He has been hailed a genius for creating The Office, perhaps the best television comedy in decades. But Ricky Gervais's success, it seems, has as much to do with his face as his observational comedy.
Scientists have used computer software to research the facial features most likely to produce a laugh - and the resulting image bears an uncanny resemblance to Gervais.
Psychologist Dr Anthony Little scanned 179 facial features of 20 comedians and concluded the winning look was a combination of a round face, small forehead, wide nose, big lips, large eyes and high cheekbones.
Dr Little, a lecturer in psychology from the University of Stirling, said: "The features most likely to mark male comedians out for success are predominantly soft and feminine. The face is a strong indication of character and the study appears to explain why comedians of a certain appearance would have been drawn to their career" he said.
"The characteristics of a feminine face imply the person may be agreeable and co-operative, which can be causal in our first impressions of comedians as being friendly and funny. In the same way infants are pre-programmed to respond to the warmth and approachability of a mother's face, soft, feminine features put us at ease and encourage us to relax. This is conducive to laughter and enjoyment."
Ricky Gervais said: "I was shocked when I saw the results of the study. All these years I assumed my global success as a comedian was down to my acute observations, expert directorial rendering and consummate skills as a performer. Turns out it's because I've got a fat, girly face.
Although not part of the original study, commissioned by the comedy club chain Jongleurs, Dr Little also carried out a separate investigation into the comedy phenomenon "Borat" - the alter-ego of Sacha Baron Cohen. Baron Cohen's facial traits are distinctly masculine, creating a dominant, authoritative and serious appearance.
Dr Little explained: "Cohen's atypical comedy face may be the reason why his routine depends on disguise and alter-egos. Borat's costume, exaggerated accent and feigned slow-wittedness help create a false sense of superiority in his interviewees. The humour lies not in making the respondent laugh but in convincing them Borat is serious, if harmless and ill-informed."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies