David Brent is not an insult

Earlier this week, Harriet Harman compared David Cameron to David Brent. “Sometimes it’s like we’ve got David Brent as our Prime Minister,” she said, referring to Cameron’s incident where he was overheard saying the Queen “purred” down the phone to him after he told her the results of the referendum.

Aside from their first name and the fact someone could do both of their jobs better than them, I can’t see the resemblance between the two Davids. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that Harman used Brent’s name as an insult.
C/o Strellevik

If you’ve ever watched so much as one episode of The Office, you probably hate Brent. But if, like me, you’re almost always watching the whole thing on a loop, there’s a chance you wake up every morning and wish he was real. Because David Brent, the philosopher, motivational speaker, musician and businessman, is God.

I must stop here and warn you that I may be slightly biased in my proclamations, because I see a lot of myself in Brent. Laughing at my own jokes (and often having to explain them), saying completely inappropriate things (like the time someone told me their friend’s dad has just died and my response was “ah, and it’s Father’s Day today…).

Plus, his (albeit completely transparent) desire to fit in, to be liked, and to be perceived as funny was reflected in everything he said and did. Most of us can empathise with that to a lesser extent. 

Brent was a good person. Most of what made him annoying came from a place of insecurity, and how can we berate a person for that?

More importantly, he was entertaining. Forget the fact he was a fictional character that was exaggerated for comedic purposes – if I came across one Brent-like person during my day I’m sure it would be much easier to fight the 3pm heavy-eyelids attack.

What separates us from Brent is that we comply with social norms to fit in, constantly fighting natural urges in an attempt to be liked and accepted by others. We wouldn’t step out of our office to tell everyone a joke or dance like a prat. But Brent transcended this evolutionary survival skill.

Yes, he might have had a tendency to outwardly ruminate on the health of his testicles to a colleague enjoying her lunch, but Brent was unpolished in a world of people terrified to be judged like people judged him.

We spend our days thinking things we would never dream of saying out loud. I would find Brent’s lack of mental filter and inability to disguise what he’s thinking refreshing to have around (as long as I avoided the firing line).

A friend once said to me the worst thing you can be called is ‘boring’. But compared to Brent, most of us are a little bit on the dull side. Humour is often left behind as our preoccupations with not saying the wrong thing, offending or alienating anyone, or being met with deadpan looks and tumbleweed prevail. He got it wrong most of the time, but that’s probably the statistical likelihood of a joke flopping if you tell them repeatedly all day long.

It would be remiss of me to ignore his many flaws. For instance, Brent had a tendency to get jealous. But his way of dealing with that was to wear a pair of man-heels and a leather jacket to work. A lot of us would react worse in the face of wrath. He may have headbutted a woman in the face one time, but that was accidental so we won’t talk about that.

And when have you ever heard Brent complain? Even in dark times he remains positive, or at least he tries to pretend he is. When he’s made redundant and becomes a salesman, he focuses on the positive sides, like being able to stay in bed all day or pull over on the motorway to make a call.

Perhaps this positive outlook doesn’t permeate below the surface, but if he felt sorry for himself he hid it with all of his might – a habit that, in long run, could have run him into the ground with a heart attack or depression, but is endearing nevertheless.  

In the years since The Office ended, Brent’s personality has left such an abiding memory on so many of us. I feel confident in my ability to predict how he would have reacted in any given situation. He’s unforgettable, he’s practically an ‘ism’ (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has the odd Brentism) and we’ve all encountered diluted Brents at work.

He liked to see himself as a philosopher. I can imagine the pinnacle of his life would be to hear someone earnestly quoting him. The message behind his motivational moments were that life should be fun, that you shouldn’t live by “the rules”. There are worse beliefs he could live his life by.

But it’s not just a case of “he could be worse”, because he couldn’t be better. In an age where we’re distracted so frequently, discard things so easily and replace them so casually, Brent’s character has survived. He even frequents the mind of Harriet Harman. If Cameron was a bit more Brent-like, perhaps we’d all be a bit better off. I'll leave you with one of the beliefs Brent lived by: 

"Now you do not punish a girl, Dutch or otherwise, for having big boobs."

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