Meet the TikTok comedy sensation Ricky Gervais has forged in After Life
When Cole Anderson-James downloaded the TikTok video app at the start of the initial lockdown, like millions of other young people across the UK, he was just hoping to be entertained. Just 18 months later, the 24-year-old was cast on the third series of Ricky Gervais’ black comedy Netflix series After Life after the comic discovered its creepy lip-syncing videos to clips from The Office.
While Anderson-James dreamed of playing as a kid, he never thought he would have the opportunity to make a living from it. Raised in Essex, he studied film and television and, like Gervais’ character Andy Milman, dabbled in extras as a film extra before taking a David Brent-like sales job (“I was selling business-to-business data, essentially your information Marketing company. Am I doing this now? Absolutely not).
Although his first couple of TikTok videos mimicking scenes from Channel 4’s The Undateables and The Inbetweeners proved popular, it was his lip-syncing to skits from The Office and After Life that helped him build an online episode. His furtive glances at the camera, coupled with his ability to perfectly coordinate his mouth movements with the audio clips, quickly spread across the Internet.
“I like dark, dry humor – I like Steve Carell, who obviously runs the US office, the late Sean Lock, Jack Dee,” says Anderson-James I.
“TikTok is amazing because you can have zero followers and still get a million views. If your content is good and you are consistent and upload something every two days, the algorithm will pass it on to others. On YouTube and Instagram you need the followers first, but luckily it also worked for me on Twitter. “
Fans began tagging Gervais in the clips on Twitter, who mentioned Anderson-James on a live Instagram broadcast last year, describing his talents as “quite a skill because it’s not like mimicking a song, when you have the rhythm. It is great.”
Gervais, who is retweeting the videos, caught the attention of actress and comedian Emily Atack, who cast Anderson-James on ITV2’s The Emily Atack Show and helped him hook up an agent last year. Anderson-James then took the opportunity to message Gervais asking for an audition for his next project and, after months of uncertainty, met with his comedy hero and producers on a Zoom call in April before joining the Got role.
“I’m so grateful to Emily because she knew I had no acting experience but wanted me to audition for the role of her boyfriend,” he laughs. “That experience meant I was a little less nervous while shooting for After Life and speaking to Ricky between takes.
“I play a laughing yoga teacher in front of a class, in front of seven extras and a main character, but I just talked. Emily Atack’s mother [Kate Robbins] is also in it, that was nice.
“It’s amazing how different you are treated by the crew when you are a leading actor. They are literally waiting for you, hand and foot. It was literally like a real version of extras. “
With over 732,000 followers on TikTok and another 80,000 on Twitter and Instagram, Anderson-James has largely left lip-syncing behind in favor of his own comedy material – and given up the sales job.
Anderson-James was praised for his weird timing (Photo: Cole Anderson-James / TikTok)
“It’s amazing because I was in Australia with the sales role at the start of the pandemic,” he says. “I had no money and just wanted to stay and work, but my mom said she thought I should come back so I managed to catch one of the last flights back when we had no idea whether it was going or not. “. If I missed that flight, I would have just stayed in Australia and not met Ricky or started acting.
“I now make full-time videos and do promotions in addition to auditioning for acting, but the long-term goal would be to be in comedy full-time – I would love my own Netflix comedy series or movie. I’m going to be working with a guy named Kyron Hamilton soon who is really tall and makes a lot of videos pretending to be a teacher. “
While he initially struggled to come up with original ideas for his videos after working with existing comedy sketches, Anderson-James is adept at filming and editing his own clips entirely on his phone, and has got through his own material gained a following that resonates with young British viewers.
“A lot of my content is really relatable stuff, about what it would be like to be stopped by the police if you had a professional looking haircut during lockdown, or why parents think everyone is judging how clean your home is,” he said says.
“I wanted to be an actor as a kid, but I found that a bit too optimistic … TikTok literally opened the door for me and showed me that it could be done.”
When he’s not auditioning for new roles or shooting his own material, Anderson-James looks forward to attending the November screening of After Life and seeing Gervais again, although he’s not sure if this will coincide with the next release date .
“I didn’t ask his advice when I saw him, I probably should have,” he jokes. “Maybe I’ll be the one to give him some tips.”