a friend and mentor to those who work for him. He imagines his workers find him very funny and enjoy his company, while still respecting him and looking up to him as a boss, even a fatherly figure. However, his employees generally find him annoying, frustrating and offensive.
A key aspect of the character of Brent is his obliviousness to how other people actually see him, causing him to lash out whenever the veil of ignorance and vanity he maintains is pierced. Brent often asks other characters how old they think he is, only to be dismayed and offended when their guesses — even when accurate (39 in Series One) — are older than he wishes to hear. He has a consistent need to be acknowledged as a renaissance man and to be recognised as exceptionally skilled at his many desired accomplishments. These include writing poetry and lyrics, composing and playing music, being a rock star, managing his adoring team, dancing, and even dating and marriage. He especially believes himself to be a remarkably talented stand-up comedian, and rarely misses an opportunity to play up to the cameras. His "material", however, is invariably unoriginal and badly-executed, consisting almost entirely of poor impressions and banal routines recycled from British comedy shows such as Fawlty Towers and The Two Ronnies. He also boasts frequently about the amount of alcohol he consumes, believing this will gain him respect. He also revealed that he was in a rock band called Foregone Conclusion, and claimed that they were once supported by Texas. He is a supporter of Reading F.C..
Brent has a tendency to promote himself as a well-educated and politically correct middle-class man, but often demonstrates an unwittingly offensive attitude towards ethnic minorities, disabled people and women. However, his various attitudes and faux-pas — cringeworthy and insulting though they may appear — are rarely maliciously-intended; they are frequently the result of extreme ignorance and self-delusion, combined with a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. This is usually compounded by clumsy attempts at retractions, after realising the insulting interpretations of his remarks.
Similarly, while wanting to be regarded by his staff as "A friend first, and a boss second, probably an entertainer third", he displays a chronic lack of awareness and regard for others' feelings. In the first episode of the series, he brings Dawn to tears by joking that she is to be fired for stealing Post-it notes. At the end of Series One, a not-unexpected restructuring of Wernham-Hogg sees Brent's boss pose Brent an unattractive choice: he can accept a promotion to the Corporate board, which would lead to the Slough office being merged to Swindon and most of his employees ending up unemployed, or he can keep his post in Slough and the Swindon office would then be merged to Slough, with his workers remaining on the payroll. Brent, failing to see any dilemma or conflict of loyalty, immediately and delightedly accepts the job and is later bewildered by the failure of those who will be made redundant to be pleased for him. However, he later fails a medical test and the plan for the branch merger is reworked, with Brent's Swindon counterpart moving to Slough as David's superior and bringing several of his own genuinely loyal personnel with him. An unctuous older worker named Malcolm, tries to confront his (in Malcolm's view) falsely noble tale of "turning down" the corporate job with the medical news by faking high blood pressure, Brent refuses to admit this to Malcolm.
In Series Two, Brent thus has to deal with the arrival of Neil Godwin in a role immediately above his own. Unlike Brent, Neil is genuinely funny, friendly, hard working, and confident in himself. Recognising this, Brent quickly grows to despise Neil, and spends most of series two trying to one-up him at every point, most memorably with a dance routine in episode five, which he describes with typical false modesty and inaccuracy, saying "I've sort of fused Flashdance and MC Hammer shit".
Brent argued that the documentary crew "stitched him up" and portrayed him as the "boss from hell". Although depicted on-screen as incompetent, it is suggested that he has been successful in the past. In the first episode he lists achievements (e.g. raising profitability without losing staff), and in the second series, he is both interviewed for a trade magazine, and invited to be a motivational speaker, suggesting that his reputation is not as bad as viewers are led to expect. Many of Brent's insecurities may stem from the fact that he is no longer able to handle his own job, and his desperation to be liked may be a failed effort to hide this fact. In the Christmas specials, he is heard complaining that the “documentary” (which The Office supposedly is) made him look stupid - an observation which also demonstrates some rare self-awareness. Interestingly, Gervais said once that in the show's universe, Brent did have many moments when he did his job well and even showed an effective sense of humour, for example during season 1 in which Brent is met with genuine laughter after telling what appeared to be a joke during a small meeting with his staff - These moments were deliberately NOT included in the documentary, but presumably helped shape viewer perceptions that Brent wasn't just a worthless empty suit and an idiot.
For all his many unlikeable and contemptible characteristics, Brent is not without redeeming merit and is largely depicted as a tragic figure, increasingly so as the show progresses: a lonely and somewhat forlorn man who places too much value in his unrewarding job. At several points, the audience is prompted to feel sympathetic towards Brent. This is especially true in the final episode of the second series — as Brent faces redundancy — and in parts of the Christmas special where he is seen struggling with life after losing his job and his fifteen minutes of fame (thus acknowledging that the supposed "documentary" filmed at Wernham-Hogg has been shown on television). These are the few times Brent is seen trying to hold on in the face of a somewhat bleak situation. Brent's future appears happier at the end of the Christmas special, when his lively and attractive blind date appears to genuinely enjoy his company. In the final scene, Brent also succeeds in achieving what he failed to do for the whole series up to that point: he makes the staff laugh. The Christmas special also reveals that Brent owns a pet Labrador named Nelson (which he named after Nelson Mandela, and not after Admiral Nelson as was initially thought).
It has been acknowledged that Brent's character was deliberately made more sympathetic as the show progressed. In the DVD commentary of the pilot US episode of The Office, writer B.J. Novak recalls Gervais and Merchant saying that they deliberately altered Brent to become more of a "buffoon" in the second series, and thus more likeable. This mingling of comedy and pathos in a superficially grotesque character is characteristic of some of the classics of British comedy, such as Hancock and Steptoe and Son.
It is said that the duo advised that Brent's US equivalent, Michael Scott, to be the same from the beginning. Scott's character loses much of Brent's nastier traits, and concentrates on his failed and often desperate attempts at humour. Also, more obvious emphasis is placed on Scott's loneliness. Also, while Brent is never shown to possess any business skills at all, Scott is portrayed as a great salesman who was unwisely promoted and became a hopeless manager.
Due to the popularity of the show, Brent's persona has entered British office-life culture as the epitome of the "bad boss". He is frequently ranked alongside many classic characters of British comedy, including Basil Fawlty, Captain George Mainwaring and Alan Partridge. He arguably has a more recent precursor in Gordon Brittas and The Fast Show's Colin Hunt.
Appearances outside of The Office
Microsoft UK, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant put together two videos entitled The Office Values where David Brent is brought in as a motivational speaker. These were leaked online during August 2006. Reportedly, those at Microsoft were unhappy about the leak, and Gervais hadn't wanted them publicly released because it would suggest he was bringing back the character on a longer-term basis.
At Wembley Stadium on the 1 July 2007, Ricky Gervais performed as David Brent at the Concert for Diana. Alongside Mackenzie Crook as Gareth, Gervais performed a rendition of the song "Free Love Freeway" from The Office.
In 2009 Ricky Gervais appeared on Inside the Actors Studio, in which James Lipton asked Gervais if he could interview Gervais in character as David Brent for a brief period in the show. He went on to perform a shortened version of the song "Freelove Freeway".
The Brent character made two brief appearances in the American version of The Office. In the season 7 episode "The Seminar", he meets his American counterpart Michael Scott (Steve Carell) while getting off an elevator the latter is waiting for. Unsurprisingly, the two are seen to develop an instant rapport. David learns that Michael manages the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin (the paper company that is the equivalent of Wernham Hogg in the UK series) and asks if there are any jobs available there, only to be told there are no openings at the moment. In the final episode of the same season, "Search Committee", David appears (via pre-recorded video resume) as an interviewee for the Scranton manager's job, following the Michael Scott character's departure from the show several episodes earlier. In addition to appearing in the latter episode, Gervais contributed to the script.
In March 2013, the BBC broadcast a mini-episode called The Office Revisited for Comic Relief. In May of that year, David Brent began appearing in videos titled "Learn Guitar with David Brent" on YouTube, with one episode being released with two weeks on a Monday.
- BBC; The office/character guide/ David Retrieved: 27 January 2008.
- "Office star is just taking the Ricky". The Sun (London). 28 January 2011.
- Itzkoff, Dave (March 23, 2011). "Ricky Gervais, Will Arnett and Brad Pitt Are Coming to 'The Office'! (Rainn Wilson Made Up One of These Names)". The New York Times.
- "Week one hundred and sixty-two - March 2011". RickyGervais.com. March 28, 2011. Retrieved March 28, 2011.
- "Ricky Gervais teaches guitar as 'The Office's' David Brent". Los Angeles Times. May 14, 2013.
- "Ricky Gervais revives The Office's David Brent for Comic Relief special… and this time he thinks he’s Simon Cowell". Daily Mail. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
- He is also known as the most famous idiot of the world.