I used to like watching Ricky Gervais enormously. ‘The Office’ was a brilliant concept and the follow up ‘Extras’ was extraordinarily ambitious and funny too, when the humour was self-deprecating and aimed very much at his own character Andy Millman or his close circle of hapless associates or when he was pricking the pomposity of his celebrity guests. But to me it became rather uncomfortable viewing when the focus of the humour was re-directed away from the fame-hungry and towards some easier targets like the Down’s boy in the restaurant, the girl with celebral palsy, the dwarf actor and perhaps even the outrageously camp BBC tv producer of Andy’s programme ‘When the whistle blows’, in the second series.
Following up Gervais took the Warwick Davies character from Extras and made him the star of the series ‘Life is Short’ where we invited to find amusement in all those situations where being of restricted stature can be a problem, like being unable to reach doorbells and having difficulty getting up into and out of a 4 x 4 vehicle. I didn’t enjoy it and stopped watching after a couple of episodes and it was undoubtedly the least well-received of his series. Alongside this we’ve seen Gervais turn his sometime radio show producer Karl Pilkington into a popular character by highlighting his rather oddball views on life, developed you suspect from a poor education. But for Gervais his views are comedy gold because, and here’s the joke, we are invited to view them as the thoughts of an idiot. So when Pilkington aired some thoughts about the lack of interest for him in visiting other countries, this became the theme for the series ‘An idiot abroad’ where Pilkington gets set an ever more embarrassing series of challenges in foreign climes by a mocking home-based Gervais, which only serve to confirm his prejudices and provide a few cheap laughs. Of course Pikington is complicit in all this and no doubt making a pile of cash whilst seemingly content to be referred to as an idiot.
Now you probably think I’m being all touchy and overly-sensitive for no good reason. After all Karl Pilkington seems pretty unfussed and isn’t it the role of comedians and humourists to be challenging? Well you may be right but I’ve become increasingly offended by all this because Gervais seems to me to be moving away from clever writing and as his muse dries up, resorting to shock humour with unfortunate people as his easy targets. Not convinced? Well it wasn’t long since he turned up the attention-grabbing spotlight by referring to certain types of people as ‘mongs’. On daytime show after show he protested that this wasn’t offensive as it’s just a word that doesn’t really mean anything. Oh no Ricky? It’s not the short-form of mongols or mongoloids?
Now he might not find that offensive but I’m the proud father of a delightful, bright and well-adjusted Down’s syndrome daughter and for 36 years we’ve had to endure that ‘m’ word and the ‘looks’ you notice from people who stare just a bit too long at my daughter because her appearance is not quite ‘normal’. And you have to be strong not to react but to try and enlighten people about her many attributes. Fortunately it happens less and less these days as acceptance and understanding becomes deeper. But there are always a few for whom people like Rebecca will always be retards and to be pointed to and laughed at. And by using words like ‘mongs’ Gervais is feeding their prejudice. He might not be doing it deliberately but that’s the result I’m afraid.
And now I see that his series about Derek, the care-home worker with some learning difficulties has been re-commissioned on Channel 4. Gervais will have you believe that Derek is a decent, gentle warm character and that the portrayal is sympathetic and genuinely affectionate. I have no problem with that at all – it sounds like something to be applauded. But I detest that Gervais finds it necessary to play the character himself with a look shown in the image above. I’ve seen him use this look in his live stage routine; hair combed forward in village idiot style with jutting jaw and slightly cross-eyed. It’s the retarded character he plays for easy laughs – a mong no doubt.
Here’s a thought. Why doesn’t Gervais black up as a ni**er next and play an uncle tom with rolling eyes and yes masser style of talking? Because he knows he’d be crucified. The ‘n’ word and that character portrayal is grossly offensive and I can truly empathise with those who’ve been on the target end of such prejudice. Thankfully it has been eradicated forever from our screens. Gervais is highly intelligent (educated at UCL he’ll proudly tell the world) but he hasn’t the wit to realise how deeply hurtful his words and portrayals can be and yet he can react like a tetchy teenager whenever anyone touches on his weight issues. I hope he never has to live with anything more prejudicial or challenging than that in his life.